Saturday, June 03, 2006

Light touch approach to Internet regulation

Heavenly Sword likes to analyze things and write long essays online, but he also believes that the phrase ‘paralysis by analysis’ could sometimes be true. I think that there are really some events around us that are best interpreted by intuition. So here’s one of my shortest essays in my blogging history, written on the basis on intuition alone.

Debates about how light is the ‘light touch’ or what the government is going to do to bloggers are not going to lead us anywhere. Right now, the situation is one in which bloggers find themselves in a muddy pond where the kind of fishes swimming in it cannot be seen. So for the sake of prudence, a 'political blogger' may well have to assume that the ‘light touch’ may not be so light after all if he or she is even 'just a little bit worried'. This is Singapore after all, a famously (or notoriously) uptight country with a government that leaves nothing to chance, not even the creation of something as elusive as creativity. So my interpretation is that basically nothing has changed: it’s still business as usual, my friend, as I would tentatively conclude...

I think that it is precisely this reluctance to accept the fact that the ‘light touch’ isn’t going to be so light that creates a further series of concerns (see Gayle and Charissa's blogs and SBP, for example). The announcement by the Minister probably gave some people a ray of hope that this light touch might be really light indeed! But I feel that even this momentary feeling of hope is borne out of an unrealistic optimism. As some people say in Chinese, 'mei you qi wang, jiu bu hui shi wang' (if you don't hold any expectations, you will never be disappointed). Perhaps that's why I feel okay! Because I have never held any expectations that Singapore's 'opening up' will manifest as obvious transformations in my lifetime. The official message will probably not change for the next few decades and it is this: blog ‘responsibly’ (and Xenoboy has written an essay on this some time ago), and the government will usually ‘close one eye’ if one is relatively harmless and is merely complaining about various aspects of Singapore, but may intervene if one is blatantly defamatory, seditious, or racist....

This is really a case of the available information being ‘interpretable’ in various ways at this point in time - ‘oh maybe very light huh, if they decide to be nice, but maybe not so light eh’. The night is still young, baby...This brings me to the conclusion that Singapore's approach to Internet regulation is best summed up as follows: ‘it's not as heavy-handed an approach as the government could have adopted, but certainly not as light as bloggers would like it to be’. Serious transgression will definitely still result in a lightning bolt striking down on the respective bloggers, leaving them in a vegetative condition, which is kinda of scary if you ask me, but is a real possibility that needs to be accepted. I guess this is a kind of scariness that differs in psychological intensity for people who are paranoid to varying degrees, and their paranoia is probably in turn related to who they really are and/or the threat they actually pose, politically or otherwise.

The threat posed by most ordinary bloggers is, in my opinion, not something that the government should even worry about, for what can a scattered population of bloggers do to change the consciousness of the vast majority of Singaporeans who are not connected to the non-infantile blogosphere? This fact of course will not lead the government to announce that they will make it ‘free for all’, because from its perspective, there are operational advantages to be gained from a perception that it's 'very tough and very watchful', rather than 'understanding and kind' when it comes to regulatory matters. So even humourous satirical works are frowned upon; it's like your army sergeant warning you with the phrase delivered in a most ominous tone, 'you laugh, you dare to laugh...never mind...' This keeps everybody obedient. It's done in the hope that such perceptions would translate into a fear of reprisal which may help to prevent even more critical online articles and satirical multimedia works from appearing.

So this is Heavenly Sword’s rather short and 'neither optimistic nor pessimistic' assessment of Minister Lee’s pronouncements on Singapore’s Internet regulation. This essay is delivered in the spirit of not wanting to over-analyze something that is firstly, too vague to be analyzed and secondly, too contingent on future events to be debated on the basis of competing guesses at this point in time...

40 Comments:

Blogger trisha said...

Hi dude:
Just a note to inform you of my new blog url. I was logged out of my old one and I had no patience to get the Blogger folks to sort it out. I think my account was erased by Blogger (by mistake??).

Plse update your blogroll. Cheers!

Mon Jun 05, 04:48:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi Trisha, ok got it, thanks.

My computer has crashed completely (can't even be reformatted!)

:(

Tue Jun 06, 07:58:00 PM 2006  
Blogger jllt said...

I think it's better to have "light touch" than "no touch".

Thu Jun 08, 09:45:00 AM 2006  
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Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi Jllt: thanks for your message, especially when 'business' is getting poorer! :)

Yeah, there will always be some kind of touch, esp in SG! But personally I think 'a bit lighter' would be cool... :)

Hi All-the-Best-to-You: All the best to you too.

Wed Jun 14, 09:14:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly, those I know who wants to leave Singapore are not 'young'.

Probably the youth in Singapore does not and has not experienced enough to make comparisons.

Just for last year, I knew of at 2 families, couple in the mid 30s, educated and executive types with 1/2 young children, having left Singapore.

A few couples (NUS grads) left before having kids.

Would be interesting to have some statistics on the real situation.

Wed Jul 26, 09:12:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi Anonymous, thanx for ur comments. I assume you're writing in response to my post on 'Living in Singapore'? :)

Statistics would be good; but the interpretation of the stats is also not easy, if the numbers are 'neither hi nor low'. E.g. let's say the stats show 4000 Singaporeans leaving a year, is that considered ok/normal/acceptable/etc?

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