I wish to clarify my position, I am nothing more than just a patriot.

wp_20160903_14_30_37_rich

I haven’t been writing for a long time. For those who knows me, I was occupied with running my university’s club activities and organising a grassroots event. Recently, just last Saturday (03/09/16), I managed to pull off a youth dialogue at Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Grassroots level with the help of People’s Association.

[For my foreign friends, GRC system is similar to the Single-Member Plurality (SMP) system in the UK, except some constituencies in Singapore have more than one seat; usually 4-6 seats for GRCs. This means that contesting political parties will send a group of electoral candidates to contest in the elections and the party that has the most votes takes ALL the seats.]

I began to sense that some people think I aspire to be a Member of Parliament (MP). So I decided that I probably should address this before people start thinking I am going to run for President.

Honestly, it irritates me at many levels. I know most people meant it as a joke because we all know that PAP mostly recruits elites (including scholars) and I definitely stand no chance at all. However, it might give out the wrong impression that my motive for volunteering at a grassroots organisation (GRO) is for my selfish personal gains and to try to build up a political career. This is absolutely wrong. Very wrong. There are various reasons why I joined the community centre as a Youth Executive Committee (YEC) but becoming a politician in future is definitely not one of them. I will share with you one of the strongest reason that keeps me going.

(prepare for a long ass grandfather story)

I am a Singaporean and I love my country. It is a beautiful place with wonderful people. Each time I go overseas, I feel proud every time a foreign friend praises us for our development and multiracialism. If Singapore were to be attacked, I will not think twice about giving my life to defend this precious island of ours. My brothers who served alongside me during our Army days will know I serve with pride and dedication. I discharge my duties honourably. I was known to be “siao on” (very on the ball, gung-ho warrior). I feel a sense of duty to protect this country each time I don the green. We pride ourselves as Singaporeans whenever we go overseas, but how much do we really know about our own country?

I also feel that as a Singapore citizen, it also a duty to be aware of the developments in my country. It is my responsibility as a voter to stay abreast of current affairs and public policies. This is to respect and be fair to the democratic process of Singapore. I strongly think it is not fair for politically apathetic people to vote in elections. Why should unconcerned citizens decide who and how to run the country when they lack substantial information on hand to make such important decisions? But of course, universal suffrage in a polity like Singapore greatly benefits the ruling party.

There are many ways to get information. Since grassroots is part of the democratic system, I thought it is probably one of the best ways to get direct and accurate information.

Some Singaporeans might debate over the accuracy of the information I get, considering that the PAP has significant influence over how GROs are run. This is true, but it builds my critical thinking in the process.

I grew up being highly influenced by my parents of their political views and many of their views were rather biased. They were usually complaints about how things could be done better. Back then, being young, ignorant and politically unaware, I would just listen and accept their views as long as they make sense. When I was with my friends in school, each time I voiced my political views, people around me tend to roll their eyes. Of course, looking back now, I understood why. I needed to know both sides of the story.

Being critical of government policies since secondary school, I begin to realise how narrow-minded I have been. I realise I need to be part of the process to give a more balanced view.

Being involved in the grassroots organisation for about slightly more than two years, I now have a better idea of things work. I now know how some processes work. For example, I realised how community centres get funded and what kind of people the leaders are. It is also important to know the leaders because they are the one influencing the kind of community the constituency wants to build. If we have someone of a bad character, I will be deeply concerned with the systems that are in place.

Although that being said, because GROs are rather bureaucratic, there are still many things that I am still not aware of. I think mostly because I am near the bottom of the food chain. At least for now, being involved keeps me informed rather than zero participation.

In my first paragraph, I mentioned that I was heavily involved in the planning of a youth dialogue. It is the first time we are doing it in my community centre. The youth dialogue is a platform for youths to voice their opinions and concerns over policy directions. They also get to interact with MPs and have their concerns addressed. Personally, there are many reasons why I felt the need to kick start and make such dialogues frequent. I find youths are generally politically apathetic, resulting in weak political participation. Furthermore, about half of the participants will be eligible to vote in the next general election.

The quality of the dialogue is another issue altogether. My intention is to make youths start thinking for themselves now. Do not wait until elections period to start evaluating policies and reading manifestos.

This is how I feel I am contributing to the political system in Singapore. A healthy polity requires high political participation. We need to be less dependent on the government. There is a limit to what they can do. Civil society plays a much more significant role in building an inclusive society. It is also not simply achieved by changing the constitution.

I don’t see myself as somebody noble, trying to change the world or Singapore or anything. I don’t wish to give myself too much credit for the small things I have done. What was written in previous paragraphs merely reflects what I think. And seriously, something is better than nothing. I want to be someone useful and try to do something about a situation rather than sitting at home criticising how the political process can be better. As the saying goes, action speaks louder than words.

This is why I remain in grassroots and continue exploring volunteer opportunities. I want to see more and be engaged in the process. I want to see how else I can contribute in my small little ways. Because I am a true-blue Singaporean, I am a voter and a concerned citizen. I am a patriot.

If the state of nature is as what Hobbes described, will one ever leave it?

Thomas Hobbes leviathan outlines the pessimistic view on human nature, contributing to the conditions of the state of nature and the need to have absolute sovereignty. Flawed human nature causes uncertainty and fear while human beings struggle to preserve their own lives. Some commentators argued that Hobbes account of natural state and men make forming civil society impossible. This essay will analyse his conception of human nature and interaction in the state of nature and discuss how the law of nature motivates men to leave the state of nature by establishing a commonwealth.

Hobbes thinks that human nature is inherently flawed in the state of nature to justify the need to establish a civil society. According to Hobbes, human beings are appetitive creatures which constantly seek felicity and can never be satisfied. He also believes that men are fundamentally equal which he refers to the equal ability to kill or conquer another. For example, the strong must sleep and can be a victim of one who is physically weak but cunning. It is this equality that naturally leads to the three ‘principal causes of quarrel’: (i)Competition, (ii)diffidence and (iii)glory. (i)Men will violently compete to secure necessities of life and material gain, (ii)fight or challenge others out of fear and uncertainty and (iii)seek reputation for its own sake in order to deter others from challenging them. If two individuals want the same thing, they will become enemies. However, despite being self-interested, they are naturally motivated to fear death. Thus, men are conservative and anti-social, making cooperation seem almost impossible.

The conditions in such state of nature are highly undesirable which reinforce the need to for an overarching authority to govern men, especially an absolute one. The state of nature is a condition of scarcity with finite resources and has no morality, guided by our natural rights. He claimed that ‘the notion of right and wrong, justice or injustice, have no place’ in the state of nature. The unlimited liberty to use any means preserve themselves will lead to perpetual conflict and competition, or a “war of all against all”. This is also known as the right of nature, the right to self-preservation. A man will have liberty to kill another man if he feels that his life has been threatened. Hence, there is “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Hobbes also argued that law of nature exists, fundamentally motivated by the fear of violent death, where we should strive to preserve ourselves, seek peace as much as others would and should keep agreements. Since the law of nature exists, shouldn’t we expect the state of nature to be peaceful and cooperative? Looking at Hobbes account on human nature, it seems that these laws are redundant to begin with. Since the law of nature relies heavily on reciprocity, the ‘first mover’ problem will arise. With so much uncertainty and mistrust, who will be first to lay down their rights and seek peace? Furthermore, there is no direct incentive to keep agreements. Thus, a sovereign is needed to create laws to determine the right and wrongs, along with sanctions for defaulters; Only then, can morality be artificially created.

Hobbes presents two accounts of the origin of the commonwealth: ‘commonwealth by institution’ and ‘commonwealth by acquisition’. The former refers to an agreement which each person agrees to lay down their natural right to liberty and transfer it to a third party – the sovereign. In return, the sovereign provides security and peace. The agreement will be between the individuals and not a contract between subject and ruler. Hence, the ruler cannot breach the contract because he is not bound by it in the first place. However, this raises an interesting question of how do men determine who the third party or sovereign is? Given that human beings have fundamentally equal chances of killing each other and inherently glory-seeking, there should be someone who will eventually dominate the crowd. Now that we have a sovereign, since the state of nature is a condition of uncertainty and fear, who will be willing to be the first person to give up their rights to be governed by that third party? Certainly, commonwealth by institution seems less possible.

Commonwealth by acquisition refers to conquest. The conqueror takes away the land by force and compels obedience at the point of a sword. According to Hobbes, men will seek peace and avoid violent death, they will submit to the conqueror because the alternative to conquest is war or death. By making a choice to comply and avoid a violent death, Hobbes argue that it can also be viewed as an agreement as it was a rational choice made by the conquered. It is interesting to note that if what he meant by conquest is the replacement of an existing sovereign, both his accounts cannot answer how the first ever civil society was ever formed. However, this does not mean that his contract theory is completely irrelevant. It was perhaps to show how difficult it is for men to exit state of nature.

Hobbes was trying to convince his readers that it is never favourable for a country to fall into anarchy. His aim was to convince his audience the importance of submitting to a sovereign by portraying a bleak perspective of how life without sovereign would be like. Critics would point out that since the state of nature perhaps never existed, the formation of a commonwealth can be rendered irrelevant. We should note that Hobbes never intended to prove that such premises were true. Rather, he was just painting a very disastrous scenario with the absence of a strong government upholding political order.

In conclusion, Hobbes was trying to justify for an absolute government and if the state of nature is what Hobbes accurately described, it seems that leaving the state of nature is highly impossible. He described human nature to be too uncooperative and unsociable, hence the need for an overarching authority to facilitate peace. The state of nature with fear and uncertainty will never motivate human to be positive. Perhaps if he had stronger reasons, other than the law of nature, for human beings to cooperate, civil society would more likely to be born out of institution.