Monday, February 1, 2010

An indoctrination process during NS

An indoctrination process during NS

Alvin Phoon

Being Singaporean means experiencing a lot of things. Good food. High prices. SPGs. It also means constantly receiving some excellent reasons for why things are; reasons that may or may not (mostly not) justify fallacies in the current political system. I’m sure we’ve all heard some amazingly creative comments and justifications for shortcomings in our society, most of which have been provided by the beloved leaders of our country. Just recently, I was subjected to a talk during my reservist training in which the speaker, whom I shall address as Mr X, provided some interesting viewpoints.

Mr X is eloquent, intelligent and charming. In fact, he manages, within the first five minutes, to capture the undivided attention of the room, and it remains that way for a good hour. How he does this is simple. First, he makes it clear that he understands the predicament of everyone in the room. Complete with hand gestures, a passionate tone and a slightly higher volume than normal, he questions the intelligence of those who put us in the room. Next, he likens himself to the group –working men pulled out of their busy schedules by a higher power to attend unnecessary activities. That one garners him even more support from the group. Finally, he tells the group that instead of having a normal presentation, he is going to make it a discussion, just so that it’s more interesting for us. That completes the group’s transformation. They are now relatively contented, wide awake and ready to debate, when before it was mostly a propensity to swear.

Now, Mr X is ready to serve up the main course. He asks the group if there is anything they are unhappy with as Singaporeans.

ERP Gantries

The issue is raised by one of the guys, who says he disagrees with the government’s decision to increase the number of Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantries. The opinion is echoed around the room. Some say it isn’t fair that they have to pass through the gantries several times.

Mr X’s response: The ERP gantries help regulate the flow of traffic. They are there to discourage Singaporeans from driving so that the roads will stay clear. Public transport in Singapore is efficient enough to provide alternative means of travelling. He then compares the prices to the London Congestion Charge (£8 a day) and tells us how much better we have it here.

National Service

The inevitable question surfaces relatively early. Why are Singaporean men subjected to National Service? Is conscription really necessary?

Mr X uses a brilliant lock analogy to justify the necessity of National Service. He asks us if we lock our front doors when we go to sleep at night.

“If you don’t lock your doors, you might wake up at 3am to find someone pushing your plasma TV out the door. If you ask him why he’s doing that, he’ll tell you it’s because your door was open.”

He then explains the analogy: Everyone serving national service, including those who are Operationally Ready NS men, are considered the country’s lock. We are the guys who lockdown the nation so that the rest of the population feel safe enough go to sleep.


Mr X brings up this next point himself, which implies that he had prepared himself thoroughly for such a question. Why are there so many foreigners in the country? Why do we need to import so many of them?

Singapore is targeting a population of six million, so as to ensure that the country maintains a progressive long-term economic order. Everything sounds right. Then, Mr X begins his tirade.

First, he questions if it is wise that Singaporeans are refusing to have more than one child, if any at all. He is backed up by statistics which show that Singapore has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world; about 1.25 per resident female compared to about three in the 1970s. He wants to know if we will remain economically stable if our population dips to three million. That is the reason, he claims, why the government is importing foreigners: Because Singaporeans refuse to help solve the problem.

“At the rate we’re going, in about a hundred years’ time, Singaporeans may not even exist anymore. By then, the only place you can see one is in a museum!”

He continues by saying that Singaporeans are feeling threatened, and uses the reactions of Singaporeans towards news of our top PSLE student being a Chinese import as an example. He talks about how foreigners working as sales personnel in local malls have better attitudes that their local counterparts. He emphasizes that Singaporeans were all children of immigrants anyway, and so why shouldn’t we welcome foreigners?


By now Mr X has stopped taking questions. He begins talking about how the Singapore government has done such a good job resisting the lures of corruption. Despite my best efforts, he didn’t hear me snigger. He then asks if it is possible that the government will one day succumb to temptation. Raising, as an example, the rise of the Philippines as one of the world’s top trading centres and their fall from grace, leading to women coming to Singapore to work as maids, he asks if our women might suffer that very same fate one day.

He ends his talk with two stories. The first is about an Australian family he encountered while on holiday. After a barbeque, the Australian family replaced the charcoal before driving off. Mr X emphasizes that although there was a sign telling users to do so, there was no one around to enforce the rule. But they did it anyway. Subsequently, he drives into a small town where he sees a table full of fresh fruit with no one manning it. He notices a tin labeled ‘50 cents’, and says that there is no way something like this could ever happen in Singapore.

The second is about an incident he observed while in a local supermarket. After finishing a food sample given to her by promoters, a young girl was instructed by her grandmother to throw the toothpick on the floor. According to him, Singaporeans have been spoon-fed by the government so much that we now expect them to clean up after us.

“Throw it away and the government will send someone to clean it up.”

He adds that there isn’t a strong sense of community and trust in Singapore, and finishes off by saying that it is up to us, and not the government, to be civic-minded.

Later, I discover that Mr X served as an Army regular for 30 years, before setting up his own company to provide leadership programmes and “National Education” talks to various organizations. His clients include the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Ministry of Defence and the Singapore Civil Defence Force. Explains a lot doesn’t it?

The condescending manner in which Mr X delivers his points suggests that he considers the men in the room to be intellectually inferior to him, thus rendering them incapable of making their own decisions and opinions about their own country. Visualize a kindergarten teacher talking to her students about evolution and you’ll get an accurate picture. Besides being a complete waste of time, it is an immense insult to our intelligence.

The question remains though: Why us? Is the whole thing an elaborate set-up manufactured to exploit whatever feelings of patriotism an In-Camp Training session may incite? Are we easy targets because we are old enough to vote and young enough to be considered easily influenced? Or is reservist training more about feeding us false information and justifications, than making sure we maintain our physical fitness?

Mr X epitomizes everything the government is: intelligent, cunning, articulate, and committed to the cause. The question is whether we have what it takes to identify their methods. Judging from the reactions of the other men in the room as they trek off to lunch, it seems like we have some way to go.

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