Monday, November 29, 2010

Rationalising our problems

The reaction towards MOE scholar Jonathan Wong’s arrest for child pornography possession is as equally interesting as Wong’s arrest itself.

It would take something really serious in the form of a child pornography crime to alter the rationalisations of many a Singaporean.

From Wong’s case, we are exposed to the schizophrenia that has plagued many a Singaporean whenever they are confronted with different problems and issues. This is however a story compelling enough to flip that switch in the Singaporean psyche, alternating between two forms of rationalisations – the internalisation versus the externalisation of the problem.

When the news of his arrest broke, Singaporeans had a field day rationalising Jonathan Wong.

Some sought to internalise Wong’s problem, associating and reducing it to psychological traits. This is reinforced with news of him having been punished for being a peeping tom.

In reducing and atomising a problem (i.e. psychologically reducing it) to Wong, most we are able to distance ourselves from the “pervert” and “deviant”, as we continue to insist on being normal ourselves.

The internalisation of problems impedes any possible suspicion that problems could have a social nature.

It is a habit well-cultivated in a meritocratic society. With every resource, infrastructure and opportunity created, so too is the illusion that everyone has the same platform to succeed.

Any failure in terms of health, employment and well-being, would be readily rationalised and internalised as an individual failure – laziness, lack of diligence and other traits believed to be confined to the individual. Factors such as policy and society are ignored.

However, it is not that bleak after all. From their assessment and questions, Singaporeans appear to have developed the externalisation aspect of rationalisation.

They are asking questions about policy and the processes that have allowed Wong to slip through the system.

Singaporeans are able to see that Wong is but a unit or a member of socio-political and economic context. He is where and what he is – partly – due to his membership of the processes that also shape us.

It is because we are also involved in the same processes and inhabit the same contexts, we begin to question the institutions and processes with which he has engaged.

These discussions by Singaporeans are an indication that we can see that Wong – the person and the circumstance – is a function of the institution, as much as his behaviour is a function of his personality and psychological well-being.

In raising questions about the scholarship selection processes and whatnot, Singaporeans no longer stifle discussion on and rob attention from the social and political dimensions of the issue. It is just a tragedy that we have to wait for such a crime to be uncovered for us to develop newer perspectives.

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