The personal is political

When I attended the Singapore Writers' Festival panel on building online communities last weekend, I remember being annoyed at the extent to which questions from the audience focused on whether bloggers were looking over their shoulders to see if the government was watching, whether some blogs might be considered political websites and therefore required to register with the government, how much responsibility bloggers should take for what they publish on the internet, and how much blogging was a true expression of free speech in Singapore.

My gut reaction was: Get over it, people! Stop secondguessing whether the government is going to approve or, rather, disapprove of what you have to say, and get out there and say it! Yes, there is the attendant responsibility, but "with great power comes great responsibility" (brown, you had to say it, didn't you?). Stop asking for permission and/or approbation!

See, the thing is, everything is political. Blog about your job and whether you're being suitably compensated for it? That's a raw comment on the wage and welfare system right there. Got a beef with gender issues (regardless of which gender you are)? That could be grounds for a reexamination of how men and women are treated under the law, in principle or otherwise. Pondering why your kid has so much homework and why you can't understand half of what's in his textbooks? Maybe it's time for a closer look at the education policies that put the textbook in his hand and the teachers in his classroom. Even if all you're interested in is the price of your morning coffee and kaya toast, that's enough for a primer on issues ranging from global politicisation of agriculture to how much it costs to rent an HDB coffeeshop and why.

Everything is political, not just what the government does to us, in its creation of the space in which we live, but also what we do to others. I choose to buy a Tungsten E2 instead of backsliding to use a hardcopy diary --- that has political implications on how technology is and will be used, and for that matter, on how much paper our world consumes. I fall in love with Firefly and start talkin' like it's all that matters --- that has implications on the promulgation of certain cultural and aesthetic qualities, including values that may not sit well in the current political climate (The noble captain harbours fugitives from the all-knowing, all-goodly Alliance? Tut tut, we can't have that in our neat and tidy society.) I'm a married university graduate who doesn't have any children --- you bet your ass that has political implications in this town.

Embrace the political, if you are a citizen who's going to be engaged and involved in this society. And remember: the political is not the seditious.
3. ---(1) A seditious tendency is a tendency ---

(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the Government;
(b) to excite the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure in Singapore, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;
(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Singapore;
(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore;
(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore.

(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), any act, speech, words, publication or other thing shall not be deemed to be seditious by reason only that it has a tendency ---

(a) to show that the Government has been misled or mistaken in any of its measures;
(b) to point out errors or defects in the Government or the Constitution as by law established or in legislation or in the administration of justice with a view to the remedying of such errors or defects;
(c) to persuade the citizens of Singapore or the residents in Singapore to attempt to procure by lawful means the alteration of any matter in Singapore; or
(d) to point out, with a view to their removal, any matters producing or having a tendency to produce feelings of ill-will and enmity between different races or classes of the population of Singapore,

if such act, speech, words, publication or other thing has not otherwise in fact a seditious tendency.
from the Sedition Act
What isn't seditious? Subsection 2(a) would seem to exempt any opinions that "show that the Government has been misled or mistaken in any of its measures" --- I believe that's what the whole casino debate was about.

What is seditious? Ay, there's the rub. As I commented over at My Very Own Glob earlier today:
Am I the only one who, after reading and rereading the Act, still doesn’t really get what a "seditious tendency" is? If it's anything that raises discontent or disaffection among citizens, or promotes feelings of ill-will and enmity between different races or classes, how does that differ from any number of casual remarks made by a person --- whether it's Joe HDB or an esteemed Minister --- in the course of a given day?
Pop quiz: Are the following examples of an "act, speech, words, publication or other thing" with a seditious tendency?
  • Someone decides to increase public transport fares. People who earn less money (i.e. in a different class) feel ill-will towards the government.
  • Someone brings a dog to a coffeeshop which has Muslim stalls and Muslim customers. Muslims feel ill-will towards the non-Muslim dog owner.
  • Society has a grand debate about whether to allow casinos in Singapore. Despite protests from a vocal group of citizens, the decision to build the casinos goes ahead. The vocal group in society feels discontented.
Oh, damn. By posing these questions, am I guilty of sedition?

If anyone can enlighten me, I would be very, very happy, and also feel more knowledgeable --- if not necessarily comfortable --- about my rights as a citizen.

(Oh, don't snicker. I wrote that with a straight face and no sarcasm whatsoever.)

You see, without knowing where I stand as a citizen, I really wouldn't dare dream of discussing subsections 1(a)-(c). And all those people that we hear about --- secondhand, no, thirdhand info, really, or actually, it's urban legend --- we heard that these people say things like, "I hate the government!" and "The judge doesn't know what s/he is doing!" These people clearly should be removed. (Whew, exempted myself by dint of subsection 2(a) --- or so I hope.)

Fuck that. See how lame that paragraph was?

Be personal, be political, certainly be responsible, and pray very hard that no one finds you seditious. Be aware that you can't just say anything, but don't let it stop you from saying the things that need to be said. Be a good citizen. Be engaged. Love your country.

Don't scared.


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At 9/12/2005 1:04 pm , Blogger Agagooga said...

Reductionism does not become you.

At 9/12/2005 1:17 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with your sentiments, but in this case i feel that the arrests were correct, in the interests of justice.

and far more importantly, you love firefly too? finally! someone else! gorramn people don't know what they're missing. i love it save for the corny theme song.

At 9/12/2005 2:27 pm , Blogger monk said...

yes, yes, yes, and. . . yes.

i actually find this to be one of the most becoming reductions i've read of late.

and what i read is only this: speak when you need to speak, of what you know, and with the necessary conviction.

finally, having the courage and honor to do so as a human being. . . meaning truly for yourself as you stand within your community.

and now that i read that, i feel that i've qualified it to death, and diluted your spirit.

be brave, be true, find love.

At 9/12/2005 4:20 pm , Blogger Elia Diodati said...

Trackback: Bloggers Charged With Sedition


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