Silent majority, silent tantrums and quiet politics

Dr Janil Puthucheary,
Dr Janil Puthucheary

Janil Puthuchery gave an interview today to the Straits Times about how complex it is to engage with the public, in the age of social media.

The vocal minority jumped at an opportunity to criticise the administration for a “lack of listening”.

I find it odd when some say “the government isn’t listening”. Even comparing them with first generation leaders, criticising how 1G leaders would shoot down people for questioning authority.

Firstly, the 1G worked a very different era. A violent era, an unstable era, a tumultuous era. Whatever their means and methods, it worked and that era had passed prosperously.

Back then, it was not easy to get an opinion across to the authorities.

If a journalist had wanted an opinion from a Member of Parliament, he had to cross stratas of bureaucracy and seek layers and layers of approval before an interview is even granted.

Today, journalists can send a mere SMS or an email to an MP directly and quotes can be granted at the snap of the finger. Even non-mainstream media can reach MPs and Ministers via a Facebook message or an email.

Some MPs are known to engage citizens on their Facebook walls.

Government agencies have also invited members of non-mainstream media to their press conferences, attend Question and Answer sessions with policy makers and even meet Ministers personally.

You also couldn’t say that there was no follow-up action.

Compare 2011 with today – look at the amount of change that had been effected. Issues which many political observers considered were sacred cows, were eventually slaughtered.

An Increased housing pool, judicial discretion (for death sentences for illegal drug importation), tightening labour policies, intensive SMRT scrutiny, changing of the name of the Syonan Gallery… there are so very many instances where the authorities have reacted to true public feedback.

I do not understand it when pockets of people continue to criticise the Government of “not listening”.

If by “listening”, you mean that you want action taken at every little whim, choke and sputter on the internet – then I am very glad that the G doesn’t react knee jerk to all this.

Sometimes, behind our monitors we think we have all the answers. We think our opinions are the smartest and sharpest. In our little vacuums, we think that the authorities are idiots for not taking our advice.

It is nothing new. “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool” said Shakespere.

“Mankind is made of two kinds of people: wise people who know they are fools and fools who think they are wise”, observed Socrates.

But you couldn’t just say it was the majority that is being silent.

The noisy ones are making noise merely through keyboards, through the world of bits and bytes.

It is but a silent tantrum. There is no real noise.

But all this is good. This quiet engagement is what makes Singapore peaceful, lawful and harmonious. This is the sort of engagement that I would prefer rather than an administration that panders to all segments of the electorate in a bid to make themselves appear that they’re “listening”.


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