A spectre is haunting Singapore—the spectre of racism. A recent spate of racist incidents have hit the news. The Singaporean social media sphere is aflame, with bloggers and politicians and influencers jumping in to condemn racism and drive the conversation. Voices cry out for collective action, social justice, education.
And there is me, wondering when this latest storm in a teacup will blow over.
Singapore is a peaceful country. For most people, these events are the closest they will ever come to experiencing true violence. Social media and the 24/7 news cycle allows a huge audience to vicariously experience the danger and the outrage from being attacked at your most fundamental level of being. To a highly socialised collective, one whose idea of danger is informed by Hollywood and heated arguments, one that is used to the illusion of constant safety, mean words are enough to trigger the danger response.
I’m acclimatised to a higher level of violence.
When analyzing a situation, I have three simple questions.
- Was anyone armed?
- Was anyone injured?
- Was anyone killed?
If the answer to these questions is no, it’s not serious. It’s not even newsworthy.
What were these incidents? A man who berated an interracial couple, telling the woman to date her own race. A woman on a train ranting at other commuters. An online troll who masqueraded as a Chinese woman for making derogatory comments on Twitter. A man who used racial slurs on a woman and kicked her in the chest for not wearing a mask.
In all but the last case, there were no weapons and no injuries. In the final incident, the injuries were minor, merely scrapes on the arms and hands. These are wounds a person can easily heal from. The victim might have been terrified, but a moment of terror does not count as a major injury. The psyche can bounce back from such a relatively minor incident—if the victim chooses to.
And yet, the media, the government, and the chattering classes are making a fuss out of it. They have spent far more time dwelling on this issue than the American media does on mass shootings.
For good reason.
The Cult of the Victim
Modern culture is victimhood culture. Being a victim is virtuous. Claiming oppression and grievous harm grants you instant attention. Screaming about racism and bigotry lends you the ears of the chattering classes. Scream victimhood, and armies of white knights and keyboard warriors will rush to your aid.
It is intoxicating. It is affirming. Anyone can become a hero simply by claiming they were oppressed. No achievement needed, no hard work necessary, all you need do is shout the right buzzwords and you, too, can receive the smothering attentions of a safety-obsessed society. Through adulation, the victim becomes a martyr, and a martyr is defined by his wounds. Through constantly displaying the stigmata of his self-declared injuries, he becomes a secular saint.
I do not worship at the cult of the victim.
I do not define myself by what was done to me. I do not identify with that which I have no control over. My wounds are not my weapons, my scars are not for public entertainment, my traumas are not me.
I interact with a global audience. Racism is part and parcel of that. I encountered my first taste of bigotry as a child, and this red spectre has haunted me since.
I do not talk about these incidents. I do not even think about them. I do not hang on to that which hurts me. I do not define myself by my traumas.
Today you can attract attention by claiming to be a victim, and with attention comes power. When victimhood is the cornerstone of your identity, you define yourself by your wounds. You cannot let them heal, not without feeling like you are losing a part of yourself. You will certainly lose the attention that comes from being able to legitimately call yourself a victim, and with it the power of the crowd.
But when you build your identity on pain, then your entire existence becomes painful. To yourself and everyone who interacts with you.
So long as you will not heal your wounds, they will continue to bleed. You will continue to bleed all over everyone around you. Eventually this will turn people off, and the crowd that once adored you will leave you for someone else. All that you are left with are those like you, those who bleed all over people.
I am not, and I will not, be that kind of man.
Earlier I have said I am acclimatised to a higher level of violence. I do not think of myself as particularly familiar with violence, and I can name many people with much more intimate experience than I. It is from the latter that I learned how to view violence in its proper context, to calibrate my perceptions, to differentiate between hurt and harm.
Was someone armed? Was someone hospitalized? Was someone killed?
Weapons signal lethal intent. When weapons are in play, a situation can escalate in seconds. When someone is injured badly enough to require hospitalization, this means that either an accident happened, or there was intent to cause massive harm. Death is the extreme end of violence. These are the marks of a serious incident.
Mean words don’t register at all.
How Badly Do You Want It to Hurt?
Blades cut flesh and nerve. Hard impacts shatter bone. This is where physics meets physiology. When the damage sets in, you don’t get to choose how much it hurts.
Words are different.
Every word you receive from others is interpreted through your mental filters. Language, culture, values, biases, every idea and concept you are aware and unaware of. By choosing your filters, you choose how you perceive words.
Mean words hurt—but only as badly as you want them to hurt, and as long as you want them to hurt.
They do not leave scars on your flesh. They do not break your bones. They do not impair your nerves. All the power they have is the power you give them.
This applies to all mean words. Including racism.
In a society that prizes social harmony, getting along with others, and subsuming your identity with the crowd, insults and derogatory comments carry a deeper level of hurt: someone does not like you. Someone does not approve of you.
Humans are social animals. Our ancestors had to cooperate in tightly-knit bands to survive. The disapproval of the crowd, or someone important, could risk you being ostracized and cast out into the cold. In medieval Europe, being branded an outlaw meant that anyone could persecute or kill you without legal repercussions. Social cooperation was essential for survival. Sensing someone’s disapproval may trigger the pain and threat responses.
It doesn’t have to.
A bigot hates you. Why assign any weight to his words? Why let him hurt you some more? Everything he says is slanted towards hurting you, so why give him what he wants? There is no reason to hang on to what he says. It simply allows his words to burn you long after he leaves. Simply let his words go, and that will be the end of it. Respond if you must, but there is no reason to continue clinging to poison.
I am not saying it is easy. I am saying you have a choice. In choice lies true power. You can choose how to react, or not react at all. You can choose to dismiss a remark, or calmly engage the interlocuter, or pick another appropriate action. You do not have to be affected by his words. The more such choices you make, the easier it becomes to choose.
This doctrine is anathema to the victim cultist. From pain comes power. From displays of agony and defiance come adoration and attention. From outrage comes power. By shrieking about how hurt he is, the victim cultist attempts to dominate everyone who triggered him, whether it is warranted or not. Everyone must use only the victim’s approved vocabulary, act only in the victim’s approved ways, and constantly strive to remain up to date with ever-changing traumas.
In a personal relationship, this is abuse. In a one-to-many communication, this is celebrated.
For this is the easy path to power.
The Politics of Power
The politicians have to politick. Singapore is founded on racial and religious harmony. Political leaders have to show commitment to the founding myths. They have to signal that racism isn’t allowed, to reassure the populace, to keep the country united.
It’s the chattering classes I’m more concerned about. And the Left.
The Opposition has formed Call It Out Singapore. Academicians are calling for ‘collective action‘, whatever that means. In imitation of the West, people and private companies are falling all over each other to signal how anti-racist they are, to recount their stories of petty hurts, to repeat the progressive watchwords of diversity and inclusiveness. And this is only the beginning.
Here’s a hard truth: racism will never be erased.
Humans are social animals. They define themselves in relationship with other humans. Humans are hard-wired to identify with multiple social circles: family, tribe, race, religion, nation. The wider the circle, the weaker the social bond. Your family and tribe are related to you by blood, and so you have the most in common with them. You share the same ancestral stock as people of your race, and the traditions and values your ancestors passed down to you. Likewise, you have similar norms and customers as others of the same religion as you. You may share the same history and values with people of your nation, so long as your nation is reasonably homogenous.
What is a person outside these circles?
An outsider. A stranger. And therefore a potential—or actual—threat.
And someone whose fundamental humanity can be denied.
There are many reasons why people act in racist ways. Some are just plain ignorant and can be corrected. Some are playing out patterns and social scripts they have downloaded from their friends and family. Some just want to hurt others. For the last group, race and religion makes a highly identifiable target marker.
So long as there are humans, there will always be humans who want to hurt others. They will justify it through circles of loyalty, through ideology, or just plain meanness. Race will be part of the equation.
In a multicultural society like Singapore, there will be racial and religious conflicts. It is inevitable. Diversity plus proximity equals war. It is an equation seen through the bloody annals of history, from the barbarian invasions of Rome to the Zulu conquests to the very history of Singapore itself. Racial riots defined the tumultuous 1960s. Today, you’ll still find many stories of racist remarks and experiences all over Singapore—but not violence.
The government’s solution is through public education, constant messaging, and ruthlessly cracking down on anyone who raises the specter of race and religion.
It will not erase racism. What it can do is eliminate systemic racism. Racism is simply not tolerated in Singapore. Racist acts are punished to the full extent of the law, and condemned by all sectors of society. Race-blind employment policies are the norm, and companies that violate them are scorned and condemned. Nonetheless, the government does maintain racial-based policies, with the intention of ensuring racial harmony by preventing the formation of ghettoes and conflicts of loyalty among military leaders.
But it is not enough to the Left. It is not enough to not be a racist. You must be an anti-racist.
It is not enough to not be a fascist. You must be an anti-fascists. And the fascists of the future will call themselves anti-fascists.
That future is now.
Antifa and Black Lives Matter burned cities across America, caused billions of dollars in property damage, and killed at least 25 people—in 2020 alone.
The media celebrated it. Sports teams bent the knee in veneration. Politicians encouraged the violence. Police were ordered to stand alone, allowing Antifa and BLM to carve out ‘autonomous zones’—zones of rampant lawlessness. Thanks to BLM, urban homicide rates saw some of the highest one-year surges in history, a logical extension of defunding the police.
This is where ‘anti-racism’ leads us.
Already there is a strong taboo about race in Singapore. You cannot talk about the challenges of interracial marriages. You cannot break down low-income groups or academically disadvantaged students by race. You cannot study the demographics of single mothers, broken families, and poor families reliant on government support. You cannot examine life outcomes of mixed-race children. You cannot examine anything that might make a racial minority look bad without attracting a firestorm of controversy from the anti-racist Left, even if you want to improve the lives of minorities.
It’s not about anti-racism. It’s about deliberately closing off inquiries in service of an ideology. It is speaking power to truth.
This is what the Left does. They don the mantle of noble victimhood, then bully and browbeat everyone else into obeying their will. No one around them can be allowed to act, speak, or even think the wrong things. No one must be allowed to do anything that make a group feel bad. If this means sacrificing truth and departing from reality, so be it.
Racism is especially profitable to the Left. It can never be erased. Therefore, the Left can always gain more attention, more power, more prestige, by calling it out, calling for action, calling on others to be anti-racists, and calling out everyone who departs from the party line. He who draws power from racial politics will always see everything through a racial lens.
Who are the people most likely to be racists? People who judge others by their group identities. Who are the kinds of people who judge others by their group identities? People who employ identity politics. Who employs identity politics?
Make no mistake: when the Left signals their adherence to anti-racism, they do not do this to improve race relations, but to seize power. They do this by presenting themselves as victims of racism, or as speaking on behalf of victims of racism, and through the attention they gain, they make demands of others. Either you become an anti-racist too, or you are the racist.
This is the true spectre haunting Singapore—the spectre of identity politics. The spectre wears the noble cloak of the oppressed victim and shouts the progressive buzzwords from every street. The spectre that demands you join its call, or be forever condemned.