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The silent workers: Identity and resistance in Singapore’s controlled society

A piece examining Singapore, a nation in self-exile, reveals a culture of fear and silence. Its overworked populace lacks genuine emotion, creativity, and resistance, all masked by false narratives of happiness.



by Srikandi Karma

Singapore is a nation in exile from itself, alien to its own self. An academic friend used to ask her students whether they were Southeast Asians. In a room of five hundred, ten or fifteen would raise their hands, usually internationals from other Southeast Asian countries. Singaporeans have been drilled into believing that they are lucky not to be their primitive neighbors, who live in poor and dirty fishing villages.

Mass media recently propagated articles about Singapore being the happiest country in Asia. However, a 2012 survey revealed only 36% of Singaporeans feel any emotions on a daily basis, the lowest figure worldwide. No happiness, no sadness, no anger: just an empty machine.

The suicide rate in 2022 was 8.44 per 100,000 people, over triple the Indonesian figure.  In the same year, Singapore was named the most overworked nation in Asia Pacific. According to the HealthHub website, “Singaporeans are amongst the most sleep-deprived worldwide.”

Singaporeans are some of the most unfortunate people in Asia today. The anthology Psychology in Singapore begins by stating that Singaporeans are afraid of creativity.

If anything distinguishes Singapore from its neighbors, it seems to be fear: afraid of speaking out, afraid of self-expression, afraid of honest conflict, afraid of who they are. Increasingly, the population speaks less Malay and dialect in favor of English. Chinese culture is reduced to tea drinking ceremonies and convenient rewritings of Confucian philosophy.

Sun Yat Sen proclaimed Lao Tzu the father of anarchist philosophy, the doctrine that people don’t need governments and hierarchies to cooperate in building an orderly society.

Confucius wrote that wealth is not worth pursuing and possessing wealth in an unjust society is shameful. The Chinese culture in Singapore is a castrated mess, sterilized from everything that opposes the interest of capital and government. People wear the same mass-produced Japanese shirts and obsess over Korean pop while happily consuming Western culture on the internet.

There is more awareness of the latest farce in American politics than the violent dislocation of Malays from their kampungs in Batam to build a solar panel factory. Light skin color is glorified and people dye their hair blonde to become white. Streets are still named after colonial British leaders.

When I asked students what being Singaporean is, the most common response was, “I’m not Singaporean.” Singaporeans are wearing a mask and running away from themselves.

Labor Day will see enormous protests and celebrations throughout the streets of Nusantara, from Java to the Philippines, with one exception: Singapore.

While Indonesian soldiers gladly shoot live ammunition into protests and activists in the Philippines are tortured by the military government, progressive political movements flourish under impossible circumstances. The common excuse that Singaporeans don’t resist because they can’t is nonsensical.

There is no meaningful resistance in Singapore, no grassroots political threat to the incumbent, and no attempt to create a better world because there is no life without self-knowledge. Gramsci wrote that “the starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory.”

Self-knowledge comes from tapping into the histories and cultures of Nusantara, her colonization and revolutions, that is, the history of your family and surroundings, why you feel, think, and live in the way that you do.

Having lost the plot, Singaporeans don’t know where to go next. Too much ink has been spilled over government intervention in private lives, state surveillance, widespread repression, and so on, which blames the problem on an external party outside the Singaporean working class and her internal developments. This tradition comes from the Western academic focus on social structures as rigid walls detached from agency and relationships.

In fact, when you repeat how omniscient and powerful the government is, the government is in your head, speaking through you, moving your tongue through the invisible strings called fear to spread the disease.

Gandhi wrote that “[the British] are not in India because of their strength, but because we keep them” and “to blame them for this is to perpetuate their power.”

Likewise, as Pramoedya wrote, “lacking courage is why foreign entities can enslave us.” A free person cannot be enslaved. Conversely: without courage, you are no different from livestock.

Brief transgression on Pramoedya: he is the greatest writer of the Indonesian revolution, read widely through Nusantara by Vietnamese trade unions and Indonesian hackers alike. Yet he is nearly unknown amongst Singaporeans, even the progressives, who know almost nothing about the region and prefer copying Western theories.

The key to a liberated Singapore is a total revolution, which must first take place in the spirit and psychology of the people, starting from yourself. Not tomorrow, not next decade, but right now.

No authority figure is going to descend from heaven and fix your life, tell you who you are, and what must be done. Initially, this piece was on the political economy of Singapore and what interventions the writer thinks would be effective. That would have been the wrong ladder to sketch.

As long as Singaporeans fear the creative turbulence within yourselves, as long as you lack initiative and wait for authorities to command you, as long as you don’t act like a citizen of the free humane world you wish to live in, you will be nothing more than joyless overworked slaves living off drugs and breeding even more cattle. Multatuli wrote that the duty of a human being is to become a human being.

The basic foundation of effective revolutionary activity – not terrorist martyrdom and not necessarily violence, which is a dangerous last resort – is how you exist in relation to the people around you.

Suppose you are a student. You don’t live in solidarity with other students and the workers on campus, helping out and learning from each other.

Every weekend, you write social media posts to raise funds and every year, you hold picnics to protest government policies. Very quickly, you’ll find yourself burnt out, cynical, and probably depressed, though you might run away from your emotions by overworking yourself.

Not only is that ineffective politics that hasn’t and won’t lead to the change we need – a complete rehaul of our economy, politics, and relationships in service of dignified good living instead of the endless pursuit of capital – it is a miserable way to live.

Or suppose you’re a worker with the same ideology of activism. Your ideology, after all, is how you live your life. If you say you believe in strikes and unions but spend your time building NGOs, that is either hypocrisy or self-deceit. You don’t share food with your neighbours, you don’t organize your workplace to buy medicine for the sick, and your ghost friends whenever convenient.

Forget changing the world, start from yourself. Learn how to treat people as equals with respect. Everyone is your teacher. The writer treats her trade union and collective friends across Nusantara like her own family, and vice versa. When the right person lives in the right circumstances, the right practices will organically follow. You don’t choose where you’re born and during what historical moment, but how you live in relation to these conditions is up to you.

The secret of modernity is that only the individual can free her own self and digest her own history. Revolution is in you and I – otherwise, it is just another opium of the people.

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This piece masquerades as an examination of Singaporeans’ lack of resistance against capital and state and a manifesto to galvanise them into action. However, it is in reality nothing more than moralistic drivel. The author harps away on Singaporean unhappiness: high suicide rate, overwork, sleep-deprived. But rather than discussing the definite economic conditions that produce these in Singapore compared to say Indonesia, Philippines, etc, they conclude that the main difference is “fear”: Singaporeans are just cowards. This is like telling someone who is suicidal that they “fear” life and can simply choose not to be suicidal, or telling a slave… Read more »

trivia: minimum income in the USA hasn’t increased for the past 60+ years, but adjusted for inflation. sound familiar? meanwhile their elites give themselves huge pay increases year over year
Probably that explains why American unions are making a strong comeback. Biden recently made history as the first sitting American Pres to join a picket line. Not saying he’s pro union. American corps hate unions.
current regime takes cues from American corporations “best practices” in many areas.

It is known that zoo’s animals are well fed and live longer. Well, Singaporeans are fed by vouchers and rebates, they are not capable of feeding themselves! Singaporeans yell and shout in Hong Lim Parks for change, but without the ball to change themselves! They think the PAP could listen or heard them! Singaporeans are given the chance to change but without ball, nothing will change! Voting the same only asking for the situation to remain the same. Without enough Oppositions in Parliament, PAP will only make changes to benefit themselves! If Singaporeans are serious for change, they must grow… Read more »

Sadly true. 😓

All citizens have been lied to and fooled over and over again to keep these useless bunch in power. Now voicing out will make very little difference because they’ve secured the majority house and inserted their clones into strategic establishments to control the masses. They’ve even gone to the extent to define your race and remove certain races by using the term ‘others’.
In short, they’re playing God on this soil.

Chinese culture is reduced to tea drinking ceremonies and convenient rewritings of Confucian philosophy “.

The article omitted the fact that the chinese also make to believe themselves as Ang Moh people by adopting western Ang Moh names.

Wong Shyun Tsai is shy with this chinese name that he renamed himself as Lawrence Wong.

However the Tamils here do not.

The Malays on the other hand is a mixed bag to do so.

Stepford wives come to mind. This is the achievement of the PAP govt. to successfully hold power and as CCS said for another 100years.

The PAP party did not need to do anything, to get to where they are now.
All they needed to do was….say….every 5 years or so….Hey…VOTE FOR US and these dumb fuck local ‘silent workers’ as this dumb fuck article put it, went for it!
So nobody to blame but the DUMB FUCK ‘SILENT WORKERS’ themselves.
Tio boh?😆😆😆😆🤣🤣🤣

Can one say this PAP Administration CONDEMN Singaporeans BUT LOVE the F hell of any and all foreigners be them come here as retail assistants, drivers, hawkers, F n B workers, clerks, real est agents, insurance agents fake police, and so on.

And all these jobs the PAP Administration have u believe Singaporeans DO NOT want to works as? Is it a LIE?

The BOTAK BASTARD would invariably respond with his cascading condescending saliva waterfall.

Watch out.

The PAP Administration has INTENTIONALLY CRAFTED the people in SG as HUMANOIDS.

Why humanoids – like the writer illustrated, the falsehoods of being a human, that offers no creativity, no emotions, no true love, NO SPIRIT of NATIONALISM. Their existence is MERELY to live by.

And the PAP Administration LOVE the humanoids 6 millions numbers in SG which then make their salaries of Million Dollars so ez to bank in.

And what, they SUCCESSFULLY embedded the No Blame Culture EVEN INDIRECTLY under their political lordship people dying with blood on their hands.

The PAP has clowned SG into a make believe oasis, for political stability, for financial trading, for hub this hub that, springboard this springboard that. When the reality beckons no one wants to establish real deep roots in SG. Survey anyone 100, bet they say cine SG to make money. More than 10 years ago, likely was a good place to raise kids bcz it’s safe.

Many other places is getting safer. A better developed human being is way much better than a safe kid.

For decades, SillyPoreans have been brought up on a “prescribed” diet of, … fear the government, filial piety to the government and fold to the government !!!

To attempt anything new or fresh now, … would never be tolerated by the digestive system, and truth be told, most SillyPoreans are extremely happy with the diet !!!

The only side effect to this diet, which is not common knowledge to SillyPoreans is, … it restricts and in many cases inhibits the advancement of brain cells !!!

One has to really dumb down himself to act like everything is fine. But in Singapore, one is outcasted he is slightly more vocal and shares a different view….

Singaporeans are brainwashed.