Why Singaporeans are Angry and Unhappy – And What the Government Needs to Do

Singaporeans, do you want to know the real reason why we are ranked as the people with the least emotions and least positive emotions?

Here’s why.

The fact is this – all countries manipulate and make use of their people. In a world where governments operate in a capitalistic system, governments themselves have become capitalistic. So, no government would be completely honest to their people. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to make money in the economy, because they wouldn’t be connected into the system. The other countries in the system which have been corrupted by a monetary system that keeps financing itself through the manipulation of others to gain more requires that you play into their game. A government which needs to make money, either for itself or for its people, will start becoming corrupt because they need to survive within a cutthroat world economic system. You are either in or out.

Let’s be clear about another thing. Democracy as it is practiced in the modern world is meant to create an illusion that the people think they have power. The people don’t. Period. Banks do. People who own the banks do. Governments which own the banks do. Governments which are the banks do – like Singapore is. This is now more and more well-known. The reason why Singaporeans feel so powerless is because the government is the bank and which is the economy and which is the law – our government has deeply integrated itself within the key economic and political institutions of Singapore and are thus able to enact control on us holistically. The government lets people go to elections. It feels that each of us have a voice when we each cast a vote. We don’t. Whatever decisions the governments make later on, even as they are ‘democratically elected’ to represent our views, becomes a game of politics. The people are the pawns. We are told we work in democratic environments where we have rights and power. We don’t. We are pawns and they continue to have the power.

So, with this backdrop, let’s come back to understanding the Singapore situation. To be fair, all governments manipulate their people, not just the Singapore government. But what makes another country different? The difference lies in this – in other countries, the people get to publicly demonstrate. The demonstration in itself isn’t what is different. Rather, it is the ability of the people, or the perception of their ability to be able to get themselves heard, and to think that they are able to enact changes because they are able to make themselves heard. So, here is the crux – all governments make use of their people, but if they are able to allow their people to be heard, or pretend to let their people feel that they are heard, then the people will be more appeased. When people feel that they are heard, that the people’s grievances are addressed, they feel that they are in more autonomy, that they have more power of their lives – this makes them express more positive emotions and make them happier.

So, the key reason why Singaporeans show the least positive emotions and are not happy is because of this – we feel that we are oppressed and we feel that we are not heard. We feel that we have no control over our lives and whatever decisions the government makes run us over. Then you ask, Singapore is such a rich country, the government makes its people rich – what else do the people want? They get to have everything they want! But you see, if you’ve bought into the concept of money, you are a capitalist which have allowed yourself to be bought over by money. Money is not a basic need of human beings. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. Concepts such as being respected, being valued, being loved – these are what people want. When Singaporeans were still relatively poor, to us, we needed to satisfy our basic needs for food and water. Thus money was important in this larger scheme of things – we need money to survive. But to be clear – money in itself didn’t bring joy. The fulfillment of the stomach brought joy. And because whether we could fill our empty stomachs were determined by how much money we have, we’ve learnt to attach value to money – but the true value lies in whether we had food and water, and not in whether we have money. Yet, because we’ve learnt to perceive value superficially in money, the Singapore government has learnt to buy our desires over with money.

But up to a certain point, when our basic need for hunger is met, then we realise that we have more than we need. This is when the capitalistic world system has created a consumerism culture where we’ve learnt to spend our ‘extra’ money on goods and services that they continue to churn out. Now, we think that these goods and services become essential to us and become one of our basic needs – a mobile phone, the Internet etc. But what is really happening is this – as human beings, we want to have identity and we want to belong. In a country where we do not feel that we belong and where we do not have a sense of identity, we’ve learnt to create it through the purchase of goods and services which we think will define who we are. So, we learn to attach value to goods and services, even though what we really value is a sense of identity and belonging. What is happening here is that we’ve learnt to attach value to the obvious and physical – money and goods and services, rather than understand the innate and underlying values that actually drive our desires.

A few years ago, Singaporeans began to realise this – so what if I attach value to money? So what if I attach value to goods and services? Why do I still feel empty inside? Why do I still feel unhappy? This is because the goods and services that we’ve bought might give us a false sense of identity. But take all of that away and what are we left with? We don’t think that we have an identity and we don’t feel that we belong. We become hollow.

And this is one of three powerful strategies that the Singapore government to contain the minds of people, and actually all capitalistic governments have created – keep churning out goods and services to tie you into a cycle of buying goods to create a sense of identity, albeit a false one. But at some point, people start realising – but I’m still not happy – because I don’t feel a sense of identity. This is where Singapore is at now.

This goes back to our initial point. How can people feel that they have an identity? How can people feel that there is meaning in who they are and what they do? Well, find meaning in what we do! This means doing what we love and are passionate about. This means championing for causes we are passionate about. This means speaking up about issues we are concerned about. This means finding solutions to issues that crop out and being able to resolve them. This means having the autonomy to create solutions. This is what is missing in Singapore. There are people who are able to live their lives in Singapore, doing what they are happy with, but this is a select group of people. For most others, we’ve bought into a system where we are told to study maths and science and become engineers and bankers. All fine and well, but what are we passionate about? What do we want to act on? To have money and lots of it, you say? We’ve established that money is a means to an end but it is not the end itself – money is not what gives people joy. Money is a means to get to joy and when we latch on money in itself, we won’t get to joy if we do not understand this.

So, the next powerful strategy that the Singapore government has created is to create a system whereby our minds are focused on churning out money, and we are told that with money, we will become who we are. And we’ve bought into the plot. We believe in their rhetoric. This is the state where those who are allied to PAP and those who continue to support them fervently are at. They are still able to be bought over by money and thus their allegiance is still sold. But just wait until they have a mind to question the purpose of money and how they’ve allowed themselves to be sold to the plot.

This is where the third powerful strategy that the government has created to keep people happy – or so they think they’ve managed to. If people are no longer happy with money, and if people are no longer happy to just keep buying things to define who they are, you know that they’ve started to grow minds of their owns and they are starting to think beyond the plot you’ve created – to use money to entrap their minds so that they will continue to focus on money and help you grow money. But many people are starting to question the real value of money and whether this plot is something they actually believe in. And when this happens, they will start to think about what they truly want – what is really of value to them? They will start thinking about their passions, what they enjoy, what causes they believe in and what they want to speak up for. For a long time, if you are interested in any causes in Singapore, you are not allowed a space to speak up on your causes. International organizations which speak out on causes aren’t allowed to set foot in Singapore. Unions are owned by the government. There are no spaces for demonstrations, albeit peaceful ones. This is all well, if the people do not start to question. But once they do, as a government which knows how to control it’s people, you create spaces for them to do so, so that you continue to create an illusion for them.

The Singapore government knows the evolution of the mind and has planned for it. So, they’ve created The Speaker’s Corner – a space set aside specifically for sanctioned demonstrations. So, they’ve tried allowing for diverse media platforms – they had created a new TV station and created more news platforms. They’ve allowed for contained discussions on socio-political issues which are moderated. And recently, they’ve created Our National Conversation. So, this is the third strategy that the government has created to contain the people – opening up carefully managed spaces to satisfy people’s needs to pursue causes or passions they find meaningful and want to speak out about.

But is this working? Among all the three strategies, this is the one that the government had implemented that is the least successful. Why? Making people slaves to money and the buying of goods and service is easy. You give them more money. No matter how little you give them, it still feels like something to them. But allowing for spaces for the mind to think – if you create half a space and people don’t get to fully express themselves or to think, sooner or later, they are bound to know that the craving is still there and hasn’t been fully met – they still want to express themselves but they know that they actually can’t. How do you demonstrate at The Speaker’s Corner when you know that no one pays attention to it, where you know people don’t take it seriously, and where you know you won’t get heard and change won’t be enacted anyway? The reason why people want to demonstrate isn’t because they have spare time and feel like demonstrating. The reason why they demonstrate is because they want to be heard and they want what they voice out to be acted on. The Speaker’s Corner is created specifically by the government for people to think that they are able to act on something they believe in and then silence them there and then, with minimal media coverage, and thus minimal hope for their voices to be heard and acted on. It’s a good containment strategy by the government to silence voices. But it isn’t good enough to address the inner need that people have to express themselves.

This is similar to creating the illusion of having an union which fight for people’s rights. Once people realise how repressed their rights are, they will fight back. And in this case, we had to rely on external forces to do so – the China and India workers. Why do you think the Singaporean bus drivers are raising funds for their China co-workers? Because the China workers had spoken up, not only for themselves but also for the other lowly-paid bus drivers, and actually, for the other lower-wage workers in Singapore who have been systematically disadvantaged. And you say, we have an organization which is able to manage migrant worker’s issues – HOME. And then the government got threatened and they created MWC, under the arm of the union run by the government, so that they can silence criticism, as they are doing now. There are strategies in place to silence feedback, even if righteous.

Which is why people are unhappy and which is why are emotions are so muted. We’ve learnt to be angry at not being able to have our voices heard or to be able to enact changes. We’ve learnt to let it simmer and let it boil over internally, and then get angry at someone else – at a foreigner, at the elderly, at the kid who is crying loudly on the train. We’ve learnt to direct it at those we can, because we cannot direct it towards the government. And so, there is strong underlying tension in Singapore where there is simmering anger and tension that everyone has in feeling oppressed, in some way or another, and where their means of expressing is to direct it at the person next to them, who then direct it at the person next to them and so on. You can see how as a whole, we are a nation of people with strong underlying desires and emotions which are are kept repressed, boiling, and where we let out steam bit by bit at one another, and at everyone else – which has led us to where we are – a nation of people who do not know how to be happy because we cannot express ourselves and be heard, a nation of people who are angry and direct our anger at one another. We’ve created a nation of people who have become discriminatory because our own inner needs aren’t met, and we’ve learnt to outwardly find scapegoats for this unmet need.

What saddens me is the government allows this to happen. Can the government come in and mediate things, by educating Singaporeans and foreigners, by educating the young and older, for example? The government can. But what good will it do for the government? It doesn’t. Then we will remember that our anger has arisen primarily because of the government’s lack of concern for us in the first place! It isn’t that bad if the government fixes things on their end, then we will all be good and happy. But they won’t do that. They feel that if they allow for people to speak their minds and create spaces for this speaking of their minds, it will create instability in the economic system. They think that it will reduce profits, slow down efficiency and then Singapore will collapse. Do they actually believe in this fear-based scenario that they’ve created? I’m not so sure if they actually do. But this fear is what they operate on and propagate to scare us, and what we know they do. And what we’ve allowed ourselves to buy in.


Then, the next question that you ask me is this – if all is so bad, what can be done? Nothing? There is nothing that can be done? The government won’t change. We should leave Singapore then? There is. It’s a matter of principle – of how we govern. It isn’t even a matter of what needs to be done but a shift in thinking. Because if the government shifts the principles of governance, it will know immediately what needs to be done for Singaporeans. Right now, the government, whether they do or not, buy into a fear-based motivation where they feel that if people are given a space to express themselves, it will unsettle the economy and we will fail. The government needs to stop propagating this rhetoric to itself. We won’t. They know we won’t. You know, my government, if you want to earn money and you want to keep money within yourself, that’s fine. We have no issues with that. Humans are selfish and we understand if you want to be selfish and earn as much as you can for yourself. We are fine with that. I mean, the real reason why you create a fear-based environment is so that we will continue to fear and will work mindlessly to earn money and so that we will mindlessly trust you to work for us, while you are able to earn more for yourself. And look, we are fine with it. What we are saying is this – treat us with a bit more respect and treat us more humanely. Give us spaces to express ourselves. Give us spaces to operate. The other capitalistic governments are able to do that, and still amass money for themselves. And so can you. You can still get rich at the expense of us, even when you give us our rights. If you want to manipulate us, you still can. There are ways to manipulate people while letting them think they have their rights. America is able to do that successfully.

What say you?


  1. vik482vik

    Cheers bro!! I enjoyed reading the flow of your thoughts!! Your post is like a lesson in Hegel’s political philosophy.
    Plato and Hegel’s political philosophy is centered around the concept of thymos (A Greek word loosely translated as righteous indignation, courage or spirit) and the desire for self-recognition. These two emotions are the underlying basis of all political discourse in either an individual or in a society.
    Money cannot and will not buy either happiness or self-recognition. However, human beings have always figured out ways to achieve that elusive thymotic satisfaction, though not always in the best methods. War, religion, nationalism, political ideology, entrepreneurship etc are some avenues of self-recognition we have tried over the centuries.
    And if you subscribe to the Hegelian view, that democracy and liberalism is the only system that satisfies our desire for self-recognition, then your views about the state of Singapore society are bang on target. I recommend Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History and the Last Man”. A fascinating book based on Hegel’s philosophy, but what makes it an appropriate read is the references to Singapore. Fukuyama claims the presence of some cultural quirks (Confucian hierarchy) that allow the Singapore political system its leeway in suppressing the thymotic anger of its society. I would love to hear your views about it.

  2. Pingback: Why Singaporeans are Angry and Unhappy – And What the Government Needs to Do | Jentrified Citizen
  3. eileen

    While I get what you are saying, I don’t see any incentive for the ruling party to change its mode of operations. I can’t think why they would give a toss about the happiness or lack of it amongst the ordinary people.

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