singapore-989047_1920Hands up who hasn’t visited the “hey-goondus” section of Singapore’s stomp.com website? I encourage you to have a look now and return still believing that Singapore is the home of respectful tolerance.

A highlight is the stomp.com “Mood Meter” (seen for example in stories here and here) allowing stompers (as the values vigilantes on the stomp.com website like to describe themselves) to vote on contributor’s pictures, including those of exhausted workers falling asleep on public buses (enraged!), teenagers flirting (ewww!), passengers failing to keep left when entering trains (bochop!), and elderly shoppers placing shopping bags on the vacant adjacent seat (shiok!).

Raising the subject of stomp.com with many Singaporeans commonly elicits a hasty admission of embarrassment. Clearly the website is not a matter of great national pride, particularly for those Singaporeans whose complaints generally touch on more substantial issues.

Such as? Well, a conversation I had once with a Singaporean student here in Australia offered some insight. He remarked how much he loved studying here, pointing to the freedom in class discussions to cover all manner of topics including obscure and provocative interpretations of gender and sexuality. “In Singapore” he added mournfully “we are just told to go away and read it ourselves if we are interested”.

I pointed out to him how many Australians would gladly sacrifice the freedom to discuss topics usually found only in obscure Penguin classics for an efficient public transport system just half as good as Singapore’s.

Trust me” he said, “you don’t want to be like Singapore”.

Trust me” I replied, with the certainty of someone who has stepped off a Singapore Airlines flight onto Sydney’s public transport, “many of us do”.

The exchange was humorous but instructive of deeper realities. The Australian commitment to a liberal society, encompassing the power to explore risky topics, sometimes seems incompatible with Singapore’s focus on more measurable social benefits, such as trains that run to schedule, low crime rates and comparatively minimal levels of drug abuse.

To me, this reflects a Singapore that often appears to struggle with human imperfections, or more accurately, differences. Websites like stomp.com and embracing prescriptive social norms are the flip side to a determined national pursuit of the quality standards which are manifest through Singapore’s economic success. Quality entails a degree of inevitability of course so you could add highly predictable election results, but let’s not go there for now.

Singapore’s communal focus on quality reveals much about its nature. The quality standards Singapore holds sacred are attained through measurement, and measurement by counting is also necessary foundation for successful government. Furthermore, accurate and reliable measurement requires conformity. This may explain in part the attempts to identify and articulate non-conformist, and thus un-Singaporean, behaviour in places like stomp.com.

Superficially stomp.com is humorous, but the comments from stompers are frequently overtly and crudely racist. The common implication is that some Singaporeans and visitors are not true Singaporeans who merit counting, but there are of course no instruments to offer Singaporeans guidance in making these judgements.

Well, except for the Mood Meter. Hands up again who wants to become a stomper and note whether Singaporeans lol, eek, shiok or just plain old bochop at the lesser folk in the city-state who potentially diminish the quality of life for true Singaporeans?