Commentary

Facing up to identity, myths and politics in S’pore

Facing up to identity, myths and politics in S’pore
Will identity-making be driven by fear, distrust and pessimism — or by openness, fairness and an embrace of difference? Photo: Reuters
Published: March 6, 3:58 AM
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Throughout the Singapore Conversations, and especially in the furore over the Population White Paper, the question of the Singaporean identity has taken centre stage.

Whether the focus has been on the day-to-day issues of jobs, the cost of living, transport, housing and the like, or on the longer-term ephemeral visions of a shared future, of grave concern has been the erosion of the Singaporean identity by the influx of immigrants brought on by deteriorating demographic trends. The fear is that this sense of “we” will disintegrate, or at least alter irretrievably, in the face of “they”.

Of course, it is right to be concerned about the cohesiveness of national identity, and how it might change over time.

It is worth remembering, though, that once upon several times, the different incarnations of “we” can be traced to distinct cohorts of “they” sailing or flying to these shores.

Still, dangers exist, though not in the crude terms of the unravelling of the Singaporean identity; rather, they lie more subtly in how we define Singaporean-ness.

THE MYTH OF ‘US’

Stating that a collective identity matters is obvious to the point of being banally so.

Identification with something bigger than the individual — tribe, village, guild, religion, ethnicity, nation — locates a person in space and time, and supplies the essential meaning that transforms mere existence into living.

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