Why do S’poreans film instead of step in? Because they defer to authority.

The power of recording an act has reinforced the dynamics of being Singaporean.

By Belmont Lay | April 27, 2017

Several “experts” Today spoke to recommended the things Singaporeans should and should not do if and when they bear witness to an incident similar to the one at Toa Payoh hawker centre.

These experts include lawyers, a member of parliament and a sociologist from a local university.

According to them, here’s what Singaporeans should do:

– Step in to defuse the situation as a neutral party if possible

And this is what Singaporeans shouldn’t do:

– Stand back and take videos

– Apply lynch mob mentality in the aftermath

Most illuminating, though, is the reason why Singaporeans are generally meek when it comes to confrontations.

According to National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser:

“Someone respectable and seen as a neutral party, if available, could have stepped in to resolve the conflict, and nudge the offending party to apologise to the one receiving the bad treatment,” he said. However, he noted that the norm in Singapore “seems to be that only the authority of the state could resolve” such incidents.

And according to lawyer Amolat Singh:

Mr Singh said: “In Singapore, we are not a disciplined society, but a tamed society, just like lions in a circus that are tamed. So the moment the ringmaster cracks its whip, people behave.”

Singaporeans defer to authority

Therefore, it appears Singaporeans’ preference for a more passive approach of filming an act instead of intervening is the result of having been hardwired to adopt a deferential attitude towards authority, which is then counted on to act on Singaporeans’ behalf, especially so for resolution of disputes.

This naturally leads to a degree of feeling helpless and defenseless as individuals.

As a consequence, this inability to stand up for others is one thing. What is worse is when Singaporeans feel they cannot even stand up for themselves.

In the Toa Payoh hawker centre incident, this is exactly what happened.

Based on the retelling of the incident by the daughter of the elderly man who was shoved in the video, her father kept silent in the aftermath as he wasn’t even sure he could do anything about being roughed up.

The daughter of the elderly man wrote:

In his own words, he tells me he didn’t think anything will come out of it, will the police even act on it? ..does it make sense to pursue it?..

Furthermore, will anyone even going to believe him? It will be just his words …So what can he do? He figured he will have to just brush it off, and move on..so no point mentioning.

A video is valuable evidence

So, thank goodness for the video recording that has immortalised the thuggish behaviour of two Singaporeans over a vacant table at a public eating place. There are good lessons here, such as never acting in a manner in public that you will never want others to see.

Because with the proliferation of camera phones, the entire dynamics has changed — but barely.

In all fairness, Singaporeans who encounter incidents cannot and should not be expected to heroically put themselves in between factions owing to incomplete information and a lack of understanding of what is happening during such transient moments.

However, any video serving as evidence — after the fact — on the other hand, will then be everything.

Moreover, since the overarching state has and would like to have a hand in people’s lives in Singapore, then naturally, it shall deal with this too.

Singaporeans will gladly forfeit their own responsibility.

And if the court of law is unable to act, Singaporeans are heartened to know that court of public opinion shall always be on standby.

Because the greatest arbiter is still the one that gets the job done. And Singaporeans don’t have to do it themselves when others would.


If you like what you read, follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest updates.

About Belmont Lay

Belmont can pronounce "tchotchke".

Morning Commute

Interesting stories to discuss with your colleagues in office later