It is no secret that Singapore is a fast-paced society, with Singaporeans striving to get ahead of one another. Children as young as three years old are scheduled back-to-back “enrichment” activities. Adults evidently do not fare any better, with people in Singapore found to sleep the least and working among the longest hours in the world.
Not only does working longer hours result in less leisure time, but Singapore’s prosperity has also compelled people to maximise the utility of their leisure time, resulting in a “harried leisure class”. Maintaining this frantic pace of life not only exerts a toll on Singaporeans’ physical and mental well-being, but also has broader social and economic ramifications.
Singapore’s attempt at being productive has led to Singaporeans having one of the longest work weeks in the world. Long working hours might have made sense in a manufacturing economy where the value of output produced by each worker is limited by the speed of production; and where each worker needs to be physically present to perform his or her tasks.
In contrast, today’s knowledge work transcends the boundaries of space and time. One could gain insights from a casual conversation with a colleague from another industry, draw inspiration from how nature solves complex problems during a trail run, or discover a creative way to resolve a workplace dispute in the midst of resolving an argument between kids at the playground.
For knowledge workers, transition periods — times for rest, recuperation, introspection, fostering relationships and developing personal interests — contribute to, rather than detract from, productivity.
Maintaining the routines, work practices and assumptions of a manufacturing economy are detrimental to the quality of knowledge work, and damage Singapore’s transformation into more of a knowledge economy.
Exposing children to this frantic pace can also stymie Singapore’s transformation into a knowledge economy. Filling a child’s schedule with “enrichment” activities, to give him or her an edge in school, reinforces the perception of being trapped in a race. This perception discourages experimentation, discovery and learning from trial and error, in favour of uniform thought processes and reproducing scripted responses.
While uniformity is prized in a manufacturing economy that values a predictable workforce, such traits are less valued in a knowledge economy that deals with complexity, ambiguity and unpredictability.
If this frantic pace in Singaporean children’s lives persists and becomes more pervasive, I am concerned that the nation will have a workforce skilled at performing production work in the knowledge economy, but will still lack visionaries, creative thinkers and collaborators — the main drivers of a knowledge economy.
Resistance to slowing down
Maintaining a simplistically fast pace is clearly unsustainable for Singaporeans. Yet, the idea of slowing down will raise eyebrows. Such a reaction is expected; the virtues of speed are embedded in Singaporeans’ national consciousness, as evident from the narrative of Singapore’s successful transformation from a sleepy fishing village to a modern metropolis.
The belief is that speed allows for economic and social advancement, while slowness threatens Singapore’s sovereignty, especially given the nation’s size and scarce natural resources.
While a slow pace of life might translate into slower economic growth in manufacturing economies, this change is needed to be successful in a knowledge economy. For Singapore to be competitive and “fast” in a knowledge economy, Singaporeans will need to slow down their pace of life.
This paradoxical idea — of the parts in a system moving at a different pace from the system itself — is evident in competitive swimming. The next time you watch a race, pay attention to the tempo of the swimmer’s limbs in relation to the speed of the body’s movement through the water. You will notice that the fastest swimmers are not the ones with the quickest tempo, but the ones who cover the most distance per stroke.
Being efficient conserves energy, allowing the swimmer to finish the race strongly. In the final lap of the race, the synchrony between the tempo of the limbs and the body’s movement through the water will be evident for the fastest swimmer, while the slower swimmers can be seen flailing their arms and making big splashes with little forward movement.
Similarly, one would have to be mindful that a packed, frenetic lifestyle is not mistaken for being productive in a knowledge economy.
Productive slowing down
While Singapore has been focused on building capabilities and a culture around speed, I see the next big challenge for Singaporeans as grappling with productive slowing down in order to thrive as a knowledge economy.
What does it mean to productively slow down? I shall discuss this idea in the context of people’s mindsets and work routines. Productive slowing down entails a shift in mindset from a competitive orientation to an artistic one.
With a competitive orientation, life events are perceived as a race that creates winners and losers. These “races” are zero-sum games in which a single champion prevails and is distinguished from the rest of the pack.
In contrast, with an artistic orientation, life events are perceived as opportunities for expression and discovery. Instead of focusing on winning, an artistic orientation focuses on the authenticity of expression.
In an examination, these orientations manifest as the difference between an emphasis on scoring the highest versus an emphasis on applying one’s best effort to prepare for the exam.
In the choice of occupation, a competitive orientation influences one to make decisions based on external rewards such as pay, whereas decisions influenced by an artistic orientation place greater emphasis on fulfilment and other forms of intrinsic reward.
Adopting an artistic orientation allows people to slow down by reducing the compulsion to pack their schedules with “strategic” activities that are purported to give them an edge over the competition. Instead, activities are fuelled by one’s interests and natural curiosity, and completed at his or her pace.
Thus, the difference between competitive and artistic orientations lies not in productivity, but in the source of motivation.
Productive slowing down also involves creatively reconfiguring work routines to protect transition periods. Singaporeans’ strong work ethic has led them to prioritise production goals over temporal boundaries.
These priorities have led to longer hours at work at the expense of transition periods. Productive slowing down involves protecting these periods from “work time”.
To be clear, I am not advocating for reduced workloads, but for reconfiguring the flow and allocation of work to protect these transition periods that are vital to performing knowledge work.


Is nationalism on the rise? HUFFINGTON POST
The cold wind of intolerance, authoritarianism, and nationalism is blowing across America and Europe. The unexpected rise of Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee in the United States and the recent political stirrings in Europe are oddly built of the same cloth. Intolerance of non-citizens, the belief that present governments have subordinated their countries best interests for outsiders, and the need for new leaders, whose view of their countries best interests seems to call for an upending of the joint efforts to build a collective defense system like NATO and an economic union like the EU. They are united in their belief that each individual country should do what’s best for their sovereignty, rather than build co-operative relations between countries. 
The recent Austrian presidential election is a telling example. Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party of Austria may have lost the election by a small differential (which is still being challenged and there are claims of voter fraud), but his message was disturbing in the ways to that of Donald Trump. Norbet’s message is in effect “Make Austria Great Again.” He calls for closed borders in particular to Muslims, complains of the trade deals made with the EU just as Trump complains of the trade deals America has made and wants to stop all Muslims from entering US for an undefined time. Throughout Europe such factors as the plight of the refugees seeking shelter from war and the lack of economic opportunities are giving rise to right wing parties that are in effect a new form of authoritarian nationalism. Trump wants to build a wall to stop Mexicans from emigrating. 
Today, European countries are literally seeking to build armed detention camps to contain the refugees. They are even considering paying Turkey to take back the refugees, that pass through to Greece. But now even the deal between the EU and Turkey is falling apart, due to Turkey has turning into an authoritarian state under President Erdogan. The EU is demanding that Turkey allows free speech, stops arresting journalists and taking over newspapers that are not pro Erdogan. Turkey is no longer a free society. The country has endorsed this new spreading version of authoritarian Nationalism. A German far right wing neo-Nazi party (NPD) and the nationalist alternate for Germany party (AFD) have been steadily increasing in popularity. Their platforms are more than anti-immigrant. They were opposed to the welfare reforms, upset about the rescue of Greece, and share with Trump the lack of trust of their own government officials. 
The vote in Britain, pending on June 23rd, on whether it should exit the EU also has elements of this nationalistic trend seen in America with Trump, and also in main land Europe with the rise of the above mentioned nationalism . The principal in Britain, Germany, Turkey and the Austrian elections is straightforward. A large group of British citizens feels that as EU members they are being subject to rules and regulations that unfairly cost British people too much, providing very little benefit in return. Sounds familiar? It is the same type of nationalism Trump has to the economic trade deals America has made with a variety of countries. It is the same nationalistic thinking the Turkish - Eu deal will fail and it is the same Nationalistic theme causing the surprising success of the Austrian extreme right wing party. 
The consequences of this spreading Nationalism cannot end well. Building walls, promoting fear instead of compassion for emigrants, rethinking membership in the European Union, and putting disproportionate emphasis on self-interest trade can only lead to a less safe and less friendly international community. For America, the clearest proof that this trend cannot end well is demonstrated by the fact that Trump sees nothing wrong with Japan or South Korea having their own nuclear arsenal. It is in his nationalistic view that it is not in America’s best interest to continue the present arrangement of protecting other countries. Nationalism makes international cooperation difficult and can as history shown cause war.


In his speech accepting the Republican nomination for president, Donald Trump said (my emphasis):
[O]ur plan will put America First. Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo. As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America First, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect.
Trump’s insistence that we put “America First” hardly sounds harmful or irrational on its face. To be proud and protective of one’s country sounds like something good, even inevitable. Americans are, after all, Americans. Who else would we put first?
But nationalism — a passionate investment in one’s country over and above others — is neither good nor neutral. Here are some reasons why it’s dangerous:
  • Nationalism Is a Form of In-Group/Out-Group Thinking: It encourages the kind of “us” vs. “them” attitude that drives sports fandom, making people irrationally committed to one team. When the team wins, they feel victorious (even though they just watched), and they feel pleasure in others’ defeat. As George Orwell put it: “A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige … his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations.”
  • Committed to Winning at All Costs, With Power-Seeking and Superiority as the Only Real Goal, Nationalists Feel Justified in Hurting the People of Other Countries: Selfishness and a will to power — instead of morality, mutual benefit, or long-term stability — becomes the driving force of foreign policy. Broken agreements, violence, indifference to suffering, and other harms to countries and their peoples destabilize global politics. As the Washington Post wrote in its unprecedented editorial board opinion on Trump: “The consequences to global security could be disastrous.”
  • Nationalism Contributes to Internal Fragmentation and Instability: It requires that we decide who is and isn’t truly part of the nation, encouraging exclusionary, prejudiced attitudes and policies toward anyone within our borders who is identified as part of “them.” Trump has been clearly marking the boundaries of the real America for his entire campaign, excluding Mexican Americans, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants, and possibly even women. As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweetedon the night of Trump’s acceptance speech:
  • A Leader With a Nationalist Mandate Will Feel Entitled to Breaking the Laws of His or Her Own Country: If the Constitution interferes with nationalist ambition, then the Constitution can be set aside. Trump has discussed controlling the mediainterfering with the judiciaryunlawful torture, and extrajudicial murder. Some of his supporters want to imprison his political rivals. None of this is legal, but he doesn’t care.
  • A Nationalist Leader Will Have to Lie and Distort History in Order to Maintain the Illusion of Superiority: A nationalist regime requires a post-truth politics, one that makes facts irrelevant in favor of emotional appeals. As Dr. Ali Mohammed Naqvi explained: “To glorify itself, nationalism generally resorts to suppositions, exaggerations, fallacious reasonings, scorn and inadmissible self-praise, and worst of all, it engages in the distortion of history, model-making and fable-writing. Historical facts are twisted to imaginary myths as it fears historical and social realism.”
  • Thoughtful and Responsive Governance Interferes With Self-Glorification; Internal Reflection and External Criticism Must Be Squashed: Nationalist leaders attack and disempower anyone who questions the nationalist program and aim to destroy social movements. After Trump’s acceptance speech, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullers responded: “He … threaten[ed] the vast majority of this country with imprisonment, deportation and a culture of abject fear.” Anyone who isn’t on board, especially if they are designated as a “them,” must be silenced.
When Americans say “America is the greatest country on Earth,” that’s nationalism. When other countries are framed as competitors instead of allies and potential allies, that’s nationalism. When people say “America first,” expressing a willfulness to cause pain and suffering to citizens of other countries if it is good for America, that’s nationalism. And that’s dangerous. It’s committing to one’s country’s preeminence and doing whatever it takes, however immoral, unlawful, or destructive, to further that goal.


Today, students are attempting to occupy the streets outside Hong Kong’s central government complex; 25 years ago, the students occupied Tiananmen in Beijing. However, Hong Kong is not Beijing, and 2014 is not 1989. These similar actions have taken place in entirely different contexts, even though Beijing’s political control is behind both of the events. It is important for us to identify the real sources of the current conflicts in Hong Kong, and not get sidetracked by simple reflections back to Tiananmen.
On the surface, the turmoil in Hong Kong is caused by Beijing’s decision regarding general elections. In reality, the deep sources of the conflict are not so different from the recent large-scale outbreaks of social tensions in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan. These tensions should not be seen as isolated political battles with Beijing, but rather should be heard as both the battle cry of China’s new identity crisis and a conflict of globalization. For these places, globalization has to some extent become “Chinaization” or “Mainlandization.” These recent events can be explained by the globalization theory “Jihad vs. McWorld.” This theory describes globalization as dialectical interactions between modern commercial fundamentalism and traditional parochialism. It argues that the expanding global commerce and the corporate control of the political process has weakened the autonomy and power of local communities, threatening the identity and culture of the smaller communities while at the same time leading to the reassertion of ethnic and religious identities.
In Hong Kong we can see clearly the effect “McWorld” has had, even though the further integration with mainland China brought prosperity to the city. But most of the advantages and profits produced by this process have gone to business tycoons and corporate elites. Much like the American rallies against the “1%” in recent years, the remaining grassroots population experiences the problems that this success has brought.
Due to the arrival of large numbers of newcomers and the flow of outside capital to Hong Kong, the real estate market has skyrocketed, pricing out much of the population while also increasing everyday cost of living. Large numbers of visitors have made the city quite crowded, leading the local people to worry that further integration will threaten their way of living, the identity of the city, and most of all the distinction of Hong Kong from the mainland that they so cherish.
In Xinjiang, Taiwan, and Tibet there is another story of globalization. The Uighurs, Taiwanese, and Tibetans feel they have been marginalized. For the Uighurs population, their response is jihad. In recent years we have seen the violent attacks in Xinjiang and other parts of mainland China. These violent actions can to some extent be seen as local resistance and rebellion in response to this marginalization and threat of identity, though any terrorist actions should be condemned.
Whereas the Hong Kong students went to the street to protest, a group of Hong Kongese business tycoons went to Beijing and met with the Chinese leadership. Beijing was pleased to gain their support. It is similarly common in Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang for elites to have maintained good relations with Beijing. The CCP has garnered support from the successful elites, while keeping their growth tied closely to Beijing. There are many cases of major Taiwanese corporations having relocated their headquarters from Taiwan to the mainland. The huge market the mainland offers has brought enormous profits to the Taiwanese business community. For example, a Taiwanese company in Mainland China manufactures almost all iPhones.
This phenomenon can be explained by another theory of globalization: “integrated on top, collapsed on the bottom.” When the elites of the different regions and industries gain from globalization, they become more united and integrated behind the banner of shared economic interests. On the other hand, even though the living standards of people in the grassroots have been improving in recent years, they have suffered many of the negative consequences of the globalized economy, such as the demise of their established traditions, cultural morality, and identity.
It is in this identity crisis that the different groups have chosen to express their protests. The recent student movement in Taiwan against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with China has been the Taiwanese response. While the protests in Hong Kong and Taiwan should not be confused for any type of jihad like that of the Uighurs’, they nonetheless underscore common issues. Unfortunately, Beijing is not well versed in handling identity issues. Identity-based conflict is different than interest-based conflict. People won’t change their cultural identity, whether by intimidation or by compensation. Both the proposition of bribes and the threat of use of force often only worsen a situation, as people remain steadfast to their identity. Beijing lacks an understanding of this concept and how to remedy it.
Hong Kong’s problem will continue for as long as the structural sources of conflict cannot be addressed. The identity crises in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and Tibet will surely become Beijing’s real tests and dilemmas. How well the Chinese leadership deals with these crises will determine China’s rise and future development. From this perspective, the identity issues have a real global impact, as does the street movement in Hong Kong.


I have been following with interest reports of discussions in the committee of the Sudanese National Dialogue dealing with identity. National identity is a subject which comes up in many of my conversations with Sudanese people I meet and there have been some interesting exchanges on Twitter and Facebook recently. In my view it is one of the most important issues which Sudan faces today.
National identity is also a very important issue for us in the United Kingdom, as demonstrated by the referendum on Scottish independence, the upcoming referendum on our membership of the European Union and the issues around the recent increase in migration to Europe from Africa and the Middle East.
What is a national identity? Wikipedia describes it as one’s sense of belonging to a state or a nation. Oxford dictionaries defines it as a sense of a nation as a cohesive whole, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture and language.
In Sudan (and in Scotland) which tribe (or clan) you belong to is sometimes an important element of national identity. At the next level up some people in the UK ask ‘am I English/Scottish/Welsh/Northern Irish or British or European?’ and some people in Sudan ask themselves ‘am I Arab or African?’. For some people in both our countries religion is an important part of their national identity. Language is another component: most people in Sudan speak Arabic and most people in the UK speak English, but there are minorities in both our countries that do not speak the majority language – and other countries of course have many different languages.
On the face of it, it might seem that the more cohesive the national identity, the better for the country concerned. But history suggests otherwise – the Nazis in Germany between the wars fostered a very clear national identity which Hitler exploited for his own ends and which ultimately led to the Second World War and national disaster. Currently nationalist parties in a number of European countries are trying to exploit some electors sense of national identity against incomers. On the other hand many successful countries (the United States is a good example) benefit from a national identity based on ethnic and cultural diversity. This suggests that national identity should ideally be used to bring the people of a country together not to develop a sense of superiority towards neighbouring countries.
In my view the peoples of Sudan and the UK can both benefit from the wonderful diversity in both our countries. We both have long and complicated histories involving invasions and migrations with peoples moving in and others moving out. As an island the UK has sometimes had close ties with Australia, Canada and India, but we are also an integral part of Europe. Likewise Sudan has sometimes looked North to Egypt, at other times West across the Sahel or East to the Arabian Peninsula or Ethiopia. It is part of the Arab World and an integral part of Africa.
Personally I am proud of being English (especially when it comes to football), British (at the Olympics) and European (and not just during the Ryder Cup golf competition). A healthy internal rivalry (like that between the English and the Scots) can be a good thing, enriching our cultural lives and making football more interesting.
Sometimes tribes or minorities within a country will have particular links to another country – perhaps a neighbouring state, or their country of origin or relating to their religion. In Sudan for example the Beni Amer tribe have close links with their follow tribes people in Eritrea, the Zaghawa in Darfur with the Zaghawa in Chad and the Copts with their co-religionists in Egypt. In the UK some Britons of Asian origin support the national cricket teams of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh – whereas others choose to play cricket (very successfully) for England. We should have the confidence to embrace these differences and benefit from the advantages they bring in terms of deeper relationships with the countries concerned. What is most important is that everybody feels included and that the Government and fellow citizens demonstrate tolerance towards minorities and those who choose to be different.
Some countries and governments consciously set out to create and foster a national identity – that is the purpose of the Pledge of Allegiance recited daily by many US schoolchildren. For others (the UK but also in the Gulf), a Royal Family is a major focus of national identity. In many cases a historical event like a revolution or independence is an important element in developing a national identity. A national flag can also be a powerful emblem – consider New Zealand’s intention to create a new flag to reflect their national identity and the success of Canada’s Maple Leaf. But ultimately a successful national identity depends on the citizens of the country concerned feeling pride in their country.


Singapore’s Foreigner Problem

The population has increased dramatically in recent decades thanks to an influx of foreigners, who now make up around two out of five residents. This has put a growing strain on jobs, housing and infrastructure, and raised fears about the dilution of the Singaporean national identity.
It has also—predictably—resulted in an angry backlash, with many taking to social media to disparage foreign workers, from highly paid “foreign talent” to heavily exploited laborers from China and the Indian sub-continent.
The abuse is often so vicious that in his 2012 national day rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted the proliferation of posts “tormenting and berating” foreigners, adding: “Very few people stand up to say this is wrong, shameful, we repudiate that. I think that is no good.”
In the latest high-profile incident, British banker Anton Casey lost his job and was forced to flee the island last month with his wife — a former Miss Singapore Universe — and son. The hapless Casey received death threats after making sneering comments on Facebook mocking the “poor people” using public transport, though his comments probably had more to do with social class — a subject rarely discussed in Singapore — than with race per se.
The previous month saw a major backlash on social media after Indian and Bangladeshi workers rioted in Singapore’s Little India district, leading Lee to again warn against “hateful or xenophobic comments, especially online.”
Anyone familiar with Singapore knows that race is a national obsession, and far more than a box to be ticked on official forms. This obsession permeates the country, and Dr Michael Barr of Australia’s Flinders University argues that it is important to distinguish between racism within the mainstream of society and that directed at outsiders.
“Singapore is very racist even towards its own minorities, but this is mostly accepted by the minorities as the cost of living in a society that is safe and prosperous, and which they can genuinely call home,” says Dr. Barr, senior lecturer in international relations and the author of a forthcoming book on Singapore’s leadership.
He argues that after independence in 1963, the government of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew tried to break down the rigid racial divides inherited from the British, and to create a genuinely multiracial society.
But from the late 1970s it changed course, pushing instead to create a “Chinese” society with Indian and Malay minorities. From then on, race became “the major social identifier for Singaporeans,” and racism “a natural consequence of living in a society where racial stereotypes are encouraged and indulged by the government.”
“Unfortunately this has meant that in the 2000s and 2010s, just when foreign workers are moving into the front view of Singaporeans’ consciousness for the first time due to the government’s decision to flood the market with foreign workers, Singaporeans are already well-trained in racial stereotyping. They’ve had a lifetime’s training,” says Barr.
“Of course, even without this training the elements are there for a racist reaction. With two out of every five people in Singapore being a foreigner, it is a recipe for disaster, even without any other factors operating. Then we throw in the fact that the government, by its own admission, completely dropped the ball on providing infrastructure to cope with the influx of outsiders, and it would be surprising if there wasn’t a negative reaction to the outsiders, whether or not it was racist.”
Singapore’s stellar growth in the past few decades has seen it hailed as one of the world’s great economic success stories. The People’s Action Party (PAP) has ruled with an iron fist while overseeing the island’s transformation into an international financial center and manufacturing hub, with a per capita gross domestic product higher than the U.S.
However, this growth has been achieved predominantly by adding labor input — importing foreign workers — rather than increasing the underlying productivity of home-grown workers. Foreigners now make up about 38 percent of the total population of 5.3 million. In 1990, that figure was 14 percent, when the total population was around 3 million.
Last year, a government policy paper called for the population to increase a further 30 percent by 2030, to 6.9 million, at which time immigrants would account for nearly half of the island’s population. Thousands of people attended two rare protests against the white paper, holding signs with slogans such as “Singapore for Singaporeans.”
Fueled by angry reactions on social media and websites critical of the government, the issue of immigration has become a political hot potato for the PAP. At the 2011 general election, opposition parties won six seats in Parliament — the most since independence.
Kenneth Jeyaretnam, leader of the opposition Reform Party, says there is “no minimum wage and no social safety net, so competition from immigrants has definitely depressed wages and reduced job prospects for Singaporeans.”
“All racism is at bottom economic, and Singapore is no different,” he told The Diplomat. “The rising population has raised the returns to the owners of fixed factors like land. Since the Singapore government owns 80 percent of the land, this benefits them. The surpluses generated from the growth of the economy and the higher population have not been used to compensate Singaporeans but instead gone to the accumulation of foreign assets in our SWFs [sovereign wealth funds].
“If we had a minimum wage and greater protections for our workers then there would be less objection to foreigners. Instead of that, we have senile old men like LKY [Lee Kuan Yew] talking about the need for more Darwinian competition and how admitting more foreigners acts as a spur in the sides of Singaporeans … The reaction to Anton Casey shows that Singaporeans increasingly see themselves as patsies who are being exploited by not very well educated or particularly talented foreigners. Resentment extends to foreigners at all levels and regardless of race, except perhaps for those doing the dirty and dangerous jobs for less than S$20 per day.”
There is anecdotal evidence that the increasing hostility is driving some foreigners away. This writer experienced unpleasant racism in the workplace during the three years he spent working at a major media company in Singapore, and several fellow expats have cited it as a reason for leaving the country.
One Briton said he did not want his son growing up in such a poisonous atmosphere, a German friend compares Singapore with Nazi Germany, and a Dutch friend was driven to leave after a woman in a supermarket told his pregnant Thai wife to abort their “whore child” because it “would not be welcome in Singapore.”
The Dutchman, a 37-year-old who works in IT and relocated to Bangkok last year, said he was also set upon on three separate occasions by local youths shouting racial slurs and things like “go home to your own country” and other unpleasant epithets. Each time, he said, police refused to investigate, saying he must have been involved in a drunken altercation and should leave it at that.
Yet the worst abuse is usually reserved for low-paid construction and service sector workers from China, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines. Mainland Chinese are known as “PRCs” — from the People’s Republic of China — and are often ridiculed for their poor English and perceived lack of social graces by the ethnic Chinese who make up around 75 percent of Singaporeans. Chinese bus drivers who staged an illegal strike in 2012 cited this discrimination as one of the reasons for their unhappiness.
Online forums are full of vicious comments about “PRC scum,” “foreign trash,” Filipino “cockroaches” and so on. An event held by Singaporeans in Sydney to celebrate the city-state’s national day last year attracted attention when locals and other foreigners were apparently refused entry. Summing up the siege mentality of many Singaporeans, one of the attendees wrote on a local blog afterwards that: “Everyone of us were on the same page. There were no PRCs, India Indians, Bangla or Pinoys [Filipinos] to annoy us.”
Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore, argues that the influx of mainland Chinese “enhances Singaporeans’ sense of identity insofar as they seek to differentiate themselves against the other nationality.”
He adds: “My sense is that competition produces prejudice or enhances pre-existing prejudice, which could come in the form of putting down the other nationality. The feeling of cultural superiority could be mutual.”
Dr. Barr concurs, noting while Singaporean Chinese and Singaporean Indians react negatively to the arrival of new immigrants from, respectively, China and India, “we must remember that there are ethnic prejudices operating within each of these societies, and some of these prejudices contain elements of racism — but more on the part of some of the foreign workers than on the part of Singaporeans. The ancestors of both Singapore Indians and Singapore Chinese come from the south of India and China, and most of the new immigrants come from the north — and in the old countries, northerners looked down upon southerners and southerners resented it.
“All these prejudices and resentments and insecurities are being imported with the foreign workers — especially the highly skilled ‘foreign talent’ — and no one in the government seems to be even aware of it. This is because the government and Singaporeans more generally have always dismissed foreign workers as being of no consequence other than the economic benefits they bring to the country. That was a viable attitude only while the numbers were manageable and the foreign workers were happy and able to remain passive and invisible. This is no longer the case. The foreign workers are now part of the social and perhaps even the political equation. They are no longer invisible.”
There are other factors at play in this growing resentment, such as the fact that Singaporean men have to do two years of national service, putting them at a disadvantage compared to foreigners. Singapore is also a fast-paced, stressful society — both a city and a country at the same time — and Singaporeans work the longest hours in the developed world, according to some studies. With an authoritarian government tightly restricting legitimate outlets for protest and the timid state-linked press rarely raising the issues in a critical manner, the backlash against foreigners has been all too predictable.
Indeed, the surprising thing is perhaps not that it has occurred, but that it hasn’t occurred on a greater scale. Several initiatives have been launched by civic-minded Singaporeans to tackle the problem of racism and xenophobia, and many expats and visitors note the warmth and friendliness of locals. Indeed, argues Jeyeratnam, it is “unfair to accuse Singaporeans of racism when if a European government adopted the PAP’s policies it would soon be replaced by a far-right party!”
However, the issue of immigration is likely to become more heated, and more strikes and social unrest, like the recent rioting in Little India, seem likely in the future.
“My concern is that apart from stresses on infrastructure, we have two-fifths of the population who have not been at all assimilated into Singapore society and who are becoming both victims of and perpetrators of prejudicial attitudes and reactions,” says Dr Barr.
“Almost none have any loyalty to Singapore, many don’t speak English. Many don’t speak any of Singapore’s four official languages. Most are living in dormitory ghettos and are being exploited shamelessly. And they stand out. Even the PRC Chinese stand out from the Singapore and Malaysian Chinese. It is just human nature to both blame and fear the ‘other.’”
Mark Fenn is a British journalist based in Bangkok.

Robinson: Schools & Creativity

Is it a coincidence that pretty much all children love to write stories, have fantastic imaginations, enjoy getting messy, painting, making music, inventing characters, acting out plays, drawing and making things? Why don’t we carry this natural capacity throughout adulthood? Why would nature intend us to lose these gifts?
Eight years ago, a man named Ken Robinson made a TED speech that revolutionized the topic of education. It caused many parents to pull their kids out of school, it was a matter of hot debate among experts, and it has been watched on the TED website over 31 million times to date (not including over 7 million more times on YouTube). Many of you may be familiar with this lecture, but for those who aren’t, we highly recommend you take the next twenty minutes to sit down and listen to what this man has to say.
Robinson is an expert on creativity and education, and he strongly believes that at the moment, the two concepts don’t seem to co-exist. In this speech, Robinson argues eloquently and passionately that education is destroying our childrens’ capacity to think outside the box. Ken Robinson led the British government’s 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education, an inquiry into the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy, and he was knighted in 2003 for his achievements.
There were no public systems of education before the 19th Century; all of them came into being to meet the needs of the Industrial Revolution. “At school, you were probably steered away from subjects you enjoyed because ‘you would never get a job doing that’,” Robinson points out. “Many Creative, brilliant, talented people think they’re not, because everything they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was stigmatized.”
“All children have tremendous talent and we squander them pretty ruthlessly,” he goes on to say. “Picasso once said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe passionately that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. We are educated out of it.”
Robinson argues that society also has a very limited definition of intelligence; a definition that looks to numeracy and literacy only, and stigmatizes children who cannot read and write fluently (but may excel at other subjects) as ‘not very bright’. But is that fair, or true?
“If you visited Earth as an alien, I think you’d have to conclude that the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors,” Robinson says. “They’re the people who come out on top. Our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability.”
In short, we’ve been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. We teach children to be part of the system governing our society- uniformed, respectful of authority, scared of making mistakes. “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original,” Robinson points out. “Kids aren’t afraid to make mistakes. If they don’t know, they’ll take a chance. But by the time they become adults most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. We run our companies this way. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make.”
His opinions are not an attack on teachers or schools (who I’m sure we all agree, do a fantastic job within the boundaries of the curriculum they must follow)- they refer instead to the whole system of education, throughout the world. As Robinson points out, “Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. Why? As children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. Then we focus on their heads, and slightly to one side.”
According to Robinson, our education system places so much emphasis on the academic subjects that natural gifts for art, music or acting are often brushed aside as we get older. Restless children may be stigmatized as hyperactive and diagnosed with ADHD. One moving example of this is a story Robinson tells about world-class dancer and choreographer Gillian Lynne (responsible for the success of Cats and Phantom of the Opera), whose mother became increasingly worried when she was a child because she found it impossible to sit still or concentrate in class. After taking her daughter to a specialist in the 1970’s, her mother was told: “Gillian isn’t sick. She’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.” This was done, and the rest is history. But as Robinson points out, “Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.”
Please watch, comment and share if you agree we need a paradigm shift in the education system!

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Empathy Can Lead to Short-Sighted and Unfair Moral Bias

What does it take to be a good person? What makes someone a good doctor, therapist or parent? What guides policy-makers to make wise and moral decisions?
Many believe that empathy — the capacity to experience the feelings of others, and particularly others’ suffering — is essential to all of these roles. I argue that this is a mistake, often a tragic one. 
Empathy acts like a spotlight, focusing one's attention on a single individual in the here and now. This can have positive effects, but it can also lead to short-sighted and unfair moral actions. And it is subject to bias — both laboratory studies and anecdotal experiences show that empathy flows most for those who look like us, who are attractive and who are non-threatening and familiar.
Empathy has its place but reason should guide action, as it aspires toward the sort of fairness and impartiality empathy doesn't provide.
When we appreciate that skin color does not determine who we should care about, for example, or that a crisis such as climate change has great significance — even though it is an abstract threat — we are transcending empathy. A good policy maker makes decisions using reason, aspiring toward the sort of fairness and impartiality empathy doesn't provide. 
Empathy isn’t just a reflex, of course. We can choose to empathize and stir empathy for others. But this flexibility can be a curse. Our empathy can be exploited by others, as when cynical politicians tell stories of victims of rape or assault and use our empathy for these victims to stoke hatred against vulnerable groups, such as undocumented immigrants.


TORONTO – While online vigilante justice wasn’t necessarily on the rise in 2013 (it seemed to peak in 2012), experts say there certainly was more awareness of it this year.
With stories that elicited outrage (think Rehtaeh Parsons’ death following an alleged rape, the Boston Marathon bombings and news of a sex ring in New Zealand where teenage boys lured girls into having sex, then bragged about it online), came stories of digital vigilantes looking for justice.
Unlike in law enforcement and journalism, Johnson said there are fewer checks on social media.But it didn’t always end well for these online crusaders. “These cases illustrated that online vigilantism is generally not a good idea,” said Matthew Johnson, Director of Education at MediaSmarts“It’s not to say that police and journalists don’t make mistakes, but there are checks on them, and these don’t exist when a particular theory takes the imagination of an online community.”

The hunt for the Boston Marathon bombers

On April 15, 2013 two pressure-cooker bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring over 260. Photos from the scene – in the hours leading up to the explosion and in the aftermath – spread like wildfire on social media.
As police searched a city in lockdown for suspects, users on Reddit began to mobilize. The “subreddit” Find Boston Bombers was created and thousands of users pored over photos, making loose connections to individuals in the photos to the only crime scene evidence released by the police – pressure cookers and a black backpack linked to the explosions. The well-intentioned efforts quickly devolved into a witch hunt, with innocent people being wrongly identified as the bombers.
The Reddit user who started the subreddit said that the photo hunt was “a disaster,” adding it was naive to think the conversations and theories emerging within Reddit wouldn’t spread outside of the site. Reddit’s general manager Erik Martin said on a blog post that the activity on Reddit following the bombings was polarizing. Some Reddit users offered help after the bombings, providing information, donating relief funds and arranging housing and transportation for those affected by the bombings.
However, “though started with noble intentions, some of the activity on Reddit fueled online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiraled into very negative consequences for innocent parties,” Martin wrote. Johnson said it showed us that it’s a mistake to focus on particular platforms when discussing online vigilantism – “what’s important is the online community that forms,” he said.