Guard Against the Tryanny of the Minority

Lately, I have been very annoyed by the angry online mob. The mob that possesses the most pessimistic of views towards the government, towards fellow Singaporeans, towards anything that have a tenuous link towards special interest groups, race issues, religion…  the knee-jerk-mouth-foaming vitriol of the mob becomes an echo chamber riddled with bad grammar, and even worse ideas. There is no marketplace of ideas to talk about if they are not even ideas in the first place.   Then I read about Singapore Day, and I got even more feverishly annoyed (I actually prefer another word, but ‘annoyed’ will do) . It seems common sense that if an event is ticketed, and they turn people away, it’s because, you, good sir, don’t have a ticket. It’s like knock knock knockin’ on the door of a concert and crying RACIST! Someone please turn this into stand-up comedy material.  

Straits Times, 20 Oct 2013| Rachel Chang

Sometimes I feel like Tocqueville got it backwards. It’s not the tyranny of the majority we have to guard against, but that of the minority.

It’s one Australian – “James” – labelling a Singapore Day event in Sydney xenophobic because they turned him, a white guy, away.

Never mind that it was a ticketed, private event which he had neither been invited to nor registered for.

Logic will not stand in the way of those filled with the fervour of their own subjective, unrepresentative beliefs.

That’s nothing new, of course. But somehow, these isolated individuals – or groups – have now found it within their power to ruin things for everyone else.

I’m sure that those 6,000 Singaporeans in Sydney still had a good time, but it’s extremely dismaying that one person’s unresearched views could result in media coverage and become the only thing that some Australians have heard about Singapore Day in Australia.

At a sadder extreme are those Tea Party Republicans who first ruined things for other Americans by shutting their government down a few weeks ago, then almost succeeding in dragging down the entire world as well through a US debt default.

Never mind that their reason for doing so was hatred of a health-care law that has been passed by Congress and deemed constitutional by the United States Supreme Court.

What’s at work is a sort of overweening conviction in one’s own view as the be-all and end-all.

Whatever happened to self-doubt, or its good friend, a second opinion?

Here is where the tyranny of the minority has come into its own because some people or groups have somehow managed to wall themselves off from the moderate minority in a way that all the second opinions they get egg them on, or worse, escalate things.

The only reason these Republicans could carry on the way they were carrying on is that they never have to face a national, representative electorate: Some of the districts they come from have been gerrymandered into silos of ultra-conservative voters.

In the Sydney Singapore Day incident as well, the person truly at fault in my view was the radio DJ who reacted to James’ complaints about xenophobia by saying it was “disgraceful” – rather than, say, asking if it was a ticketed, private event that an unregistered, ticketless person had no business being at. Instead of holding a mirror up to someone’s idiocy, why not magnify it?

I blame a strange cult of self- empowerment and conviction that has developed in recent years. This is the one where we really, really over-valorise resolve, believing in yourself and “standing your ground”.

But what if you are wrong and the ground you’re standing on is riddled with inaccuracy?

The subliminal messaging is nestled deep in our pop culture. We are told, for example, to Just Do It, rather than Just Sleep On It and Consult Others such as parents and valued mentors.

We are told that a small, committed group of people is the only thing that has ever effected change – without the caveat that a lack of numbers should mostly be taken as a sign.

Somehow, it has become surrender to compromise and weak to hear out an opposing view and acknowledge its value. There’s very little room for self-reflection and self-improvement in all this.

I see it in myself and my peers. We have a tendency to meet criticism with defiance and defensiveness: “haters gonna hate”, rather than “haters may have a point and I should re-evaluate and try to address this area of weakness”.

It’s this kind of thing that has led people such as James the Australian to think of their opinions as valuable to anyone beyond their mothers and worthy of broadcast.

It seems strange that this is all unfolding in an inter-connected, globalised world. Surely being exposed to the reach, spread and scope of the universe should make us realise how truly small and insignificant we each are.

But as it turns out, it’s only made us think of our egos as having reach, spread and scope. It’s enough to make one wish for the days of mob rule.

At least then, we could go after James and those Tea Party Republicans with flaming torches and clubs or something.


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