You know what conscription is good for? What staying in is good for? I’ll tell you.
Firstly in the light of all the recent hullabaloo about banning certain lyrics in a rather nice song (I like it, thank you very much), I decided that most of the comments and responses to this action which get the most publicity are those that highlight the negative, blow it up, and continue to flame the establishment.
Is that a sign of a participative populace? No. It is a symptom of a disease, a malady known as Complacency, often diagnosed together with Ignorance, and easily identifiable by Discontent.
Let me first say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with criticizing state policy, or any other sort of larger organizational decision. Corporate growth is organic and to be effective, must rely on a healthy top-down/ground-up tension. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that one of the key components of a well functioning political system (one that is good for the state and the people, and promotes the welfare of both) is a discerning populace. A populace which actively critiques policy, pointing out loopholes, finding nooks and crannies, spotting cracks in the foundation of logic and reason, ensuring sympathy and mercy go hand in hand with justice and pragmatism. But I must emphasize (and this is of the utmost emphasis) that any critique must be made with the intention to build up, rather than to tear down. In short, it must be constructive criticism, guided by the right motives of selflessness and a desire to see the betterment of others. I don’t claim that any solution must be made, but if there is one to be had, then any idea of merit should be thoughtfully offered and then deliberately and respectfully considered in turn. Pointing out a flaw in order to correct and repair the foundations of society, and to borrow a oft-used metaphor, to spin the threads of our moral fiber into an unbreakable cable, is of great importance and necessity. If you have the means to do so, so much the better. Then search out the appropriate and most effective channels to do so, without fanfare, and let the knowledge of your contribution out of the selflessness of your heart be it’s own reward.
But the flip side? Highlighting everything that might be lacking, fanning the flames of gossip by using inflammatory language (as I am ironically doing now), throwing trash into the proverbial fire? Citing negative experiences and adopting agendas that you might not own, but co-opt and align yourselves with in order to further your own argument (if you have a valid one)? Talking nonsense about how clearly black and white moral issues like rape and murder can somehow be linked to the rights of men? Come on… Since when has patriarchy not already been the way of the world?
Pointing out faults for the sake of criticizing the establishment is a truly ignoble and ridiculous thing to do. It stinks of the foul stench of ingratitude. It speaks of the lack of self-recognition, that one is complicit in creating the society that you live in. To breathe such words is to indicate what terrible mists spawn in the caverns of your thought. Surely we have not gained so much only to lose a sense of humanity. This is the part of Singapore that I detest: as much as I love my country and am proud to be Singaporean and to be part of all the lists that we top, to participate in our national idiosyncrasies and to be a willing believer in our forged-but-nonetheless-real form of national identity, I deplore the sense of… entitlement that as a nation, a people, we still have a long way to eliminate. Maybe it’s a economically developed thing. But this entitlement, that the State is somehow beholden to the Individual? That’s ridiculous. One should have an idea of how it is supposed to work. This is a two-way relationship. There is no consumer relationship here, one does not simply purchase citizenship. It is incredibly stupid and short sighted, I find, to be continually criticizing and complaining about higher institutions and the rules that encompass us, without being aware of the larger contexts that make up the world we live in. Laws and rules exist to protect, legislation keeps the undesirable out. The individual has to comply with state directive, trusting that the government that has been voted into power, and vested with the authority of the masses, will make the right decision. Lines like ‘they only care about the trickle-down effect’ only demonstrate how shallow one’s understanding and comprehension of larger social dynamics function. Perhaps then, you should remove yourself from the trickle-down benefits that society has conferred upon you.
This might sound all self-righteous, but I beg you to ask yourself what kind of place you want to live in, and what is necessary, and what has already been done, to ensure that such a world exists.
In short, we all could do with a double dose of Thankfulness, bolstered by a booster jab of Gratitude. Cutting-edge medical facilities and services are what we pride ourselves on: perhaps it would do good some times to not just diagnose ourselves, but engineer a cure.
Now entertain my propensity to go off on tangents as I talk about something else. What I started with, actually.
Why is staying in good?
Because in our modern/postmodern world where nuclear families live in little sanitized flats, separated by walls, we no longer have the kampong feeling. Everyone bemoans the loss of the kampong spirit. This legendary, mythic ethos of friendliness and community. It’s a product of our packed schedules and supercharged, manic desire to complete every item on the checklist. But it means that we only live with family: spend all our time with people who, by nature of their relationships, will always love and accept you for you who are.
This is why NS is good. Because staying in means you LIVE with other people. You spend your lives with them. You develop a sense of other people that only arises from constant community and exposure. You learn to subsume your own selfish desires and quirks to the utility of the larger community. OCS showed me the ugly side of myself: my pride, and my blindness to it. It taught me to be a wee bit more sensitive. Going to unit taught me not just how to deal with people, but more importantly, how to relate with people. Dealing with people connotes a mercenary, transactional process – you’re making a deal with someone. But relating with others? That’s totally different. It means treating others with kindness and tough love and stopping your instinctive knee-jerk reactions. Lessons which I am certainly still learning. But this is why staying in is important:
For Singaporean males, it is possibly the only opportunity in their lives to live with other people.
This means you learn to respect others. To take responsibility for your actions. Et cetera. It smoothens rough edges and alerts you to dirty undersides. If nothing else, it probably is a poor facsimile of what is necessary for marriage… Which is probably why guys who have completed their NS stint are commonly considered to be more ‘mature’. As with all stereotypes, there certainly has to be a grain of truth to it.
This is why NS is good, among other things. Besides all the political and military weight behind an entire policy decision. Because it teaches you, at a very basic and human level, the essential skill (yes, it can be trained and honed and learnt) of how to live with other people. Then all that is left is deciding exactly how you are going to do that.