When Brexit happened, I was shocked, but when Trump was elected, it felt like the earth’s axis has shifted. I wasn’t neither a Clinton nor Trump supporter, but it just felt incredulous that the latter could be elected, when he was portrayed as someone so unelectable to begin with. I, just like everyone else, ate up the media representation of what was happening without recognising how it is tinged so heavily with liberal ideas it is not wholly accurate nor neutral.
We all live in our own echo chambers with our own view of the world, only to realise that others don’t share the same when election results surprise us. Each of our views is unique, based on the information we have access to, our upbringing and our environment. These are things which we have less control over than we think.
The media is predominantly liberal, as are its users. But we are at a stage where not all are actively online. And so the media has been able to self-indulge in the preferred rhetoric, its own and its users, without acknowledging sentiments of actual society. What has happened in Brexit happened again in the US elections. The media is being saturated with liberal, pro-globalisation agendas, and alternative voices not within the eco-system are often marginalised, to the point that there is increasingly self-censorship as well. For all its championing of liberal democracy, liberals are becoming increasingly close-minded in terms of recognising and acknowledging diversity.
What we risk as a society is increased segregation, as discussions on important issues are either reduced to either people constructing a rosy but artificial world where everyone shares the same world view same or making angry, emotionally charged attempts to disparage each other. Pre-election we were looking at the first scenario, and post-election we have the second.
What does this all mean for myself, as a Singaporean youth? I’ve come to notice that my views as a 19 year old Chinese, female student from a middle class family who have graduated from independent schools are vastly different from others (whether of the same gender but of different age, or of the same age but of different educational background – it is a Permutations and Combinations problem in its own right, the nightmarish sort). When the Whatsapp conversation between some of my juniors surfaced, I was not actually upset. I was simply taken by surprise – it made me realise just how diverse we are as a society, from person to person, because these very people went to the exact same school as me, of similar age and race, looks at the world so differently from me.
I have always hoped for greater and more open debate in parliament and within the population itself. But in order for the debate to be meaningful and inclusive, there needs to be respect for diversity, diversity in views and diversity in interests.
Now that I’m out of school, where everyone is Chinese and forms the educational elite in Singapore, I’ve become more aware of the other groups out there. I made Malay acquaintances and taught Indian children. I make conversations with working adults and spoke to the elderly. We all like being in our comfort zones, our own circles. But going out there and talking to others, trying to get a sense of what they think and why they think that way – it is a refreshing exercise, one that not only helps you to empathise, but also to reflect on yourself. I don’t share the same concerns as a working adult, neither do I know the first-hand experience of being a minority race. But I can reflect on my identity as a youth who will want a secure economic future as well, and I can rethink the Chinese privilege I have from my perspective.
There are many issues in Singapore worthy of discussion, but not everyone is interested in every issue. Personally I’m interested in issues related to the environment, gender, education and race, at least at the moment. As someone hoping to make some changes in terms of environmental education and awareness, I’ve come to realise that just because my FB timeline is saturated with fellow activists doesn’t mean everyone I speak to knows about the plastic bag tax being pushed for in parliament.
To me, there isn’t quite a solution to this but for myself to gain more information. Click on articles, not just those with headlines I find myself nodding to. Get a sense of the different perspectives out there, and try to defend your opinion, while also being open to challenge your own assumptions. Getting out of the echo chamber is the first step to recognising that the world is imperfect, complicated and absolutely confounding. Society is not of a single pattern and design but a patchwork of different fabric. There’s no need for conclusions, no need to convince everyone. There only needs to be empathy and consensus building, rather than segregation and irrational isolation.