Liberals, Democrats, Conservatives. Where are we in all this?

[Contributed by Yuen Chung Kwong]

Singapore’s most internationally known freedom fighters are Amos Yee and Annabelle Chong: one wants freedom to enjoy pedophilia, the other to make pornography, though I assume most other liberals in Singapore have other objectives.

Maybe they first need to learn the meanings of the words they use so often. Liberal means open to different ideas, like I don’t usually eat spicy food, but if a friend orders a spicy dish, I have no problem sharing it; I don’t consider wanting spicy food to be either a virtue or a defect.

Democracy means everyone has the right to participate in decision making, even those who disagree with me (in food preference or other aspects).

If you use these definitions, you will find that most liberals active on social media are neither liberal nor democratic: some of them assume that people in the camp they oppose are all wrong, not worthy of being taken seriously; they are not open to different ideas, and they despise the choices these “different” people make, in effect denying that these people have the same right to participate in decision making as themselves. Why dismiss the 60% who voted for PAP as ignorant, apathetic, unenlightened… when it in effect amounts to dismissing the right of other people as democratic entities equal to themselves?

We can also compare this to other political beliefs, some of which are apparent in other countries.

Conservatives side with the present power structure, to “conserve” what they already have. For many decades, conservatives looked more democratic than liberals as the left like to hold protests and campaigns, often disruptive to municipal order and commercial operations. Conservatives used to respect the social order, wanted to follow proper procedures, show personal decorum. Family values used to be a big thing.

The left was also responsible for starting the anti-science streak of popularism: Berkeley students prevented William Shockley from giving speech on genetics and intelligence, regarding the subject as racist. Now it is the right that is big on anti-science.

The right copying the left started more than 40 years ago, with Ronald Reagan abandoning small government: conservatives wanted to minimize government participation in the economy, wanting low tax, low expenditure, low or no budget deficit. Reagan, however, listened to a different thinktank, and said low tax/high expenditure is good for the economy.

Since then, Republican Party has also given up on family values, even personal decorum, when it embraced Trump and his Tea Party crowd. They soon abandoned trust in elections, and believe mobs attacking Congress are good for democracy. Because the party also believe in gun rights, the potential for military attack next time is quite high.

Many have commented on the turn for of worse for democracy internationally. American and EU efforts to promote democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Hong Kong… have all produced negative results, and 30% of American voters believe Trump won the 2020 election and Biden stole the presidency. Compromise with the other side seems impossible. In the mean time, an authoritarian China has successfully implemented capitalism, becoming strong economically and militarily, with the government more able to use technology to exercise control.

It is a precarious world we live in. Where does Singapore stand in all this?