“When Singapore Inc Simply Means Having to Apologize (Part II) – A Surreal Conversation With A Rabbit
Posted by intellisg on March 21, 2007
“People don’t hate what they see. They hate what they don’t see. The only problem is how do you even fight what you can’t see? See what I mean folks! That’s the thing that drives me up the wall. That’s the whole problem with those cotton picking commies! I just hate them for all the wrong reasons that I can’t seem to see, let alone think of!”
It’s a quote once uttered by an obscure senator by the name of Joseph McCarthy whose brief arc in American history exemplified the psychology of hate on a national and continental scale.
(1) I AM IN TROUBLE MY MODEL IS GOING NO WHERE!
I am certain something like those feelings which was once ran deep and silent in the American psyche during the 50’s. Currently exist in the mind of our Asian neighbors whenever the topic of Singapore and Singaporeans comes out. Real or imagined, these sentiments are often exacerbated by a milieu of factors, economic disparity, religious differences, historical fissures and a thousand other factors come into play. It all adds up to conjure the image where we (Singaporeans) are perceived as the rich kid on the block by our ASEAN neighbors. We are the smarty pants everyone likes to hate. Having said that, it also says very little beyond the run of the mill trite and cliché – it holds, saccharine true, only because it leaves a lingering taste long enough to remain believable. But falls short of being substantively convincing – that’s what happens when you use a lousy model – it produces lousy thinking – along with lousy results.
A lousy model: a comparative model, one which essentially list in bullet point fashion the why’s and very little else. For one it lacks the academic verve to explain why the divide continues to exist. Neither does it address any of the jugular issues or even tries to tease out their (our neighbors) motivations. Nor does a comparative model explain why we (Singaporeans) often feel a sense of estrangement by failing to fully comprehend their actions, beyond simply dismissing them as either illogical or irrational. It’s just a neat way of looking at problems, a grocery list divided into two neat columns – if only we lived in a simple world. If only. Then perhaps it would make perfect sense.
(2) WHY I NEED A NEW MODEL
Last night, I tried to meet up with darkness to share my predicament with him in Project Entropia in the virtual. There I was boarding the last shuttle to the virtual planet. The chap sitting opposite me was a rabbit headed man. Soon a conversation started in earnest and next thing I knew, the rabbit was mulling over my model. He was quite an intelligent chap. It didn’t take him long to connect the dots and register the same reservations I had concerning the limits of my model.
“No I am afraid this just doesn’t cut it.” He clucked while we buckled and hunkered down for the atmospheric re-entry.
When I asked whether he had a better alternative, the rabbit man remarked quite casually; whenever divides cannot be succinctly defined due to their complexities and breadth. It pays to go back to basics. And leverage on the usage of simple metaphors instead. When I asked whether this was a professional way to frame a serious discussion?
He replied vehemently, he didn’t see why not. It’s as serious an enterprise as using bulls and bear to describe the workings of complex forces in the stock market. He quipped,
“It simply requires the lateral train to see the wisdom of going back to basics.”
After all he explained, the analogy doves and hawks is often used by pundits to lend transparency to US politics. Even the French revolution wasn’t as much a conflict between the aristocracy and the peasantry. As it was a dispute between two feathered creatures, peacocks and cockerels. The rabbit man went on to explain: since the beginning of time. Events were easier to understand if one treated people as members of a class rather than as individuals (acting in unison). He seemed to be quite a clever rabbit. I found myself nodding to myself as the shuttle came to the halt and hatch opened.
On the way to the interplanetary immigration. I asked whether this animalistic model would perhaps skewer the outcome of my analysis? I realized the rabbit man had don on a sizeable top hat. I remembered feeling quite embarrassed standing next to him as he fidgeted with his over sized pocket watch.
(3) GETTING A GRASP OF THE MYTH OF OBJECTIVE ANALYSIS.
The rabbit man went on to explain what he described as, “the myth of objective analysis.” He considered it odd that most analytical models required all observations to be framed only along the comparative (i.e for or against). As a result, this has traditionally determined how scholars usually framed the context of problem solving. By adhering strictly to a process of dichotomizing the truth into two competing half truths. Usually the divide is based on drawing a comparative between sense and nonsense, fact and myth, right and wrong, logical and nonsensical etc – like I said he was a smart rabbit.
According to the rabbit this tendency to rely implicitly on dichotomization usually produced errors in reasoning as only solutions can only be expected to emerge from absolute truths. Those that didn’t were simply treated as one off’s or anomalies. The limitation of dichotomizing an argument lies in its inability to tease out the finer issues in the wider context of how they may continue operate to modulate the final outcome.
The scholarly rabbit went on to explain this was why he proposed framing the problem which I had described by using a simple animalistic metaphor something along the lines of hare and tortoise. He went on to explain this approach differed from the traditional line of reasoning. As it implicitly accepted the fact people may even continue adopting an “illogical line” of reasoning that may not necessary be seen in the right or wrong context. Rather it treated as a factual reality. In the same way tortoises are slow creatures and no reasonable zoologist would ever expect it to perform like a hare and vice versa. It’s a model that goes a long way to recognize the inherent strengths and weakness of subjects in a model. While the traditional methods of reasoning simply define arguments in terms of what constitutes logical and illogical actions. The implication being what is logical is necessary right. And what illogical is wrong. That in the view of Mr Rabbit was simply flawed reasoning. Like I said, this was no ordinary rabbit. He was definitely a smart cookie.
He went on to mention while the habit of dichotomizing issues may work quite well most of the time. To frame the divide along lets say, the moral and ethical scale. Its shortcomings were all too evident if deployed to address more complex issues. Like why do so many of our ASEAN neighbors hate us? Unlike morality or ethics that has clearly delineated do’s and don’ts. Behavior is largely a function based on a given set of circumstances. Even then two people subjected to the same circumstances may choose to respond differently thus producing different outcomes.
(4) IT NEVER EVER HAPPENED. SO WHY DID IT HAPPEN? HOW DID WE GO SO WRONG?
As we where walking somewhere between two lamp post, I challenged the rabbit to show me an example in recorded history. How my model failed to adequately capture the nuances by dichotomizing problems into two competing parts. He (the rabbit) retorted by waving his walking stick around like a magician (I believe he has certain powers, as do some avatars in the virtual).
Soon we found ourselves seated in a gallery in what appeared to be a period quorum. It was a scene set in the courtly setting of 14th century Spain. One that many historians have documented. The famous conflict between science and religion, reason and mysticism which played out in the University of Salamanca between Christopher Columbus and the Church. In this encounter popular myth dictates how Columbus bravely held up a melon and challenged the religious clerics by proclaiming the world was round. While the former insisted it was flat as a pizza. You know the story don’t you? There was such a conflict wasn’t there?
Wrong, contrary to popular myth which was undoubtedly the result of traditionally viewing conflict in terms of dichotomies of right and wrong, evil and good, logical and nonsensical, round or flat. In reality, Christian consensus had never once disputed or even remotely challenged Greek and Roman knowledge of the earth’s spherical shape as its often depicted by Hollywood and bookwriters. Neither did Columbus cross swords with clerics in the great hall that day either. As historians regularly like to point out, his interrogators did indeed wear clerical garb. What they conveniently omitted was this was what Spanish scholars typically wore. They were not clerics as much as the best astronomers, navigators and geographers of their time who knew better than to dispute the fairytale, the world is flat as a pizza. Incidentally the pizza hadn’t even been invented then. Somewhere between settling down to enjoy the melee and wondering how the rabbit conjured up the scene in the sidewalk. The rabbit waved his magic stick and froze the computer generated rendition and strutted to the podium, he looked almost like a wind up toy as he stooped low and looked around the long oak table. At times even waving his hands absent mindedly as he muttered, “no melon” or “nope, not there either.” It didn’t take me long to realize he was parodying the famous scene when Columbus held up a melon to describe the shape of the world. In reality, as the rabbit confided to me latter, the debaters who confronted Columbus that day argued about the earth’s diameter, not its shape. Moreover, they were right! And Columbus entirely wrong when the panel of scholarly critics pointed out how he had woefully underestimated the distance required to reach the Indies by insisting on sailing the Western route.
The scene raises the question, how did historians and the rest of us get it so wrong? Why do so many people continue to believe Columbus valiantly crossed swords with the clergy and won the argument hands down by discovering terra incognita? The rabbit will of course continue to insist it’s an aberration that is all too common. A failing that can only come from seeing the world by dichotomizing issues into gladiatorial terms where only one can survive and remain true while the other simply needs to appear to die a nonsensical death. Even if it means killing the truth to promote the apparent lie in the truth!
The argument of using the wrong tools to do the job i.e the model of dichotomization goes a long way to explain how many of us continue to see the debate between right and wrong, moral and immoral and the ongoing saga of how Singapore’s neighbors continue view her negatively. Just to illustrate the point how aberrations in the deductive process can occur. Take the enduring divide between science and religion along with the rest of its derivative stances, evolutionism against creationism. Science tries to record and explain the factual character of the natural world. Whereas religion struggles with spiritual and ethical questions about the meaning and proper conduct of our lives. Both remain true only if they are seen and measured along side their respective narratives. Once science is used to explain religion or vice-versa the entire logic begins to unravel into unmitigated diatribe.
By the same analogical token by superimposing this illustration of science and religion on how our neighbors may perceive us or even how we may perceive them. What is ultimately a matter of right and wrong, logic or nonsense can really only be ascertained in the true sense of the word, relative to where we may choose to stand and see the problem. Do we for example try to answer the question from the perspective of our neighbors? Can we derive at a collaborative result if we do so from the Singaporean point of view? The answer is of course no.
To even entertain the belief they (our neighbors) may be illogical may be the truth in one sense. But it hardly qualifies as a truism as it discounts whole sale their culture, history and even how they may choose to profile their world view. After all to gain a deeper understanding of why our neighbors hate us. We need to ask another question who after all are they? To simply say they are faceless Indonesians, Malaysians or Thais, says something but it also says absolutely nothing. However, if one goes beyond the substrate and ask the question who really is the Indonesian who considers us arrogant? We may eventually discover he was of mix parentage, hails from Jakarta, a muslim by faith, who was once educated in Singapore, worked for some years in New York, drives a Japanese car, loves to fish and regularly comes over for the Singapore sales. In this sense when we ask ourselves why does this person consider us (Singaporeans) arrogant? We also need to determine which one of these attributes which make up his entire characterization as a human being actually takes precedence? Is it one factor or perhaps a combination? Or is it a hybridization when one factor collides with another to produce an alternate third? That succinctly goes some way to illustrate why trying to pin down the causal factors why our neighbors hate us remains so elusive.
(5) BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD – I SHALL RETURN!
There lies the broken dreams of my model, its tendency to frame the problem as a battle between two opposing camps – it certainly boast a pedigree of some sorts since it is a model that is widely used. One that may even produce bias results to lead us to conclude, its not our fault if others choose to behave irrationally.
Unfortunately, its one that’s also blind to the complexities of why our neighbors continue to hate us. The truth after all may even lie somewhere between us and them somewhere in the no mans land other than the neat placement of right and wrong or logic and nonsense land. If we are to get closer to the truth, we simply need to stand in our neighbors shoes and see events through borrowed eyes and hear the “truth” through borrowed ears. If nothing else doing so fulfils one important criteria which the comparative model can never accomplish – the recognition that each position even if it appears to be wrong and insensate is after all premised on a diverse opinion one which when even combined with our own uniquely Singaporean point of world view can even add up to some semblance of wholeness. To frame the problem by shearing off legitimate differences such as culture, history, geo-politico and sociological factors only produces the run of mill cliché of why they (our neighbors) hate us. It’s one the glosses over a problem that’s so irreducibly, and so fascinatingly complex. That perhaps is the only progress I have made in this article. Some may say that’s nothing much, but its not exactly nothing either – it’s one that goes a long way to tell us at least how we should try to make sense of the issue.
Somewhere between mulling over these thoughts and watching the rabbit man, It dawned on me there was something familiar about this comical figure. It may have been the way he dressed or just the animated manner in which his gait resembled a happy jig, but the déjà vu feeling was hard to shake off.
I remember saying to myself I have seen this rabbit somewhere before perhaps in some picture book in the moment of my youth. Yes, a story about a young curious English girl who downed a potion that simply said, “drink me.” Only to end up falling into a rabbit-hole that went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice, that’s her name had not a moment to think about stopping ….or where she was…it was the same rabbit the one from Alice in Wonderland.
Watching the strange figure I couldn’t help but wonder whether he was toying with me. His demeanor in the noon light suggesting even our meeting on board the shuttle was no chance but rather arranged by some mysterious force.
“Do you know a man called darkness? I am supposed to meet him here tonight.” I asked.
The rabbit smiled enigmatically, tapped his top hat with his cane, his demeanor suggesting with an air of mischief.
“How far down the hole do you really want to go Alice?”
[A note from the Author: I am deferring the second segment of my paper, “When Singapore Inc Simply Means Having to Apologize (Part II), till I have finalized the model to best make sense of the debate. Meanwhile allow me to impose on your patience as I don’t really know when this will happen. Perhaps when I emerge out of the rabbit’s hole on the other side, I am sure the man called darkness is waiting for me on the other side.]
(By Scholarboy / Socio / Political / Strategic Studies EP 9938838- 2007 The Brotherhood Press 2007)
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