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The Social Laboratory 79

Posted by Soulskill
from the playing-with-a-nation's-psyche dept.
An anonymous reader writes: We often worry about technology and unscrupulous intelligence agencies driving us toward a surveillance state. But apparently Singapore already beat us to the punch. "Not only does the government keep a close eye on what its citizens write and say publicly, but it also has the legal authority to monitor all manner of electronic communications, including phone calls, under several domestic security laws aimed at preventing terrorism, prosecuting drug dealing, and blocking the printing of 'undesirable' material." They've used it to do good, like swiftly moving to contain the spread of infectious diseases and to figure out how the public wants policy problems solved. But they've also obliterated privacy and restricted what people can say and do. "Singaporeans speak, often reverently, of the "social contract" between the people and their government. They have consciously chosen to surrender certain civil liberties and individual freedoms in exchange for fundamental guarantees: security, education, affordable housing, health care." The article notes, "It's hard to know whether the low crime rates and adherence to the rule of law are more a result of pervasive surveillance or Singaporeans' unspoken agreement that they mustn't turn on one another, lest the tiny island come apart at the seams."
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The Social Laboratory

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  • Thank you for obeying!

    • by Shoten (260439) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @09:08AM (#47593095)

      Thank you for obeying!

      You don't understand Singapore. I know it sounds quite bizarre to a Westerner, but the citizens of Singapore *want* this. This is what they actually value; the common perspective differs, in that they feel that the needs of the society of the whole are greater than those of the individual. This level of control isn't something that they're obeying...it's something that they're desiring, facilitating, embracing. And while I'm with you in my preference of a more Western form of social balance, it's also hard to argue that Singapore is actually a bad place to live or be.

      • by russotto (537200)

        Of course all Singaporeans want their all-seeing government; any who don't are subject to sanction by said government.

        Actually, I just wish this were true. In fact, I think the only reasons more Americans don't want such a government is we've had no experience with a government actually interested in and competent at such paternalism; when our government decides to abrogate our rights it typically manages to get in the abuses without any of the purported benefits. Despite that many Americans STILL want an

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You don't understand Singapore either, or for that matter people in general, since you claim that 'they', all 3+ million of us (5+ if you include not just citizens, but also permanent residents and foreigners), *want* and value this, that such control is what we desire, facilitate and embrace.

        The article, which claims our 'paternalistic government ensures people's basic needs -- housing, education, security -- in return for almost reverential deference.', doesn't understand Singapore either. I would not cal

        • But what is unique to Singapore is that a very small group of people have stayed in the very large majority of power for a very long time,

          Part of the success of the Singaporean government is to do a very good job for a long time. Economic growth, low crime, etc. There's no real motivation to change things when the king is doing a good job, especially when whoever replaces will be most likely worse

          Remember, America would have remained a colony if King George hadn't made many very bad policy moves, which made Americans feel like it would be better to sever ties than keep suffering under a foolish king.

      • Everyone I've known from Singapore has been very clear about this: they did not "consciously choose" to surrender civil liberties. They were never given any choice in the matter. They were very unhappy about the lack of civil liberties there and wanted it to change.

        Perhaps the people I've known were not representative of Singapore in general. But even so, it's manifestly absurd to claim they consciously chose something they have never been given any choice about and have no power to change.

      • by epyT-R (613989)

        ..or they've just been conditioned over several generations to submit. They've got their clean, orderly streets, and the only reason there are no tanks patrolling them is because they aren't needed.

        We call this mental state 'stockholm syndrome'.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S... [wikipedia.org]

      • by epyT-R (613989)

        I suppose 'helsinki syndrome' also applies.

    • Zombie zones (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Taco Cowboy (5327)

      Disclaimer: I do have business in Singapore and I do spend some time in Singapore every year

      As my business is largely in the East Asian region, I do travel from country to country and have a lot of contacts with people of different countries in that region

      My exposure to the people from the different countries tells me one thing --- social construct is indeed a very VERY crucial factor in shaping the behavior of the people

      In Korea, for example, their rigid society have shaped the Koreans into teams of robots

      • by kheldan (1460303)

        In Singapore, however, due to the "Father Knows Best" government which has taken care of almost everything for its citizens, many Singaporeans (I mean, the home bred Singaporeans, not those imported ones) have turned into something not very different from zombies --- they lack the zeal for doing anything, have no interest in learning nor put any effort in coming out with anything that is creative

        I'm not at all surprised. That's about how people act when they're living in oppressive conditions, knowing that it's not a matter of 'if', but of 'when' they slip up, say or do something the government considers 'undesirable', and they're scooped up and hauled away to some form of incarceration or other, their lives (and maybe their families' lives, too?) ruined. As I said in my own comment: You can't legislate and mandate morality.

  • but is it healthy long term?

    aren't social contracts supposed to be voluntary? At least at some level?

    • by Pino Grigio (2232472) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @08:41AM (#47593023)
      Not really, no. Your social contract gets signed by someone else the minute you are born. Ultimately it's based on the coercive power of the State and its ability to do violence to you. On the other hand it is willing to do violence to others on your behalf. That is the other side of the contract.
      • by CRCulver (715279)

        Not really, no. Your social contract gets signed by someone else the minute you are born.

        The state issues you a passport, and when you turn 18, you can leave for any other country if you don't accept the terms that your country of birth is offering you. That may not be an option for people for repressive states that require exit visas, but it's certainly an option for anyone born in the United States, so the "social contract" idea seems to hold.

        • by iggymanz (596061)

          False, becoming an imigration criminal in another country can result in imprisonment and deportation back to the US. Think harder.

          • by CRCulver (715279)
            There are plenty of countries where a US citizen can arrive with his passport and easily transition to residency within a few months.
        • Having a passport is not the "social contract". Indeed "passports" are a relatively new, 20th century concept. The contract I'm talking about goes back more than a thousand years to the feudal system and probably several thousand years before that. Very little has changed since then.
    • by gsslay (807818)

      It must be wonderful though, to have so much trust in your Government not to abuse the privileges granted them.

      Or are Singaporeans all naive idealists getting taken for a ride?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        No, the Singaporeans in charge are fabulously wealthy, and pass whatever laws they can to stifle dissent, or to thwart any movement that might lead to a change in the status quo.

    • by PPH (736903)

      aren't social contracts supposed to be voluntary?

      Yes. But voluntary at what level? In some societies, we value individual's rights above those of the collective. Each person makes their own choices. In others, things are done by consensus. What the majority wants, each member goes along with.

    • by russotto (537200)

      The whole concept of a "social concept" is ludicrous. The terms are set by one party, who also administers the contract, judges violations of the contract, and reserves the right to alter the contract at any time.

      • and tells you what a contract 'is'.
      • by Orestesx (629343)
        The term social contract is a bit disingenuous, I grant you, but the alternative is a revolution every generation. If Thomas Jefferson and James Madison couldn't come up with a better solution, we should be willing to accept the concept in the absence of any viable alternatives.
        • by russotto (537200)

          IIRC Jefferson was a bit of a firebrand and thought a revolution every generation _was_ a good idea. Of course that's when he was young.

          Either way I refuse to call it a "social contract" when it's really just "might makes right"; the basis of its legitimacy is force, not consent.

  • by jeIIomizer (3670945) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @08:39AM (#47593019)

    I'm pretty sure it's not necessary to surrender fundamental liberties to get those.

    But all this proves is that people too easily ignore history. Hundreds of millions of people abused throughout history by corrupt governments, and yet you want to give them the power to monitor people's communications? I'm sure your government, unlike all the other ones that came before it, is full of perfectly innocent little angels that will never abuse their powers or make mistakes. Furthermore, I'm sure your government will *always* be like that. So you can not only trust the people currently in your government, but every single person who will ever work for it. Yeah...

    And it's not like privacy is a basic human need or anything.

    • Hundreds of millions of people abused throughout history by corrupt governments, and yet you want to give them the power to monitor people's communications?

      One important factor why Singaporeans agree to give up their own privacy in exchange for "easy life" is the country just north of the Singapore Strait

      And another country is the one South of Singapore

      Those two countries are the epitome of corruption, cronyism, and racism, and of course, the Singaporean government takes full advantage of what happens up north and down south and warn its citizenry of the danger of turning Singapore into just like them

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        One important factor why Singaporeans agree to give up their own privacy in exchange for "easy life" is the country just north of the Singapore Strait

        And another country is the one South of Singapore

        Those two countries are the epitome of corruption, cronyism, and racism, and of course, the Singaporean government takes full advantage of what happens up north and down south and warn its citizenry of the danger of turning Singapore into just like them

        And they also point out the ills of the "western world" too

    • by matbury (3458347)

      Agreed. There are other states that adopted or have adopted pervasive, warrantless surveillance on its people; pre-1989 East Germany (Stasi), North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and now the "five eyes" (USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia). What's not to like about it?

      BTW, what has pervasive, warrantless surveillance got to do with education, affordable housing, and healthcare?

      • If the the populace rebels, or votes for more liberal (in the "freedom" sense, not in the American politics sense) policies, they will get no education, no affordable housing, and no healthcare. Surveillance enables the government to quell such dissent. There, that's the connection.

        • by matbury (3458347)

          From what I understand, when populations are more politically engaged, i.e. in more liberal and democratic societies, they tend to vote for more workers' rights, better education, and universal, comprehensive healthcare. Those are the things that make their lives more enjoyable and societies more prosperous and stable as a result. The loudest voices calling for small government in the US are funded by the billionnaire Plutocrats like the Koch brothers. If you look at what the public say in opinion polls, it

    • by towermac (752159)

      One thing you haven't taken into account is the size of Singapore, and their government. A tiny thing, sandwiched between giant, and far worse neighbors, as pointed out below. They have a sort of community thing going on, and are far closer to their government (just based on numbers), than we could hope to be here in the US.

      What seems to be working for them, and apparently it is working well for them, would not work for us here. To compare a large powerful country; 1930s Germany, Russia, China, the US, whoe

      • One thing you haven't taken into account is the size of Singapore, and their government

        The size of Singapore and their government is irrelevant. No matter the size, due to the fact that humans make it up, it is corruptible. History has shown this so many times this isn't even debatable.

        What seems to be working for them, and apparently it is working well for them

        You think violating people's fundamental liberties qualifies as "working"?

    • by epyT-R (613989)

      It may not be necessary, but that is usually the cost when government offers them for 'free.'

  • by Jeeeb (1141117) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @08:44AM (#47593027)

    But they've also obliterated privacy and restricted what people can say and do. "Singaporeans speak, often reverently, of the "social contract" between the people and their government. They have consciously chosen to surrender certain civil liberties and individual freedoms in exchange for fundamental guarantees: security, education, affordable housing, health care."

    I'm not Singaporean but of the Singaporeans I have met, I'm not sure many would agree about it being a choice. Plus the implication that they gained security, education, affordable housing and health care through giving up their freedoms is clearly wrong. Plenty of those countries have all of those things without being ruled by a billionaire dictator and his family.

  • If X can do it, then Y will believe they do/should have the tight to do it.

    In this case, the "it" is to file, index and retrieve aspects of your private life.

    If a company, without authorization, can do so, then so can a government. If necessary, by outsourcing to said company.

    If a government, without authorization, can do so, it is inevitable companies will contend the same.

    Since organizations are increasingly interchangeable with governments (similar powers, similar immunities, similar thirst for conquest)

  • by kheldan (1460303) on Sunday August 03, 2014 @11:36AM (#47593795) Journal

    "It's hard to know whether the low crime rates and adherence to the rule of law are more a result of pervasive surveillance or Singaporeans' unspoken agreement that they mustn't turn on one another, lest the tiny island come apart at the seams."

    If your every move is being watched by a government that can and will scoop you up and destroy your life for so much as saying something they don't like ('undesirable content' indeed!) then it's completely and totally moot whether or not people 'behave', because you're inhibiting their true nature via threats to their existence. At best you're driving criminal elements of all different stripes deeper underground, not stamping them out. Something as trivial and relatively innocuous as filesharing, or actually speaking your mind (when it's not a 'popular', or perhaps in this context, a 'state approve' viewpoint)? They just learn to hide better. In my opinion, it's about as valid as Victorian morals or the Puritans, who also were just better at hiding their dirty laundry and base desires for sake of appearances. You can't legislate and mandate morality.

  • A benevolent dictatorship is still a dictatorship. And the effects on the populace can turn on a dime with a change in administration.

    In the US, an argument not made often enough (in my opinion) regarding government surveillance powers is that "this may be good for us now, but it's gonna really suck when the other party gets back in power".

    • by epyT-R (613989)

      Uh, it sucks regardless of which party is in power. In order to protect everyone's liberty, the state isn't supposed to have such powers in the first place. Otherwise, small interest groups can use it to push the rest of us around. This is the mainstay of today's political arena, and the source of most of its problems.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        > Uh, it sucks regardless of which party is in power.

        Yes, that's the real moral of the story.

        I'm sorry, it may be due to the crowd I'm forced to work in, but I tend to put things pragmatically rather than morally, because people (at least, some people) seem to connect better to pragmatism than to mere right and wrong.

        I think Heinlein had a quote about that, but it slips my mind at this moment.

  • 'Singaporeans speak, often reverently, of the "social contract" between the people and their government. They have consciously chosen to surrender certain civil liberties and individual freedoms in exchange for fundamental guarantees: security, education, affordable housing, health care.'

    No different than here then, except our government is busy selling off what don't belong to them, so as we can buy it back again. Some people seem to have forgotten the fact that governments don't guarantee anything, we
  • In all my years reading slashdot, I've never seen an article litterally advocating the type of society as found in 1984. No, this is litterally Oligargial Socialism, i.e. facism, stalinism, and maoism(english socialism, neo-bolshievism, and obliteration of self/death worship, respectively).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Theory_and_Practice_of_Oligarchical_Collectivism

    thats what you have to look forward too. Too hell with these newage facists
  • The only reason we don't speak of it as such is because it's also a finely-tuned profit-generating machine and the ruling class fawns over it, civil liberties be damned. We'd be all lovey-dovey over China too if they didn't get adversarial with the US every now and then, and it doesn't help that their political party has "communist" in its name and isn't split into red and blue teams.

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