SrSm: Blog Post 3

Last updated 2015-08-23 16:27:24 SGT

(context: last blog post)

How did you position yourself? What sort of understanding of violence did you assume? That is, try to look at your writing from an ‘external’ perspective. How would you characterize what you wrote?

I wrote the last post without specific reference to my disciplinary specialisation. Mostly this was because it's somewhat absurd for someone in my position to claim vocational expertise in such matters — because “riot was caused by spontaneous symmetry-breaking in nonabelian foreign-worker-drunkenness Yang-Mills gauge field — trust me, I am physicist” has a somewhat dodgy ring to it — but also, I guess, because it was pretty clear from the outset that the COI's report wasn't intended as any sort of academic document. (And, relatedly: what's the point of critiquing its methodological deficiencies? They exist [and are many], but so do logical gaps in lots of everyday natural-language writing, and yet nobody's going to seriously demand axiom-lemma-theorem-proof-style propositional reasoning from, say, written ministerial statements in Parliament, because they're not meant for the kind of audience which demands that kind of rigour, or for that matter intended to be very rigorous at all. But I digress…)

Rather, I wrote in the capacity of generic unremarkable semiconcerned citizen, which I pretty much already was to begin with, and this did shape my response in a nontrivial manner. Many of my peers have quite eloquently pointed out the futility of isolating the riot from broader contemporary structural causes (e.g. disgruntlement about the generally exploitative nature of foreign employment in Singapore) as transparently as the COI did; however one doesn't need to be a Singaporean to intuit that violence on this scale probably doesn't just spontaneously emerge from a bunch of drunkards getting pissed off about some random guy getting run over by a bus, as the COI would prefer to believe. But having been on the recieving end of two decades of “RACIAL HARMONY = GOOD; PUNCH OTHER RACES IN FACE = BAD” tends to give one a rather specific interpretation of racially-motivated violence, crystallised into riot form, with reference to which this incident could not have been but alarming.

Perhaps that alarm became the primary driver of what I wrote — certainly in the days following the actual incident, I was rather alarmed by what was happening, but not, as the COI might have suggested, because of perceptions of “social disamenities” induced by proximity to the foreign-worker Other. Rather, I was struck by evident parallels to other, earlier, Riots — the kind with capital R's — whose recurrences we grew up being taught to fear and dread. Take the 1964 riot: actual loss of life and limb, with the putative cause being essentially a stupid prank — someone throwing a bottle into a religious procession — about as plausible a cause for rioting as the sight of human roadkill stirring deep primal urges to set ambulances on fire, if we pretend that they both happened in isolation from deeper structural problems. As “objective” as mainstream coverage purports to be, these similarities ought to be unsettling, at least given this kind of intuitive background — and they are.

Next, pick what you think would be the two most problematic sentences if you were to submit your blog post to the Straits Times. Specify (in one sentence each) why you think that they would be problematic, and rewrite them in a way that you would think would be more acceptable.

“But in living Singaporean memory, Riots, with a capital R, the kind that go down in history books (or at least have names conferred on them), are inseparable from the sort of pre-industrial semicolonial social milieu — disparate subcommunities with little in common held together by economic entrêpot glue — that one tends to associate with communal factionalism and communist agitators.”

This sounds all kinds of condescending (also it's a run-on sentence, which says a lot about my writing ability, I guess…). It'll probably be trimmed down to something like “A riot of such scale, however, invariably conjures up the spectre of racial riots of bygone days” or something likewise melodramatic.

“It does so with such obvious indelicacy and haste, though, that its treatment comes off as dubious, and occasionally contradictory. ”

I don't think the mainstream media would ever contemplate publishing anything so blatantly, adversarially antiestablishment. Probably going to be replaced by “There nonetheless remain some (admittedly minor) flaws in its reasoning, however: (etc)”. Also I think the next few sentences might mysteriously vanish too (especially given Talia's experiences…)

comments powered by Disqus