The Foundation of Our Society
We have an Asian and multiracial society with a Chinese majority. That sums it up quite succinctly.
Paradoxical Nature of Singapore’s Society
The Asian characteristic of our society suggests conservatism and yet it is a relatively tolerant multi-racial society – which suggests progressiveness.
Our Relatively Tolerant Society Compared to Most Other Parts of The World
Did you notice just how nasty the world is recently? Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, United States electing an openly racist president and the spike in hate crimes against Muslims and LGBTs such as the spike following the Paris terror attack and the Orlando Gay Nightclub Shooting. Compared to all that, the most we have in Singapore is just a common sentiment against immigrants which does not translate to hate crimes or actions of any sort.
The Reason Behind This Difference is Not as Benign As You Might Think
The reason why Singapore appears relatively tolerant and progressive is not because it is tolerant and progressive. The reasons are in fact economic and security in nature.
The Point of Interest
Look at the countries/region where hate crimes are prominent: The U.S and Europe. What they have in common is the media’s sensationalist reports of economic situations and the terror attacks that they have received.
Reflect on what’s the big news that shook the world this year: Brexit, Greece leaving EU, Paris Attack, Migrant Crisis (the big numbers that the media constantly reports about, having the news that thousands of migrants are going to flood your country, how would that make you feel? Threatened? Probably.), and the U.S Presidential Election Campaign which was the most verbal and outright sensationalism of the economic and security situation in U.S (only the Donald Trump campaign, which he won; thus proving how effective his exaggerations were). Build a wall, ban Muslim immigrations completely? Imagine the kind of exaggerations of that situation that is needed to justify these kinds of extreme measures.
The Better Situation in Singapore
Now look at Singapore, are we not vastly different? Media reports economic slowdown but does not irresponsibly speculate a recession. Our ministers also constantly reassure that a slowdown is a situation-under-control. In fact, Singapore’s economy is doing quite well compared to the rest of the world, as I’ve explained in the previous post. As of now, we also do not have any terror attacks yet. So it is accurate to say that our economic and security situation is much better-off than most other parts of the world.
The Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs
Although this “theory” has been debunked in the psychology field, it possesses certain insights that we can make sense out of. The reason why this hierarchy is still so widely cited despite its deep research flaws (in which I will explain in another post) is because we can relate to it; it makes sense to us. Our first and foremost priority is to survive (physiological), to sustain this survival (security), meet our social needs as we evolved as social animals (love and belonging), inflate our own self-esteem to feel good about ourselves so that we can be happy (self-esteem), and finally to be bothered about living a virtuous life (self-actualization).
Maslow Hierachy Applied to The Context of The Situation
Now we have 3 factors at hand that I mentioned: progressiveness and tolerance (lack of prejudice, therefore self actualization), economic, and security (both belong to security and physiological need). And now we’ve established that economic and security factors are more important to us than progressivist and tolerance (our morality, if you would).
The Real Reason Why Singapore Appears So Tolerant and Progressive
Since our economic and security situation does not seem as dire (and is in fact less dire) than the other parts of the world, our first 2 needs are comparatively more well met. Assuming that love and belongings, and self-esteems are generally well-met (as it varies with individuals), people in Singapore are able to exhibit their final need of self-actualization; which translates to progressivism and tolerance.
Taking Comparison Out of The Picture, We Are Not Very Progressive And Tolerant After All
We have a society that is a paradoxical mix of progressivism and conservatism. We are sometimes progressive, sometimes conservative because the society as a whole is dealing with a societal-wide cognitive dissonance: we hold Asian values, and yet we are influenced by education and western culture to be progressive. Look at confusing division of Pink Vs White LGBT campaigns. Also, although we see women taking less and less of housewife roles, we still have a substantial proportion of housewives. In a recent survey by NUS on Singaporeans’ support of death penalty. Results concluded in the title: “Support for death penalty high, but ‘nuanced’: NUS survey”(Chelvan, 2016). We are evidently at a transitional phase but that also means that we are still not very tolerant and progressive.
Putting Our Values To The Test
The reason why I said that we are not as progressive and tolerant as we appear is that our tolerance and progressivism is conditional. If we want to truly measure how far we have progressed as a society in terms of values, we need similar conditions; which I truly hope we will never get – our first terrorist attack or economic meltdown.
Our society is in a transition phase from a conservative one to a progressive one, and we are able to reach even this stage is thanks to decades of economic prosperity, and security. Even though we might seem progressive and tolerant compared to other countries, it is an unfair comparison based on different contexts. I am not saying that Singapore is not progressive or tolerant. Instead, I am saying that we should not take our society’s outward appearance at face value.
P.s this whole entry is based largely on my view out of thin air w/o much concrete referencing. Take it with a grain of salt.
Chelvan, V.P. (2016) Support for death penalty high, but “nuanced”: NUS survey. Available at: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/support-for-death-penalty-high-but-nuanced-nus-survey/3351236.html (Accessed: 9 December 2016).