Parochial anxiety.

Many world leaders have issued official congratulations to the new president dude on social media, as has the Prime Minister of Singapore – a tiny country of 5 million that survives on trade and cannot afford to gamble on its bilateral ties with the US.

It brings me some comfort that one congratulatory post is garnering hundreds of measured comments from citizens, pleading with the PM to understand their panic while performing the acrobatics of diplomacy.

But it scares me beyond measure that a vast majority of these comments are concerns about Singapore’s economic future, the TPP, and the strength of the SGD, rather than the incoming president dude’s frightening disavowing of basic human rights and alarming disregard for humanity. And it’s hard to blame them for this has been 51 years of state hegemony by one incumbent party.

When a country has been conditioned and calibrated, through sticks and carrots, to privilege economic development over human rights, we end up producing highly educated, self-sufficient, goal-driven citizens who cannot empathize beyond their own bubble of need and comfort.

I always tell my students that despite the booksmarts they compete to pursue in our rigid education system, the auntie selling tissue paper on the street wouldn’t care much for Durkheim or Queer Theory or 3500 word essays. The onus is on us to break out of these bubbles, to relate to each other, to be level citizens, to empathize, to call out microaggressions, to visibilize systemic discrimination – to care and care enough to take action. And if you think there is nothing wrong with what’s happening now (also demonstrated by a very frightening lot of responses from some privileged folk), then educate yourselves and learn to seek information and knowledge outside of the state-controlled press.

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