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It's O.K. with me, but there are 211 million people [in Indonesia]. All the green [area] is Indonesia. And that red dot is Singapore.
(Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, Asian Wall Street Journal, August 1998)

Red dot.
The tiny red dot.
That is the comment that echoes. That stays in the minds of many. The assessment of this island-state by then Indonesian President Habibie; whilst pointing to a map no less.
Meant as a jibe of course.
Habibie as agent provocateur.

Trouble is. He was right.

But it is not as if we never knew that. We long ago recognised the folly of the British—they with their notions of Singapore as the "impregnable fortress". They thought we were a state. One that could withstand all, hold off everyone. Now people are making an even greater error (even Habibie who was accidentally right)—they think Singapore is a country.

We know we are not. Never were. Never will be.
We are a city.
More precisely, a port city.

Everyone is welcome;
For the right price.


Wealth and speed are what the world admires, what each pursues. Railways, express mails, steamships and every possible facility for communications are the achievement in which the civilized world view and revels, only to languish in mediocrity by that very fact. Indeed, the effect of this diffusion is to spread the culture of the mediocre.
(Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe)

Rarely is Goethe as right (wealth and speed are everything) and wrong (he thinks mediocrity is a problem) in the same sentence.
If you listen carefully, in mediocrity there are echoes of the medius, the medial. Here, one should never forget Aristotle's teaching that the mean is everything. This is not an overarching mean, a flattening gesture which effaces the situation, but a middle that is born from the singular; immanent, situational. A method if you will: recalling that all methods are haunted by journeys (meta hodos; over a path); only knowable as it is encountered.
Which is not to say that there are no dangers.
For, even as mediocrity reminds us of the search for the middle, the in between, there are always spectres of peaks, points (okris), jagged mountains (ocris), threatening to tear, break, rupture.


One is median—whilst avoiding the dangers of the journey—not by avoiding conflict, but by having nothing to be in conflict with.
By seeing no contradiction in opposites.
[Sodomy is out-lawed in Singapore. The port-city is also one of the gay hubs of Asia.]
But it is not as if there are no rules. In fact, in this way, the rules have to be stricter than ever.
Not laws: which can be bent, broken.
Rules: you either follow and play. Or leave.

The absolute rule is maximum productivity.
[Instead of ruling out homosexuality, subsume it.
Who cares who you sleep with, as long as you generate. Surplus value is no longer limited to merely (re)producing another person; we have long ago already commodified persons. This means they are completely exchangeable.
If you can't produce another person, replace her with something else – if you cannot generate a person, generate income. As long as there is (re)production, everything is fine. ]


But just because everyone is exchangeable doesn't mean that we'd openly admit it.
It is not just that we need illusions to ease, to filter, reality; without appearances, reality itself would crumble.
This is the lesson of Stalinism.
When Khrushchev denounced Stalin in 1956, many collapsed in shock, a few even killed themselves afterwards. It was not that no one knew Stalin was a monster. But just because you know it does not mean that you can say it.
We know that it is not always a 'good morning'. That uttering it to each other is merely ritualistic. Phatic communication.
Try not saying it.
The very reality of your social existence depends on performing that illusion.

On the evening of 17 August 2008, Singaporeans were faced with a dilemma: do we cheer for the table-tennis girls that are standing on podium at the Beijing Olympics?  This was the first Olympics medal Singapore has won for the last 48 years.  However, many were still skeptical whether these athletes—donning Singapore colours—were even Singaporean: after all, they were born in China and had been acquired by the Foreign Talent Scheme to boost our sporting success.

Naturally all Singaporean played along: 'it's good that we won, but it would have been so much better if the players were born here.' What else is this but protecting the illusion that some of us actually belong here.
Are daughters of the land.
That even though anyone who can generate surplus is accepted, some of us have a right to belong.
To utter otherwise would shatter the omerta.
It would be to call out that the emperor is naked. That the port city is just that—a place of movement, transit, transaction.     
And like when a magician that breaks the code, the revelation of the tricks of her trade will ensure her ostracisation from the community—even though no one actually believes that it is real.
Even though every viewer harbours the fantasy of being able to crack the secret of any magic trick that they have witnessed.
The moment a trick is unveiled, not only is the illusion itself destroyed, but more crucially the very illusion of the magician itself (of someone who has a certain 'special' ability that you and I don't have) is destroyed. What this reveals to the viewer is that the underlying secret of all magic is: it is the viewer that actually creates the illusion (that there is an illusion that will take place) for herself.
And for this very reason, the code exacts its vengeance on the magician.


The success of the port lies in being anything you want it to be.
For that, it has to be nothing. Not in a banal nihilistic sense. But a nothingness that is open to all possibilities.
To anything.
Your fantasy.
For a fee, nothing more.

The great stars or seductresses never dazzle because of their talent or intelligence, but because of their absence. They are dazzling in their nullity, and in their coldness—
(Jean Baudrillard, Seduction, 96)

 

 


 
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