Ultimately, It's The Mind That Gets Numbed
Freedom of expression. This phrase has been misunderstood by many. I guess it might just be an abstract, even esoteric, idea to them in their minds. It has no relevance whatsoever to their daily living, their struggle with bread and butter issues. This is because we do not have a culture where we can express ourselves freely. When one does not know a thing, one intend to doubt it - and its benefits.
I am one who fully support freedom of expression. This, to me, is not just an abstract ideal but an ideal which has pratical and pragmatic benefits - and yes, it can provide bread and butter as well.
Allow me to explain.
Everything that we have created in this world - from the chair you are sitting on, to the the paint on your walls, to the beautiful buildings you see outside your windows, to the satellites floating out there in the stratosphere - all started as just an idea in the mind.
They become 'real' in the physical world because someone made it real. Someone took it out of his mind and made it a physical reality.
Someone expressed his ideas.
We can hardly name one thing around us that is not man-made, which therefore started out as just an idea in the human psyche, the human mind. This is what expression is. Expression is not just about speaking, which most people mistake it to be. Expression is not confined to this. Indeed, it is more, much more, than just speaking what is in your mind.
When the mind is allowed to express itself, miracles can happen - and miracles have happened. Just look around you. Don't you wonder at the limitlessness of the mind to create and express itself? It's the most wondrous thing, in my humble opinion.
For the mind to be free to express itself, of course there is a need for a free environment. You cannot cage a bird and asks it to fly at the same time. Which brings me to freedom of expression in Singapore's context.
There is an urgent need, now more than ever, for Singaporeans to be allowed to express what's in their minds. It is a strange thing to say that - that "Singaporeans be allowed to express themselves". It is rather sad too because it means that our minds have been 'caged' for the past 40+ years. I do not think many - except the PAP govt - would dispute this. Indeed, this is why the govt had called for Singaporeans to be 'spontaneous', 'creative', 'to dare to do', 'to be non-conformists', 'to be 'mavericks', 'think out of the box'.
It is all very well to encourage all this - but the govt has to go beyond mere cheat-thumping rhetorics. PM Lee himself called for the youths, especially, to not be afraid, to 'just do it'. Indeed, I myself was quite impressed with his words and thought to myself that at last, this govt is growing up and letting go of the apron strings.
However, this expectation, this joy was dashed just before the general elections when the very same govt calling for such gung-ho spirit did an about-face and banned podcasting, videocasting, required blogs to register - besides the already-declared ban on 'party political films and videos'.
Suddenly, the mind became closed again - the minds of the govt and the citizenry.
It is extremely disheartening that the govt has gone back to providing this 'cloud of fear' over our society. How can the human mind be free to express itself when it is constantly being thumped down?
Allow me at this point to explain - in pragmatic terms - why freedom of expression is important and how it does relate to bread and butter issues.
Bill Gates. A genius, no doubt. How he started out is the same as any other human being - with an idea in his mind. The difference is that he was in an environment which allowed him to express himself in the way he preferred - leaving school and going into enterprise. He took the idea of out his mind and expressed it in real, physical, pragmatic terms - and Microsoft Windows was born. It changed the world, or at least how the world communicated, which is no small feat.
Microsoft was set up, a new industry was born, new business opportunity sprang up everywhere. Millions suddenly had jobs. With jobs come income. With income, you put food on the table. You raise a family.
An idea that was just in someone's mind has now become a physical reality and one which has real, pragmatic benefits.
This is how the world has always operated - through the creation of physical reality from ideas first formed in the human mind.
Is it any surprise then that the world looks towards the US and countries with established freedom of expressions tradition?
What then should Singapore do? What then can Singapore learn?
The problem we have in the composition of those who make up our govt is that they are mostly people who are theer because of their coldhearted, pragmatic sense and views of how to run a country. There is no thinker among them. There is no idealist among them. There is no poet, no artiste, no philosopher.
There is no humanity among the PAP govt.
What we need is for the govt to realise that the human being is made up of many facets - especially the spiritual aspect. I am not talking of religion here. I am talking about that part of the human being which essence is 'freedom'.
The human spirit is a free spirit.
Caging it, restricting it, controlling it, disempowering it leads to dullness, sloth and dependency. It is time we realise this.
It is said that "If you do not let go of fear, fear will not let go of you."
In this case, it is not the people who are fearful. Indeed, it is the people who are calling for the govt to let go!
The fear resides in the govt.
If the PAP has the interests of the country - and Singaporeans - at heart, then it should - MUST - overcome this fear of losing control and allow the human mind to express itself freely.
For if the govt continues to stifle and restrain and restrict such free expression, it will only bode ill for the future of Singapore.
Freedom to express oneself can and will result in new ideas for industry and enterprise.
Continuation to curtail and control expression will lead to the numbing of minds... as even Lee Kuan Yew himself once believed:
"Let us get down to fundamentals. Is this an open, or is this a closed society? Is it a society where men can preach ideas - novel, unorthodox, heresies, to established churches and established governments - where there is a constant contest for men's hearts and minds on the basis of what is right, of what is just, of what is in the national interests, or is it a closed society where the mass media - the newspapers, the journals, publications, TV, radio - either bound by sound or by sight, or both sound and sight, men's minds are fed with a constant drone of sycophantic support for a particular orthodox political philosophy?
(Lee Kuan Yew, Before Singapore's independence, Malaysian Parliamentary Debates, Dec 18, 1964 )