A Request

The Joke

Hello everyone, my name is Peng Sing and I will be writing under the screen name, Scherzo (pronounced ‘S’care-Zoh’) which stands for “Joke” in Italian. You’ll find out more about me in the times to come… if I am able to sustain my interest in contributing regularly.

This post is actually a request; something that has been bothering me lately. It is a timely request, because more and more young people are becoming interested in politics/political commentary. But too many fall prey to euphemism, dishonesty and witch-hunting (personal attacks).

I came across a speech by Loh Kah Seng, given during the launch of “Men in White” at a library, which got me thinking a bit. The main excerpt which caught my attention was how he aptly describes a social phenomenon among our youth in the recent years:

“There is a tendency for young Singaporeans to read our past for inspiration and vilification. This is not surprising and is part of the enduring appeal of history. Inspiration because the past provides positive precedents, or heroes, of an earlier generation of Singaporeans (also young and idealistic then) struggling to make Singapore a better, fairer and more open society. Vilification because history also provides what appears to be proof of what some present day young Singaporeans want to believe – that the government is repressive, manipulative and narrowly neo-liberal. In short, we read Singapore history for Lim Chin Siong and Operation Coldstore.”

There’s a whole load of anti-establishment/anti-PAP angst that show up frequently on the Temasek Review and many other Internet portals that discuss Local Affairs. It is there where you can find these Singapore’s Neo-political-liberalists. My impression of them is that they love to go about scrutinizing every single piece of pro-government literature that comes out in mainstream media with “critical thinking skills” they picked up from god-knows-where. Very often these are senseless personal attacks at various political figures, or simply emotionally charged posts that appeal to the reader. They always seem to make sense at first, but upon full of logical fallacies that are either misleading or isolated cases that are exaggerated.

Be wary of:

Appeals to popularity – just because something is popular/unpopular, does not mean it is correct. Eg. “Majority of Singaporeans are disappointed with budget 2010. Singapore is going down.” Because everyone is upset about something, does not mean that it is harmful. Note that the use of ‘Majority’ as well: Majority of Singaporeans? Anti-government activists are also Singaporeans! And where did he get his numbers from?

False-dichotomies – Something that is not good, does not mean that it is bad. Be alert for people that present you with only 2 options, do not let them fool you into thinking there is no room for alternatives or to remain neutral.

Red Herrings – Used as a distraction. Eg. The PAP is not putting enough emphasis on keeping a tighter leash on PRs, what’s worse, incentives for childbirth have been stagnant for the past few years Clearly, immigration and childbirth incentives have little in common, but is roped into the argument to make the PAP look bad when in actual fact the argument at hand is about immigration policies!

I Forgot What This Fallacy is Called – But it is still a fallacy. When considering reading peoples’ interpretations of social/political trends, always take note of how his ideas are presented. Was the trend drawn from data/reliable observations? Or was it the other way round? There is likelihood that many poor/dishonest political commentators base their conclusions from their opinions/emotions first, then find ways to support their conclusion, often leaving out on purpose vital pieces of information that actually prove them wrong.

Finally, remember to address all the other political parties that isn’t PAP as ‘non-ruling parties’ and not ‘opposition parties’. It brings about a very negative connotation and is subconsciously perpetuated to those growing up; ‘opposition’ appears to be rather disruptive as compared to non-ruling.

It is unfair, if not difficult, to instantly label various political parties that don’t begin with ‘P’ and end with ‘AP’ to harbour malicious intents. They may ‘oppose’ the PAP sometimes, but where Singaporeans are concerned, they are addressing the concerns of a group of Singapore Citizens. As much as they like to find fault in our government/PAP and have peculiar ways of doing things, we must bear in mind that most of their intentions are good.

These are habits of the mind, to be critical of others’ thoughts as well as your own.

Have fun poking fun at lousy political blogs/articles/comments on Temasek Review! 😀

Monikers aka Generalisations

Frustrated by Intricacies

An article in The Economist raised a rather interesting but oft-neglected problem: the proliferation of labels and categories where countries are haphazardly shuffled in, without consideration for historical or geographical accuracy. I first encountered this in JC Geography, when we were taught to evaluate (it’s amazing though that we have to be taught how to evaluate, but this is the A-levels for you) the tendency of geographers to pigeon-hole countries into monikers like the North and the South or Third World, Second World and First World, which can be highly inaccurate and neglects discrepancies or outliers. In the topic of Globalisation, we were taught that to divide the world into a simplistic North-South divide would be to forget about what it really means to be geographically in the Northern hemisphere or Southern hemisphere. Developed countries like Australia and Singapore, for instance, would be technically south of what is in the North in the divide but that does not mean these countries are economically comparable to other countries in the South.

Pardon if what I just described to you sounds confusing, but you will get a better idea if you read The Economist article, which gives many more examples of blatant generalisations in history and geography. Even labels we consider absolutely normal or acceptable might hint of insensitivities. We often refer to South America as Latin America, but this term smacks of colonialism, and the continent while still speaking mainly Spanish and Portugese is certainly wielding its own influence rather than continue to be within the Latin or European sphere of influence.

These labels are certainly convenient, but we should never forget that they must be questioned every now and then to check their relevance. Like, even the oft-used ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries could be questioned in terms of the spheres they cover and how to categorise countries. For instance, would Singapore be a ‘developed’ or ‘developing’ country? And based on what indicators?

Something for the GP (General Paper) and Geography student to think about.

Julian Baggins

Duck Book
Not a Duck Thing

A trip to the bookstore introduced me to two books by Julian Baggini, who turns out to be a ‘philosopher’. It’s rare to find anyone with this title to their names but he is by a large a journalist or writer from my point of view given the works he produce. The two books I stumbled on, which I found immensely useful to students of General Paper in Junior College level is The Duck That Won the Lottery and 99 Other Bad Arguments as well as The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten and 99 Other Thought Experiments.

The Duck is about arguments and rhetoric, which are aspects of writing and presentation that is usually missing in our General Paper classes. We have extremely few lessons where we truly tear apart arguments and examine rhetoric used by writers, politicians, activist. Getting to know how to avoid bad arguments and thereby make good ones would not only help lawyers in court but an ordinary student when it comes to presenting his/her ideas during lesson, trying to engage peers in a project/idea as well as General Paper writing.

The Pig, on the other hand, examines arguments made by others – basically a GP lesson for each of the text or passage examined in the book. It claims to hold thought experiments but basically Baggini is merely making readers think twice about arguments or scenarios presented and the ideas behind them. I didn’t quite read the books but simply browse through them. Even if they don’t present the topics well, they are good starting point for how you should actually be studying GP.

Baggini writes a lot of other books, perhaps more related to philosophy than the two I pointed out. In addition, he also does a magazine, TPM: The Philosopher’s Magazine, which looks pretty impressive.

Xmas Economist

Xmas Sock
Merry Holidays!

This boxer day came with reads as well, ERPZ decided not to rest on the day after Christmas so here’s your reads for this holiday weekend, almost all from The Economist’s latest double issue’s Christmas Specials.

We first have Arguing till Death, a lesson for America from history’s greatest Western Philosopher, Socrates’ life. I got introduced to Aristophanes’ The Clouds through the article and is pleasantly surprised by the sort of humour ancient Greeks were capable of.

Hi There discusses politeness and courtesy in the English Language and the effect of this spread of English Language on the world today. The other talks about the virtues and motivations of being a foreigner in the world today and on the same issue is an article, A Ponzi scheme that works that looks into the migrant society of America today and the allure of it.

For viewing pleasure, How to make a splash in social media by Alex Ohanian. It’ll only require about 4 plus minutes of your attention; a short time before you dash off to the next party. Ohanian really gives a strong message about how the Internet works and how you might be able to ride on it to help you with a cause, but like what he says in the end, ‘you are not going to be in control’.