The Covid-19 Pandemic and the Vaccines Issue – How it Raises a Need for a Broader Rethink of Our Sociocultural Ethos and National Narratives

22/10/2021

Contribution from Truth Warrior Community 

We have had much of a discussion on the scientific aspects of why Covid-19 vaccines are bad, and why the use of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine should be used in place of the vaccines and lockdowns.

We have had many discussions on why the lockdowns and vaccines are happening the way they happen, ranging from Big Pharma's profiteering to how these things could very well be tied into agendas such as UN Agenda 21 and the Great Reset.

But another aspect that ought and warrant serious discussion too are the sociocultural factors behind why things happened the way it happened, as well as how some of our national narratives contributed to where we are today. This is important in order to prevent lightning from striking twice.

I'm sure, as many of you here would have seen throughout this pandemic, many Singaporeans flock to the vaccines, and readily, even enthusiastically support the lockdowns. For many, certainly a key and major factor to this (though of varying degrees), is how they would trust the government and experts, literally "no questions asked". Pastors, one after another, exhort their congregants to "trust the government/experts in the same manner you trust in God". It is not unusual to find religious texts, such as Romans 13 in the Bible, to be used to exhort the faithful to follow whatever the government says and does in this pandemic, unquestioningly, even absolutely. To note on a technical point, Romans 13 does not command absolute, unquestioning obedience to the government - the word used in the text's original language, Koine Greek, for submit (in submitting to authority) is "hupotassó", which means to place under, in submission to, and not "hupakouó" (as in Ephesians 6:1 - "Children, obey your parents...", which means literally, to obey, and the Bible actually complements refusal to follow wrong and even wicked directives by authority figures. However, the unfortunate reality is in an East Asian cultural context like Singapore's, submitting to authority and obeying them absolutely is one and the same.

The heart of the problem is this - it is not so much that those who took the vaccines and support the lockdowns are gullible and believe everything mainstream media tells them, though there is an element of truth to that.

The first heart of the issue is how, as a predominantly East Asian society, the cultural ethos is one that is heavily authority and power centric, with society and life revolving around it, and how this leads to a deification-of-sorts of authority and credentials, as well as one that prizes absolute obedience and conformity over rightful questioning when need be.

Good cases in point are as such - in families and schools, especially Chinese families, it is not uncommon for authority figures to punish severely, the people beneath them, for failing to carry out instructions and easily classify their act as rebellion (which is viewed no differently from treason or blasphemy), hence warranting these harsh and arbitrary punishments. Or how children are expected to gleefully go along with their parent's demands and are not allowed to even frown in disapproval of it, or suffer punishment for "rebellion/defiance". In small talk among peers, it is not uncommon for expressions of dislike of what the authority figure did to be met with a response of "just be quiet and go along with what the authority figure says, they know what they are doing" among one in the small group. It is often said that while in a Western company, questioning the boss is the norm, in an East Asian company, employees are expected to do as they are told, no questions asked. Perhaps a very good source to see and understand how deeply authoritarian Singapore culture is are the movies "I not Stupid" and "I not Stupid 2" - sadly, what happens in the movies are everyday occurrences for many Singaporeans in their growing years in schools and homes.

Perhaps, before criticising the PAP government as authoritarian, the question should be, could they be very much a product of the culture and sociocultural ethos our society have been holding onto?

I think the problem described in the preceding paragraphs is best expressed in this op-ed in Time Magazine by Sin-Ming Shaw (https://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2054213,00.html) :

"Blaming Asian schools for focusing on memorization - as opposed to thinking - is too pat an excuse, as schools and universities reflect the basic values of a society. It is ingrained in the Asian psyche that correct answers always exist and are to be found in books or from authorities. Teachers dispense truth, parents are always right and political leaders know better. In executive-led societies such as China and Hong Kong, leaders act like philosopher-kings, often uttering unchallenged banalities. Senior officials sometimes resemble the powerful palace eunuchs of past dynasties: imperial, unaccountable, incompetent. Questioning authority, especially in public, is disrespectful, un-Asian, un-Confucian."

The second key issue, and that closely linked to those raised earlier, are our national narratives.

The key national narratives are as such, both of which have been cultivated by our government for decades - 1) that of Singapore being the "perfect society"/"the best among the rest", with a disdainful view of countries and cities near and far, with these cities/countries being portrayed as "cesspool" with all (or many) things wrong about them and 2) that which hold the PAP government as the quasi-gods of the land, who built the "perfect society".

These narratives have been inculcated in children and youth in government schools, through subjects such as social studies. As noted by a former Ministry of Education (MOE) official, Yann Wong, in a Facebook post (https://www.facebook.com/notes/3268937896551838/) (Facebook login needed):

"As a teacher, we were told that 'critical thinking' (among others) would be an essential skill for our students' future. Yet the more I studied critical thinking and experimented with teaching it, the more I realized how much it actually ran against the grain of our education system - both of our student's need to conform to 'one correct answer', and to MOE's desire to perpetuate certain national narratives as unquestionably true. Once, a fellow middle manager told me (in all seriousness) that she encouraged all her students to write pro-PAP answers in all their Social Studies exams because she fears that the school would get 'blacklisted' if students were found to disagree with state-sanctioned views."

That is why many took the vaccines and willingly supported the lockdowns, never mind the (potential) harm and misery both (will) bring - our national narratives and sociocultural ethos have shaped many into looking at the government and experts as gods, in one degree or another. Many took the vaccines and support the lockdowns out of disdain for anti-lockdown, "my rights, my rights" protestors, and this disdain stems from the narrative of how Singapore is the "best among the rest/most perfect society" (many of these people often like to talk, boastfully, of how Singapore "did well") while other countries/cities are no different from cesspools. This view of Singapore, being the "most perfect society", has led to ways of thinking that are highly irrational too - many Singaporeans, in spite of hard data from peer-reviewed papers and statistics put before them calling in question the mainstream narrative, still opt to place unquestioning trust in the government. That is why in the eyes of many PAP supporters, criticism of the PAP/Singapore, even if its justified, is viewed and treated as blasphemy, with harsh put-downs that follow.

And sadly, these narratives, especially that of Singapore being the "perfect society" while all other countries are terrible places worthy of disdain, are very much a part, product and/or derivative of the Chinese cultural way of looking at the world - China's name, zhongguo (中国), means the country which all other countries revolve around. China, since the days of the emperors, has viewed herself as the "most perfect" nation and the civilisation of civilisations while other countries, near and far, are despised as barbarians.

The problem is, Singapore's success has in some ways, served as its curse. Because of her success, the problematic aspects of the narratives and sociocultural ethos our country and society hold, gets a stamp of approval. After all, Singapore does not have the problems of Malaysia, Indonesia or most other postcolonial states, so perhaps our ways are right, so goes the thinking at large, never mind the problems it has caused (e.g. inherently authoritarian, oppressive and abusive micro-cultures, viewing rightful criticism of the PAP government as blasphemy that needs to be dealt with through an iron rod/put down) or will cause. Or never mind that the some of the PAP government's actions are outright questionable and would lead to potential harm down the road, for instance, the PAP government's use of schools as indoctrination mills on taxpayers' money.

Though these issues are not the only causes behind why things happened the way it happened, with regards to the pandemic and vaccines, the issues raised can very much be said to be the cards holding all the other cards together, to use a "house of cards" analogy. Therefore, is important that we have a hard conversation on this issue - this is to prevent lightning from striking twice, or another time.