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Disneyland with Death Penalty (wikipedia.org)
230 points by oumua_don17 on Aug 1, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 222 comments

I personally found Singapore charming when I was there. It's a fascinating mix of several different cultures who all seem to retained many of their traditional customs. I never understood the sterile critique myself, the city never struck me as such.

Gibson's main critique, from what I can tell, is the lack of much of a counterculture similar to what you'd find in the U.S. allied-bloc (Europe, U.S., Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand), combined with wealth and modernity that you would find in such countries. He compares it to America in the 1950's. I can't help but think there's an underlying prejudice in the way he and others think countries should develop, where as they get richer they should be more like rich countries he's used to (ironically enough, the problem for many seems to be that Singapore _isn't_ the same as the other developed nations they're used to).

Though he does praise the food at the hawker centers, which I can at least agree with (and which are far away from any idea of sterile and boring).

> I can't help but think there's an underlying prejudice in the way he and others think countries should develop, where as they get richer they should be more like rich countries he's used to (ironically enough, the problem for many seems to be that Singapore _isn't_ the same as the other developed nations they're used to).

Gibson didn't look hard enough; there was definitely counterculture in Singapore at the time he wrote the story. A bit lazy on his part, but he's not a trained journalist. And there still is one now, although much less so than in the 90s.

The vibe I got from my time there is that most Singaporeans who are counterculture-inclined just leave for larger countries, in the same way a bohemian-inclined Swiss person might move to, say, New York or Berlin.

The larger problem Singapore has is that there's very little space for the arts in general, let alone counterculture.

I've personally noticed that multiple US cities have (conveniently?) removed 'room for the arts'/counterculture slowly and almost imperceptibly since the 1980s. Easily-affordable housing (for creatives and low-income students) and storefronts (for their works, performances, and socializing) have been (carelessly? carefully?) shoved aside for more gentrified concerns. Individualized 'cafes' have been 'Starbucked'. The 'unifying conformancy' is never matched by unified rights or incomes.

Non-journalist Gibson smelled the 'trend' early. It is also visible in videos which wander 'developed' world city streets. Space for inscrutable (nothing to say) welded sculptures/'child-like' murals always seems to be found. And space for 'approved' historic cultures. But not for an underground press, nor for non-violent protest, nor for authentic graffiti. Not nearly as total, then, but somewhat like North Korea, the land of identical choices.

Edit: "Through the policing of all these scales, moral geographies contribute to the construction of desired "Singaporean" identities."

( Singapore Lily on "Music and moral geographies: Constructions of "nation" and identity in Singapore" [https://www.jstor.org/stable/41148026])

Singapore's repression isn't exactly a secret, and if freedom is not a purpose to use your wealth for, then I don't see the point of wealth.

Counterculture is healthy and natural for many reasons, and its absence is a concerning indicator for any nation.

Singapore isn't noticeably more repressive than other countries in South East Asia. All things considered, I'd say it probably leans on the more open side, but these things are hard to judge. If people want to avoid South East Asia altogether because it's systems are too different, they're welcome to. But I don't think it makes sense to expect everyone to write off the entire region.

As for culture, Gibson is dismissive of their music and gets bothered that people in music stores don't recognize the Japanese punk band he likes. Rather than being open to the local music (which I personally have enjoyed), he's bothered that the people he meets aren't following along with the same global cosmopolitan trends he's accustomed to.

Repression is a set of vicious laws that strictly punish people who step out of line, not a vibe. It's alright to enjoy a repressive culture, but odds are it because the laws are directed at people who are not you, to keep them from bothering you. That's why a good sign of repression is presidents-for-life and political dynasties.

You didn't need the laws unless you had a population who wanted to do the things.

I'm not sure where you're getting "vibes" from. Some things are pretty noticeable, like how often you come across blocked websites in different countries, what countries limit you from bringing in (such as bibles), mandated public national anthems, public political ideology, mandated social laws, structure of government, etc. If you're familiar with the region, you're going to come into contact with a lot of these, and Singapore isn't one of the more repressive states in the region from my experience.

You can even look at capital punishment, which the article headline highlights. Most countries in the region have it.

The laws exist to keep the minority of counter culture people from disrupting the orderly society enjoyed by the majority. Elevating the “rights” of the minority over the comfort of the majority is not a universal value.

Eh, if you look at the history of the current state of Singapore, it's quite obvious that the repression was in no means put in place for any kind of high-minded weighing of the needs of the many against the few. It was put in place by the regime of Lee Kuan Kew, which was every bit as morally bankrupt and shamelessly brutal as the man himself.

Protecting minorities from the majority is precisely what democracy is about. Might is not right!

This is a very western viewpoint! For most Asian societies, “freedom” is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Some level of counterculture is inevitable and must be tolerated. But folks in Tokyo, for example, wouldn’t be happier if their society were more like NYC!

The Japanese constitution would beg to differ.

> Article 11. The people shall not be prevented from enjoying any of the fundamental human rights. These fundamental human rights guaranteed to the people by this Constitution shall be conferred upon the people of this and future generations as eternal and inviolate rights.

It can’t get any clearer than this. Even suggest replacing that with “freedom is just a means to an end,” and Tokyo, or rather, the entire country is going to be pissed.

It's true but current Japanese constitution is originally written by US. Here in Japan, people tend to think that freedom is given thing, rather than gained thing. So maybe there's no very strong preference for freedom like US, but also think grouping "Asia" is too rough. PRC is quite different at least.

Sure, the US did draft the constitution, but the only people making any fuss about it is the Japanese far right. While Japanese people certainly don't talk about their constitution as much as Americans do, it's still safe to say that it has widespread acceptance. The majority of the population wouldn't accept a major overhaul of the constitution, let alone any attempt to have their freedom taken away. The only source of any serious controversy in the Japanese constitution is article 9, which prohibits Japan from having their own military. But that's a different kind of topic from individual freedom.

Human rights are not Western, they are universal. Don't eat the propaganda so willingly.

The notion that folks in NYC have figured out some “universal” truth that folks in Japan haven’t is the propaganda.

Nothing says "I'm a westerner" more than speaking about "Asia".

Never been to NYC btw.

I’m Bangladeshi (but born in Thailand and raised in the US) so I’m not unfamiliar with the general contours of “Asian” cultures. While south Asians, East Asians, and Southeast Asians, in particular are vastly different culturally (as well as massive cultural differences within each of those groups), it’s fair to characterize Asian cultures as placing far less emphasis on individual “freedom” than western ones.

Until 2019 Tokyo schools required all students to have black hair—including dyeing hair for students who don’t have black hair naturally. In America people would consider that a violation of “universal human rights.” Bangladeshis aren’t quite so conformist, but my parents would flip out if I did anything to my appearance that would stand out in public.

Tokyo changed the rules precisely because it was widely criticized as being as inhumane and unjust. It’s not because people thought it was a good idea.

> if freedom is not a purpose to use your wealth for, then I don't see the point of wealth.

Perhaps you are not creative or evil enough for exploring alternatives.

I had to go to Singapore on business. This was when our clients knew I was gay but the thought hadn't really occurred to them to check Singapore's stance on that before settling on that location for some co-op development work.

Unfortunately Singapore is, in some ways, much like Dubai. The sad thing is that they're defended with "well it's pretty safe there and they don't really arrest people for that anymore even though they have the legal power to and they have a pride parade and stuff too so it's fine". So why don't they change their laws?

It's also another wacky country where being gay is illegal only for men. Like I know certain types of porn are popular with straight guys, but like, seriously?

I have a question.

Do they prosecute you even if you're simply gay (and not doing any sexual activity whatsoever)?

Not sure tbh, but usually in places with few gay rights/where "sodomy" is still illegal it supports an atmosphere of hostility towards gay people by the general public - there are places where the government has "legalised it" to seem modern/moral to Western countries but their populace is still violent to gay people.

I'm not sure it really matters sexual activity or not, the whole "just don't be gay" or "just don't have sex then" thing is offensive.

Singapore's criticism will always come from 'White Educated Liberals'.

If you are earning a comfortable 6 figure salary in a developed nation, living in an extremely safe neighborhood with access to great education and healthcare, you kind assume all those things are easy and the only thing that matters is food/music diversity and counter-culture.

For the rest of 7,950,000,000 people on earth, any country that provides safety, basic food, health, decent education is a heaven and wouldn't mind if their own country is like Singapore

I don't think this is a fair observation. I grew up in poverty in the U.S. and even in those days I found the stories of Singapore's authoritarian oppression disturbing. Would I have traded my chilly and mouldering aluminum sides trailer for a clean Singaporean public works apartment and a jackboot hovering around my ass? I'm not sure I would.

Now, I'm not sure it was as bad as the stories made it sound. Let's be real. Some amount of what we heard was sensationalized for storytelling effect but don't completely discount that people will forgo material comforts for dignity, honor and autonomy.

Not trying to diminish your experience, but you might want to put in balance that a lot of people in the south of US actually risk their lives crossing the border for a chance of living in US poverty.

Yeah to be very clear, poverty in the U.S. is better than poverty a lot of places. I'm sure there are levels of poverty where one would accept basically any draconian measure if it meant eating on the regular. But that's not the point I was pushing back on. It was this

> For the rest of 7,950,000,000 people on earth, any country that provides safety, basic food, health, decent education is a heaven and wouldn't mind if their own country is like Singapore

That's a bit much. I know more than a few Singaporeans who left for Australia for university and never went back. Some started families here and didn't consider taking their kids back for schooling.

I wouldn't say freedom was high on any of their lists explicitly, but they talk about things like the casual culture and work life balance that are all related to it. The arts also aren't high on their list, but a few of them had some things to say when Singapore Idol was being advertised back in the day. They didn't think they'd find a single decent singer due to their country's lack of investment or respect for the arts which was ingrained in them from their schooling. It was a running joke for a while.

Sorry, this crass and trivially rebutted generalisation wasn't quite sweeping or divisive enough. Would you mind turning up the gratuitous dogma next time? Parochial culture warriors of all creeds will feed gratefully on the hyperbole.

So your argument is authoritarianism is better than abject poverty? A lot of the world lives there but when people get to a certain standard of living everyone still wants the basics that America offers.

Every government is authoritarian to some extent. The question is how much liberty are you willing to give up in exchange for long-term stability and comfort?

To me, absolute liberty seems to be just as wrong of an answer as absolute authoritarianism.

The 1993 Wired article, by William Gibson: https://www.wired.com/1993/04/gibson-2/ or https://archive.ph/twY5Y

I wanted to see the original magazine print, but surprisingly, I can't find a single download of any of the 1990s issues anywhere. Archive.org's earliest is from 2000 (below). Seems amazing no one has scanned and shared back issues. If anyone has a link, please share!


That issue was my first intro to Wired when I spotted it on a coffee table and was intrigued by the Disneyland line. It was probably another year after that before I actually used the internet - after reading a few Wired magazines, I wasn't really sure what to expect...

Thanks! This is the perfect sort of longform article to save via Pocket/Instapaper and read later on my e-reader.

The irony wasn’t lost on me ;)

One of my favourite Kobo features ;)

Can you elaborate on the feature you're referencing? I'm currently looking at getting a new e-reader and am specifically debating between the Kindle Paperwhite and the Kobo Libra 2.

Kobo has direct integration with Pocket, so as long as you sign into your Pocket account from your Kobo, you can download, read, or archive articles directly on the Kobo. You don't need to do the wonky workaround like emailing the Pocket article to your Kindle to get it to show up.

See below:


Kobo also has first-class integration with Overdrive/Libby for borrowing digital library books.

Oooh that's really neat, thank you!

> Singapore, Gibson details, is lacking any sense of creativity or authenticity, absent of any indication of its history or underground culture.

Gibson ascribes this to the fairly authoritarian nature of the Singapore government, but I think a much bigger contributor to this feeling is simply the age of everything there.

I think the "culprit" is the fact that they experienced a tremendous amount of growth and socio-economic upward momentum in an incredibly small amount of time. This means that in any given neighborhood, every structure you can see was likely built within a decade or two of any other visible structure. It's not like London or even New York City which grew organically and slowly over centuries.

You can wander around the endless seas of identical strip-malls and suburban neighborhoods that have exploded in places like Utah and Texas over the last 20-30 years for a similar feeling of emptiness and homogeneity.

It's the same with the tract housing that sprouted up all over the bay area in the 50s. It's basically all the same crap but it's had 70 years to get a little bit of variety sprinkled on top, so not quite as eyesearingly identical as more recent cookie cutter neighborhoods.

Singapore, Gibson details, is lacking any sense of creativity or authenticity,

I find it interesting the impression I personally formed of Singapore exactly matches the one Gibson did over a decade earlier. I understand how a particular kind of person could see it as a paradise, but personally I found it the most depressing place on earth.

Is it better or worse than Dubai? Or similar?

Kind of depends. It's more sterile. Dubai you get the impression they generally care about you having a good time, at least if you're Western. Singapore they care about you looking like you're having a good time. Singapore doesn't have the de facto slavery problem of the Emirates, though. Food is definitely better in Dubai.

> Singapore doesn't have the de facto slavery problem of the Emirates, though.

Singapore imports a lot of Indian (and other South Asian), SEA, Chinese migrant labor as well, to live in conditions that are not great. I mean, not as bad as emirates, but not that great either:


https://www.economist.com/asia/2021/06/19/singapores-migrant... (recent treatment during COVID lockdowns)

> Food is definitely better in Dubai.

Singaporean hawker centres are pretty world famous.

Dubai has a much larger collection of fancy restaurants from top chefs from any cuisine in the world.

Singapore has a much better street and regular local/Chinese/Indian/SE Asian food scene.

>Singapore doesn't have the de facto slavery problem of the Emirates

It kind of does. They import Bangladeshi construction workers to build all the glitzy skyscrapers and infrastructure and shove them in dorms 16 to a room.

Im not sure if they confiscate their passports or not like in Dubai but i think they still do those contracts where they have to pay an agent and work off their debts.

A fair number die because of lax health and safety that is lax because theyre "only banglas".

If there are differences in how theyre treated vs dubai theyre more a matter of degree than character. Theyre very much at the bottom of singapore's racial hierarchy.

Theres the occasional case of maid slavery as well.

Even if it's non-slavery, the maids do not get paid a lot and have to work quite a bit depending where they end up. No real private space and your "room" is a sleeping mat on the floor in the laundry next to the kitchen so you can be easily found. And they aren't expensive - if you can feed them and have a spare room, their pay is only around $600 per month. If that was the reality in Australia nearly every middle class family could afford one.

A couple more things I've noticed on my visits. Trucks and work vans allow people to ride in the back unsecured. They'd never let real citizens do that in their safer cars.

The airport had an entire separate processing line for the plane from Bangladesh one time when I visited.

I once arrived late at night when the newer terminal was being finished, and leaving the carpark saw rows and rows of shoes. The workers were all sleeping under the carpark exit ramp in the open air.

Those dorms mentioned caused some issues when COVID ripped through recently too.

> Im not sure if they confiscate their passports or not like in Dubai but i think they still do those contracts where they have to pay an agent and work off their debts.

Yes, most laborers are working off a debt to their agent. Confiscating passports is technically illegal, but very common in practice.

Safety regulations are tighter than in the Middle East, although still lax by the standards of most other developed countries.

People can report labor rights violations to the government, which sometimes even investigates them and takes action. But they are mostly content to turn a blind eye unless something is very egregious, and labor rights NGOS are understaffed and underfunded. And strikes are effectively illegal.

Unlike in the Middle East you can leave the country without your employer's permission, but this might be easier said than done in a lot of cases.

So, more indentured servitude than slavery. Still not great.

Kinda weird to see maid salaries ranked by race https://transfermaids.com/blogs/maid-salary-singapore. Myanmar maids should have at least 1 day off per month.

Bangladeshis are low-status migrant workers all over Asia and the Middle East, and deal with the poor working conditions that come with that. And they're often targets of racism, because racism isn't as taboo outside the western world. But the situation in the Emirates/Qatar/etc is completely different than Singapore. Unless you're taking the tack that "all capitalism is de facto slavery" or something like that, the term really only applies to the former, not to Singapore.

It's not completely different. The whole thing where they put them in debt, stuff them in dormitories, keep them on a tight leash, work them half to death, neglect health and safety and neglect them medically when theyre injured is the same in both countries.

In dubai/qatar they just do it more and worse and also like to confiscate their passports (although technically thats illegal now...).

I recall Anthony Bourdain going to Singapore in one of his shows and he seemed to really like the food there.

I always found phrases like “Food is better in X city than Y”, just silly.

So I take it you've never been to Boston.

A friend of a friend often quips that the best way to get good Mexican in Boston is to go to Logan and fly almost anywhere else.

I truly believe that there should be an exchange program between San Francisco and Boston.

Boston needs a proper taqueria, and San Francisco needs a proper pizzeria.

Boston needs proper Thai food, and San Francisco needs proper ice cream.


I believe the number one destination for people leaving Boston is San Francisco. You'd think this would happen naturally.

I don't remember where I read it, but one indicator is that when Boston's baseball team comes to Oakland, there are more Boston fans in attendance than Oakland fans.

I love to dunk on Boston.

Mediocre place with such an inflated sense of relevance. I feel like nobody would notice or care if so many aspects of Boston and people from there didn't think people cared.

It has more colleges and hospital systems than other places.

My city seems to have a problem producing good bread at non-insane prices, which means it's also ~impossible to get a decent sandwich at anything but LOLWTF prices, and even then you're rolling the dice that it'll be better than what a totally ordinary sandwich should taste like, and does in cities that don't have this bizarre problem. We're in the heart of wheat-growing country, too. It's really weird.

Our Mexican food's great, though, so we have that going for us.

Or just walk down Peterborough street: https://elpelon.com

Really? A statement like "New Orleans has better food than East Saint Louis, Illinois" doesn't sound that silly to me.

I wish you weren’t being downed and the parent extrapolated.

It’s a very subjective critique… I live in a foodie city and am long tired of overpriced sandwiches splashed with an aioli served for a cool $20, no drink no side.

Went to a no name city for hiking and found a nice hole in the wall shop with great food at a quarter the price and found my kind of foodie.

I agree that those sort of generalizations are unfair and extremely subjective, but I think there is a truth to the idea that some places in the world people care more about food and are more picky about it. If you are well off person and only go to fancier places you see it less, because you are probably always served a baseline quality.

But some parts of the world just have less access to fresh produce, less cultural diversity, etc. That doesn't seem quite so subjective. And there is good food to be found pretty much everywhere, that is not the point.

Well, the problem with these sweeping statements is that there zero objectivity. There is no way to discuss or learn anything about it. There is no way to falsify it.

I could make the most easiest case that Singapore has better food than Dubai. Just because I said so.

I find them silly and not very useful.

Similarly, "I had the best ramen at this place" or "For authentic X food, you have to visit X" or "City X has the worst drivers" (Literally everyone says that about their city).

To me, it would be a true paradise, if it was feasible to rent a (whole) flat as a foreigner.

Last time I was there (around 2005) the newspaper reports of FDWs (Foreign Domestic Workers) falling to their deaths whilst cleaning the outside of highrise windows without safety equipment were very disturbing.

Seems it is still happening.


A significant fraction of those deaths is intentional suicides. Although if anything this is even more disturbing.

There’s much to love about Singapore if you understand, or are willing to learn, Asian culture. It’s more collectivist than individualistic and while that certainly comes with trade offs, it has many benefits. I’ve lived here for almost 3 years and it feels like living in the future. No where is perfect but the quality of life here is amazing. The people I know who don’t like it are almost always white folks who don’t interact with locals and don’t want to understand Asian norms.

3 years was about how long it took me to really loathe the place.

There was an excessive deference towards authority (derived from confucianism, i think) that rubbed me up the wrong way and a definite streak of selfishness/uncaringness that permeated the culture. Also that shallow vapid wealth-worshipping thing that "crazy rich asians" captured so accurately.

I remember the way foreign workers were treated was just brutal, too. I was there for the bus driver strikes and the little india riot and i was appalled by how thuggish the authorities acted in both cases while everyone else just shrugged.

Plenty of casual racism lurking under the surface too, although white people are probably more of a beneficiary of that than a victim. This is perhaps partly why so many love the place.

Little America.

I think it really depends on what you like in a location. Like Gibson stated:

>Singapore's destiny will be to become nothing more than a smug, neo-Swiss enclave of order and prosperity, amid a sea of unthinkable ... weirdness.

There is a lot to like in a "neo-Swiss enclave of order and prosperity".

"Switzerland - it's like Singapore, but with mountains, guns, and lots and lots of cheese!"

Is the large South Asia underclass part of that "collectivist" nature? It's an awesome country (I visited for several weeks in the 90's) but I always cringe when people start talking positively about collectivism in highly stratified societies.

Also, it’s a great place to do business, education is top notch, virtually no crime, very ethnically diverse, amazing food, and a few hours flight to anywhere from Bali to Bombay.

Can you give some examples of Asian norms?

Family-oriented social conservatism, instinctive obedience to authority and disinterest in political debate mostly. A lot of it actually bottom up rather than top down.

Obviously this clashes quite hard with cyberpunk using the aesthetic of Asia for characters who epitomise American ideas of rebellion, competition and countercultural coolness...

I'm not sure if this is one the parent was thinking of - but there's generally a huge culture of "don't inconvenience others." This can have a lot of knock on effects, like leaving early (really, leaving before others) from work is inconveniencing your peers and your boss.

Also, "filial duty" is pretty strong across a number of Asian cultures. i.e. you should be thinking of your family (parents, grandparents) before yourself.

> This can have a lot of knock on effects, like leaving early (really, leaving before others) from work is inconveniencing your peers and your boss.

Does this go the other way too? Is the boss staying late (with the expectation that others do so as well) considered rude because it inconveniences his workers?

Because if not, this has nothing to do with being polite and everything to do with power and deference to power.

To the best of my understanding, bosses do generally stick around as well. I believe their leaving signals that it's OK to depart.

That doesn't dismiss the concerns about deference to power though.

Think conservative values on a social scale minus the personal property part(don't know if the personal property is a general consensus or just authoritarian laws.) Drugs are forbidden, fathers rule the household, children are disciplined when they don't meet satisfaction, you're expected to work hard. You know all the things the conservatives get a bad rap for in the US but everyone thinks that way there and uses it in collectivism

No chewing gum in public among other things.

that is NOT an asian norm ...

Google "chinese spitting" [1] and then extrapolate form there.

[1] f.x.: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-devon-22184499

I had a friend in school who had a t-shirt that said "Singapore - It's a Fine City" on the front, and on the back was a list of fines for various offenses.

They sell these all over town to tourists. I think they’re proud of it because of the order these fines create.

As someone from Bangladesh, I read this and think "who cares?" In 1960 Singapore was a poor third world country. Today it's as rich as the US. You cannot understand how significant such a change is to the people of the country unless you've lived in a third world country and really seen what it's like. Whatever draconian measures it took to get there, they were worth it.

Fareed Zakaria's interview with Lee Kuan Yew, the country's modern founder, is required reading for pretty much anyone hoping to understand the developing world, multiculturalism, etc. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20045923

The usual fallacy, which you also make in your post, is assuming that none of that improvement would have happened under a free and democratic regime. That all improvements were because of iron-rule authoritarianism.

Of course there are quite literally thousands of reasons that explain Singapore's economic growth. Attributing everything to only one of them, to the influence of an enlightened dictator, is silly.

Want an opposite anecdote? In my country we experienced our greatest transformation in centuries in our first ~20 years of democracy. The country is radically different now from what it was 50 years ago, and it only happened when democracy and civil liberties suddenly and unexpectedly came into the picture.

It’s not an assumption, but a conclusion based on the evidence. I’m not aware of any Asian, African, or middle eastern country where freedom and democracy led to prosperity. There’s lots of democracies in these places that haven’t been able to translate that into prosperity. On the flip side, China, Japan, Korea, and Singapore are all examples where authoritarian rule has led to prosperity. I’d include Bangladesh these days as an example of that also.

If the country you’re using as an example is in Eastern Europe, I think you may be overlooking key differences. Fareed Zakaria addresses this in his book “the Future of Freedom.” https://www.amazon.com/Future-Freedom-Illiberal-Democracy-Re.... He explains that many of the foundations of liberal democracy were put in place during autocratic regimes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Future_of_Freedom. Eastern Europe had many building blocks of democracy in place hundreds of years ago. For example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cossacks.

Hong Kong had what one could call a starting position comparable to Singapore after WWII and managed to become prosperous with arguably more liberal policies -- until the handover to the PRC -- and came out prosperous, too.

Is Hong Kong now more prosperous, after it moved to authoritarian rule?

What are your criteria for "authoritarian", that you count Japan among authoritarian countries?

What is your evidence that the authoritarian policies were the deciding factor in generating prosperity for these countries?

Hong Kong was a colony where all significant decisions were made by a European power. (Which imposed economic, legal, and political systems that it developed during a monarchy.)

Yeah people had personal freedom, but they couldn’t do anything with it.

Authoritarianism led Japan into a war which utterly destroyed its economy. I'm not sure you can count that as a win for the jackboot.

The barriers to development is not how much wealth the society has currently, but the the absence of the underlying social and economic infrastructure that makes growth possible. Germany was ability to rebound from two wars that destroyed its economy while numerous other countries languish.

botswana is an example of a country where the first/strong leader built democratic institutions that kept the country safe and growing. Obvious to cite diamonds resources, indigeonus leadership, societial values like private property but those dont diminish its miracle. democracy or people participation can look different in differents countires for sure, but PAP undermine any competition in shady ways

Where are you from?

The key features that made it fantastically rich were sitting on one of the world's most strategically located ports, building a lot of soviet style housing and a leader with nowhere to run.

Being a city state means it's hard to hide when things get ugly. Having capitals far away from citizenry, on the other hand - like in myanmar or brazil, makes it easy to be corrupt. This is a well studied phenomenon.

Lee Kuan Yew was palpably afraid in 1965 - especially of the domestic communists. That was probably a good thing in most respects - he knew he had to improve living standards or he'd be strung up. He did, partly by following the good advice of albert winsemius.

It also led to his authoritarian streak and his censor happy ways, of course. The fear ran both ways.

1950s america was also a time where elites were palpably fearful of domestic communists. It also combined with fast improving living standards and the largest scale house building to date. That might just all be a giant coincidence though.

Ascribing Singapore’s wealth to its location as a strategic port is more than a bit odd, considering its always been where it is, but hasn’t been rich this whole time. In classical times Chittagong, the port city where my dad went to college, was one of the most important ports in the world. But that didn’t prevent Bangladesh from being one of the poorest countries in the world in modern times. Clearly there is more at work.

The geography of Singapore gets thrown around a lot to detract from how much Lee Kuan Yew’s deliberate decisions made Singapore what it is today. Which is a shame because that makes it hard for other developing countries to learn from Singapore’s example.

It was rich while the British ran the place and they founded the city coz its a good place for a port. The locals just didnt see much of that wealth.

I find the geography doesnt really get thrown around a lot. Lee Kuan Yew's boasts that the city became rich despite "no natural resources" does though, which i find to be misleading.

There is obviously more to the story than just the port but it's important to understand the inbuilt advantages the city did have given the obvious incentive to "replicate" what happened, especially when the story told by the island's cult of personality was so keen to downplay them in favor of his genius leadership and the grit and determination of the people.

(I say cult of personality because I queued up to see his dead body lying in state... and the experience with him, mao, kim jong il and kim il sung wasnt all that different)

Most of the economic development was critically dependent upon the port and its status as a transshipment hub at a global crossroads. Getting Shell to build a refinery in cape town or bhutan would have been a lot harder.

Penang, the other key constituent of the British Straits Settlements, provides an excellent counterfactual. Besides location, population, ethnic mix, colonial history, etc. were extremely similar back. Though Penang isn't a poor city by any means, Singapore blows it out of the water. Give LKY credit where credit is due.

>Being a city state means it's hard to hide when things get ugly. Having capitals far away from citizenry, on the other hand - like in myanmar or brazil, makes it easy to be corrupt. This is a well studied phenomenon.

Fascinating, I'd never really thought of this. Do you have a link to any studies about this phenomenon?

1950's America also benefited from having created the biggest wartime production economy the world had ever seen, combined with most other "advanced" economies having been turned to rubble. At the end of WWII, the US's GDP was greater than the rest of the world combined.

This. Geopolitics is everything.

The ruling class’ lack of fear of legitimate backlash by the working class seems certainly like a good thesis to explain the modern Western world’s increasing inequality.

The key is a benevolent "dictator(ship)". A benevolent dictator, from a most utility PoV is better than random search for good government via imperfect democracy.

There is little question that a few countries in Asia benefitted from authoritarianism, some were more kid glovish than others, and obviously some were more violent than others in suppressing dissent. However, they achieved economic success for their people --though not all. The Philippines are an example where corruption as well as high pop growth dragged down progress. China too, initially was too authoritarian and too ideological, till they opened up their economy, or at least removed much of the stigma against "wealth" and invited foreign investment.

Keeping your dictators benevolent across decades and generations has proven a significantly hard problem. Even that give this form of government, in my view, far far too much credit.

Singapore is a rare contemporary example of a city-state, & I think that makes the scenario very different from most cases. Using this as an example seems ill suited.

Let's compare to one of your other cited cases, Philippines. Both experienced to degrees the wave of modernization following WW2, a moment of great possibility. Singapore is a very small nation, 1/4 the size of the smallest US State, Rhode Island. Sinagpore is positioned nicely amid a number of other countries giving it close trade access, and at the sea-most tip of a major intercontinental route. The Philippines is almost 100x bigger, about on par with Nevada, the 7th largest state, with much more space & population to tend to. Philippines is non-continugous in extreme, a nation of many islands, further exarcerbating the difficulty of effective governance. Philippines are isolated by a couple hundred miles of sea from other nations, and located rather at the edge of the map.

Singapore is one of the few city-states left on this planet, and it was one permitted to strain & grow at a crucial inflection point in human history.

> China too, initially was too authoritarian and too ideological, till they opened up their economy

Too authoritarian and too ideological China lifted more people out of poverty faster than had previously happened on the planet. The problem was that Mao was insulated from information and his intentions were filtered through a corrupt collection of creeps who surrounded him, his wife being one of the worst. It eventually made him completely out of touch, and even his intentions became bizarre. The opening of the economy saved a country on fire, and wouldn't have been needed if they had established a proper system with proper succession and safeguards against corruption.

Removing stigma against wealth seriously damaged China culturally; instead of unity in beliefs and values, they drifted into boring nationalism. They used to fight for each other, now they fight for China.

not cool to have a big single point of failure for whatever millions of chinese were with MAO or are today with XI Jimping.

> The Philippines are an example where corruption as well as high pop growth dragged down progress. China too, initially was too authoritarian and too ideological

One aspect about this topic that I’ve never seen discussed anywhere, is the bidirectional relationship between countries, such as how authoritarian and corrupt countries export their authoritarianism and corruption to other countries in the same way that the US exports their weapons, capitalism, entertainment, and soft power, but very rarely, if ever, their "freedom", as if that’s the one thing, in spite of the excessive rhetoric, that isn’t fungible.

For an example of what I’m talking about, much of the political chaos and tendency towards authoritarianism in the US that we’ve seen in the post-9/11 era, has been imported from autocratic and authoritarian regimes. From what I’ve read, the first reports of massive online political trolling operations outside of Russia and China were first observed and reported on from the Philippines at the beginning of the Obama admin in the US.

Interviews with regional human rights groups at the time noted that the trolling operations in the Philippines were being used in the same way as repressive regimes in the Middle East had previously used them—to deliberately spread conspiracy theories so as to destabilize the information held by the electorate and to shift the power from independent media sources that provide checks and balances on power to authoritarian regimes which relied on the conspiracy theories to foment confusion and consolidate hegemony.

We saw the same thing occur in the US beginning in 2016, with the rise of Trumpism and its associated conspiracy theories known as QAnon. Was it just a coincidence that their origin point was also the Philippines?

I think it's coincidence. Coöpting narrative and driving narrative were pioneered in modern times at least by Lenin and others --this tool was later copied by Mussolini and Goebbels. It's a tool that is known to work well to split people apart as a part of divide and conquer strategy.

Trolling though, that is also not new. The VoA and North Korean campaigns, to name but two, have promoted all kinds of destabilizing theories. The difference is the media used --Duterte used it to great success and so did ISIS.

>I read this and think "who cares?"

I'm not sure what you were expecting or what what angle you were approaching this article from.

There's more to life than economics and politics. I thought it was an interesting piece of history (especially as a Gibson fan) and also thought provoking aesthetic critique.

If you read his comment a little further you'll see his point... "You cannot understand how significant such a change is to the people of the country unless you've lived in a third world country and really seen what it's like"... to spell it out for you, he's saying no one from the once third world cares what Gibson thinks of Singapore because if you haven't lived 3rd world you don't understand the greatness that comes from Singapore now. Although I don't agree with the draconian measures taken, I can support that they're happier now than before, something most people from first world countries fail to see, because you have no idea what it's like living in a third world.

But I don't think the criticism was ever about economic development, or hell, even general happiness in Singapore.

Gibson even said "Singapore's destiny will be to become nothing more than a smug, neo-Swiss enclave of order and prosperity, amid a sea of unthinkable... weirdness."

It was a commentary on culture and human behavior, an orthogonal topic.

He wasn't suggesting Singapore sacrifice economics for culture, or as far as I can tell, making any suggestion at all.

It is weird that so many people conflate the topics, as if art, history, and as Gibson would put it "weirdness" are inherently in conflict with material prosperity.

But you can agree that living under a draconian authoritarian government is not ideal? Maybe it is to abject povert but still not something to hold up as an epitome of utopia? That’s what this article does. Did good things? Yes. Got there in a way people want to continue to live? A resounding no.

It's interesting that most responses I see day to day in regards to cultural and social critiques is generally to fall back on a line similar to "at least it's not X" where the comparable features are oriented solely around the amount of wealth, and quite often, not even a concern for how that wealth is distributed.

>Whatever draconian measures it took to get there, they were worth it.

I feel as though most lovers of liberty would disagree with this statement, whether it comes from the right wing or the left wing; it could justify literally any horror to humanity, and at worst justifies waiting out decades of repression and poor quality of life for anticipated gains for two generations of people down the line. I'm reminded that a similar argument is used to justify the maintenance of sweatshops.


unfortunately that word more and more means "your universal human rights don't apply here". Many cultures across the world are decades and even centuries behind when it comes to human rights. The naturally authoritarian regimes there are usually don't care that much about the culture and only using that word to protect their power as the societal move forward to progress threatens that power. Among the most glaring examples these days - traditionalist/conservative Russia using tremendous violence trying to reign in the Ukrainian people's move to progress with Russia being one of the leaders today in the use of "multiculturalism" as a guise to cover its violence.

>your universal human rights

Are a lie. You only have the rights that you are able to wrest away from your government and those are far from universal.

Look at freedom of speech for example, then try to criticize the royal family when in Thailand.

Of look at your "right to self-defense", then look at how several western countries are acting in that regard. Or NYC even.

The US constitution states that only the powers enumerated are given to the government and everything else is reserved for the people. But look at how we act when our political adversaries are silenced or trampled, "Show me where in the constitution you have that right". We are willing to throw away our power to hurt those we find distasteful.

There is nothing universal about rights, except that you must win them through struggle and guard them jealously

It’s quite remarkable to me that the concept of “universal human rights” has made the jump from its Judeo-Christian origin—where there is a universal God to which to ascribe these universal rights—to secular thought. I don’t expect “universal human rights” are anything that would show up in an autopsy or other empirical investigation?

Where do these “universal human rights” come from? Who decides what they are? It’s hard to overlook the fact that, in practice, “universal human rights” means “the morals beliefs of people of European descent.” (Observe the downvotes to my comment below describing how Asians view the obligations of children to their parents.)

Natural law does not depend upon religious orthodoxy, though it is often associated with it. One can defend natural rights from the perspective of being inherent in our existence as rational beings rather than Sky-King's (Sky-Kingses' for the polytheistic?) decree.

Further, large numbers of people with at least some theistic leanings were/are nevertheless adherents to legal positivism, which explains how you can have Catholics or Lutherans that were okay with the Nuremberg Laws, for example.

> One can defend natural rights from the perspective of being inherent in our existence as rational beings rather than Sky-King's (Sky-Kingses' for the polytheistic?) decree.

That’s just creating a religion, complete with supernatural assertions—things that are “inherent our existence” but can’t be established empirically—without copping to it.

I dare you to make this same argument in the context of the 2nd Amendment and see how well it goes down with your conservative friends.

The mainstream conservative argument for the second amendment would be that it reflects our history and tradition; our forefathers adopted the second amendment based on their experience building a free society and it’s the law of the land until the proper procedures are followed to change it. But I don’t think I’d rile up any conservatives if I pointed out that say Japan has a different history and tradition, and that it’s not a violation of any “universal human rights” for them to restrict firearms ownership. They might assert that our way is better than the Japanese way, but few would deny that the Japanese have the right and the prerogative to restrict firearms ownership if that’s what they choose to do.

That is not to say that conservatives don’t believe in “universal human rights”—for example those who believe that a society can’t permit abortion because it violates the right to life. But conservatives don’t deny that they believe in a God we can’t see that makes rules for the world.

“Universal human rights” tends to reflect in practice the individualistic quasi-religious beliefs of European-descended liberals. In an international context it functions as a form of cultural supremacy by people who claim to reject such ideas. But isn’t it curious how on everything from the nature of marriage, to familial obligation, to sexual morality, to criminal justice, to when it’s okay to extinguish nascent human life, societies run by white people have figured out the correct “universal” answer while Bangladeshis, Nigerians, and apparently even Singaporeans have got it all wrong? This is a harder road to hoe for people who claim not to believe that their society is chosen by God to be a shining city on a hill.

I seem to remember that William Gibson spent a few days in Singapore and like most Western visitors to non-Western countries was able to plumb its depths and grok it fully in that time.

Even in 1993 — which was my first visit to Singapore — you could easily find many of the things he bemoaned missing.

It sounds like he stayed in a hotel in Orchard and limited his exposure to what he could see there and in the CBD (Central Business District).

He made zero effort, it appears, to go into the heartlands or to visit Tiong Bahru or the various heritage areas.

To me it is just one more example of the White Westerner visiting the "exotic land", and becoming an instant expert.

Oh, and that running off and catching the next flight out of town. I highly doubt that in those days you would just jump on a plane without a little pre-planning.

I've been to Singapore twice for pretty short stays but I came away describing it (without having read Gibson's article) as Disney Land without the rides. My peak Singapore experience was going to a club (No lie. DJ Jazzy Jeff was there.) and wandering out of the place late at night wandering around trying to figure out where the hotel was. Here's the thing. Strange City. Middle of the night. I felt totally safe and I'm pretty sure I was.

Compare that to the city I live in. It's safe enough during the day but at night you need to know where you are down to the block and be aware of your surroundings.

Honestly if I had a job there and could convince my wife I'd move to Singapore - it's not the Switzerland of Asia but it's something close to that.

The safety aspect is quite similar in Japan from what I experienced in 2001- 2002 in Tokyo.

At least the areas I have been in. (Which would be 1% of Japan maybe) I could not believe they had vending machines that sold laptops and other highly expensive items.

That thing would be robbed hours after it was mounted where I come from.

I have been told a couple of times, that if you commit violent crime against someone in Tokyo you need to be more worried about reprisals from organized crime than from the police.

I presume it is an urban myth but coming from the US it is hard to imagine how Japan is able to keep the streets as safe as they do.

> An aerial shot from 1989 of the squat enclave Kowloon Walled City, which Gibson contrasts favourably with Singapore


Try living in both.

Yep. That's why I'm amazed this article gets reposted so often like it's sage wisdom and not a wealthy Western writer complaining that Singapore doesn't have enough poverty and crime to inspire books about dystopian futures (with a bit on Singapore's same-as-all-the-neighbouring-countries draconian drug laws lest anyone conclude it sounds quite nice actually)

Not sure Kowloon Walled City was notable for vibrant nightlife, producing great art or being merciful to people caught competing with local drug cartels either.

Some of you may be too young to remember the context of this. In 1993, an American was sentenced to be caned for what would be considered minor offenses in America.


There was a huge media frenzy in the run-up to the punishment. Then he got caned, had a sore bottom, and life went on.

It sounds bad, and it is, until you realize that he was stealing street signs, which is a crime in probably any country, not just Singapore. TBH, who decides to steal street signs in a foreign country?

Under the 1966 Vandalism Act, originally passed to curb the spread of political graffiti and which specifically penalized vandalism of government property,[1] Fay was sentenced on March 3, 1994, to four months in jail, a fine of S$3,500 (US$2,814 or £2,114 at the time), and six strokes of the cane.[6] Shiu, who pleaded not guilty, was sentenced to eight months in prison and 12 strokes of the cane.[7]

Yes, the US does not cane people but it also has a death penalty, bad prison conditions relative to other g-20 nations (solitary confinement for example), and people get long sentences for recidivism, or for certain felonies, or under 3 strikes laws. I think there is room for improvement for many countries, not just Singapore. He was sentenced 4 months for stealing the signs, which is commensurate with a misdemeanor in the US (1 year max).

but it also has a death penalty

...which is reserved for far more severe crimes, usually murder: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_punishment_in_the_Unit...

> It sounds bad, and it is, until you realize that he was stealing street signs, which is a crime in probably any country, not just Singapore. TBH, who decides to steal street signs in a foreign country?

He was living with his mother in Singapore, so while he was a US citizen, he was stealing street signs "at home."

Also vandalism and theft of street signs is certainly quite common in St Louis, where he lived before moving to Singapore.

You know, if St Louis had similar penalties for stealing street signs, I'll bet there would be a lot less crime there overall.

> prison conditions relative to other g-20 nations (solitary confinement for example), and people get long sentences for recidivism

If the US would properly apply the death penalty more, that would solve most of issues you list. Recidivism necessarily goes to zero, no need for solitary, etc.

Caning is more than "sore bottom" — a few strikes break the skin and it typically leaves scars.

Reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut's joke from 1972 about the Republican National Convention in Miami. "It's Disneyland under martial law." https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2005/1/14/85582/-

I remember seeing an interview with Lee Kuan Yew and the idea of our 1st amendment rights were brought up and Mr. Yew began to laugh.

I find this to be some of the most racist shit I've ever read. Gees I can't believe the comments here.

Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world. When I've brought up how much I like Singapore someone always retorts "Oh, that place where you get arrested for walking down the sidewalk and chewing gum" to which I also respond "Well, I could be in the USA where I get walk down the sidewalk and get mugged"

Singapore has way better clubs than SF or LA. If you want to party hard until late at night it's got plenty of options. Vs SF/LA where there's a 2am curfew your options effectively end at 1:30am.

Singapore has amazing food options open until 4-5am. Try getting food in LA/SF after 11. Your options becoming Dennys and that's about it.

Oh but someone said Singapore is boring. Did they actually go? For me, having to stop partying at 1:30 way more boring than partying til 3-4 am and then heading to a hawker marker for food options at 10-15 stands.

Singapore had taxis you could order on apps before Uber existed. Singapore has amazing public transportation. MRT lines and busses and easy access to reasonably priced taxis.

I get that the government is a little on the strict side but I find it hilarious that none of the Apple fans who spout how much they love Apple's walled garden don't see the parallels. I like places where I can go to a cafe, leave my stuff on the table to go-order and not have it stolen. I like it far more than USA culture where people have gotten so used to living in an a pit of crime that they blame the victim for any theft and there are signs everywhere "don't leave anything in your car!" because the police/government can't be bothered to do their jobs and instead let the baddies run/ruin the city for everyone else. In the USA, "oh, your bike got stolen. You're an idiot for not buying a better lock or for even thinking it was safe to lock it anywhere".

we don't consider a place with a 70 year old national identity to be a distinct race, you might be able to trip up some Americans on that, but not all of us are that gullible

and then the rest of this tiny city state comparison to two municipalities within one state in the US? (Also there are plenty of raves in LA that go till dawn, as well as strip clubs, card rooms and so on. If you want nightlife its there.)

and then corporate walled garden versus government walled garden?

how many things can you conflate at once?

Criticizing a country's laws is not racist. If I dislike executions in America that doesn't make me racist towards Americans.

Many good points, but I'd like to nitpick a bit:

> Singapore has way better clubs than SF or LA. If you want to party hard until late at night it's got plenty of options. Vs SF/LA where there's a 2am curfew your options effectively end at 1:30am.

> Try getting food in LA/SF after 11. Your options becoming Dennys and that's about it.

In LA, go to K-Town (Korea Town). Many good restaurants, lounges, and karaoke places stay open all night long. The party doesn't stop at 2AM.

my experience in k-town is going to BCD-Tofu at 2am and them having the door locked. You knock, they look outside to see if they feel you are safe to let in. Sorry but I don't want to live in a place where businesses have to take such precautions

You'll be glad to know that BCD is now officially 24 hours, no knocking required.

"a little on the strict side"

thank you

Totally agree, there is some mind blowing bigotry in this thread. The United States would be lucky to have one city that worked half as well for its citizens as Singapore.

I remember this best as the essay in which Gibson compares Singapore to the burbclaves from Snow Crash, which struck me as the literary equivalent of when a band plays the Weird Al spoof of their own song. (Don McLean and Barenaked Ladies are known to have done this.)

"Singapore is an authoritarian city"

"No we're not, your literature is now BANNED".

Last month I visited Singapore for close to two weeks. I kept thinking about this essay, because in some sense it captures the Singapore vibe, but in another I think it unjustifiably pigeonholes it.

I brought a dressy Seiko watch with me, on the off chance I might want to go to a nice restaurant. I ended up wearing it daily after the first few days. There was an was almost subconscious pressure to fit in with the majority of men who wore fancy-looking (by American standards) watches casually. Among the women, I've never seen so many designer handbags in use anywhere (and I saw a fair amount of men carrying more masculine-styled bags from big-name brands as well). Yes, there is something in the cultural air that feels stifling. Fitting in with the crowd feels high-status there, whereas (to me) it feels kind of low-status in the States.

I think part of the reason this vibe feels so visible is the use of English. I pointed out to a friend I was traveling with an advertisement for a financial planning seminar for young couples as embodying something Singaporean (in America, the only people I could see attending a financial planning seminar are retirees, mainly attracted by the free dinner at Ruth's Chris). Like, every aspect of Singaporean life could be encapsulated and taught to others through some medium (seminar, book, TV show...). My friend, who is Chinese, said "oh that's just Asia." An anecdote, maybe, but it made me wonder if this aspect was not a uniquely Singaporean one, but one we only internalize in its context because we can read the billboards and understand the ads playing on the taxi radio.

So in that sense, Gibson was right. But then I went to Geylang. It feels like a different country. The place was tangled in dusty exposed electrical wires, and thronged with young people in more working-class casual garb hanging out. Grumpy restaurateurs, even a sex trade of mixed legality were also present. Despite this, it all still feels very safe, but it also feels very low-budget and safety-off. If your explore Singaporean social media a little, you'll find lots of videos of other under-the-surface stuff -- illegally modified motorcycle clubs, brawls on HDB void decks and the like. The atmosphere really changes around the island's widely varying spaces.

And even concerning that part of Singapore which Gibson observed -- Singapore runs extremely well. It worked better than any American city I've been to. I only saw one traffic jam my entire time there (it was blamed on National Day Parade rehearsals), while the public transit is cheap and everywhere. You really have to see it to believe it; it's a marvel of central city planning that, unlike American city planning, actually results in a better city that works. The presence of government feels heavy-handed at times (there are police cameras everywhere), but at the same time it oozes competence in a way that American public projects don't even come close to.

If you're a freewheeling artist like Gibson, I can see how it could feel stifling. But for a professional, even in software (known to attract misfits), it really felt like a top-tier place to get work done. I think one could adapt to it if they knew when to be inventive and when to cool it and go with the flow.

The real Disneyland also has the death penalty, since it is located in the state of California. Disneyworld likewise, since it is in Florida.

Technically, yeah. But not really.

In the last 30 years, Singapore has executed more than 400 people (Wikipedia has stats for 470, but is also missing the counts for many years.) Most for drug offenses. In the same time-frame, California has executed 13 people. And none in the last 16 years, and none for drug offenses.

California also has 7 times the population of Singapore. None of which invalidates the fact that California does, in fact, have the death penalty, in marked contrast to most of the Western world.

Not in practice.

The brand-new death house was mothballed (which really means locked closed) on orders of the governor. There's been some talk over vacating death sentences, but courts are really reticent to do that while the penalty remains on the books, even if it's not enforced. If the state rescinded Newsom's moratorium, there's still a court-ordered moratorium that would remain in effect (once again proving that most things Gavin Newsom does are just for show, because California has always just been a stepping-stone to DC for him).

Condemned prisoners in CDCR custody are slowly being transferred to other maximum security facilities where they will have the opportunity to "program" along with other felons with long sentences (i.e. take advantage of educational, religious, vocational, and related opportunities rather than just wait to be led to the gurney). Death Row at San Quentin is scheduled to be repurposed in some way, though the state's Death Row for women is just another housing unit for segregated inmates at the women's facility in Chowchilla.

t. my present day job involves the corrections system/industry.

Strikes me as something that could change quickly with a change of government though...either way, I don't think I could ever be OK with the idea that it's legal for a government to execute its own citizens.

Note that the public in California favors keeping it on the books — rather interesting for a pretty left-leaning state that hasn't executed anyone for years.

From a utilitarian perspective, I think it's a waste of resources. We know how to deal with absolute incorrigibles without killing them: put them in a dungeon and minimize human contact. This is what we did with Tom Silverstein and he never killed another staff member or prisoner after that. Expensive, but probably cheaper than trying to execute him. And while he put on a good show for the cameras and appeared stoic, I'd have to think his lot in life served as a deterrent to at least some others with nothing to lose who contemplate violence against staff or other prisoners.

Of course, then you've got monsters like Jaime Osuna. There's no deterring that beast, just managing it.

The percentage of California which is Disneyland is not large, by area or population.

In this analogy Disney is the Singaporean government. Disney can not directly enforce the death penalty, Singapore can. So the author wants you to image Singapore as a Disneyland that could directly carry out execution. There is little justice system in-between.

This is also William Gibson, who is heavy on dystopia in his science fiction work.

Ok, Singapore is a bit sterile ("Singabore"), but contrasting it with Kowloon as its authentic opposite is a bit rich...

Folks on Hacker News sure seem to bring it up alot: https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...

Could it be because of Ip Man/Bruce Lee connection that mythologized that place?

Some people love freedom more than prosperity.

...and safety


Executed by hanging just last week for possessing 41 grams of diamorphine.


I wasn't familiar with this phrase, but I can see why it has stuck. My first thought before clicking the article was that it referred to some place like Abu Dhabi or Riyadh; a middle eastern city that seems clean and safe, if you're in the right social class, but with horrific abuses happening out of the spotlight. Now that I think about it, this could describe an awful lot of cities and countries in the world.

I would live in Singapore full time if it wasn't so fucking hot.

How can they have such prosperity with such a low tax rate and no natural resources?

Their natural resource is their strategic location on the Straits of Malacca. Massive trade volumes pass through the area, which brings wealth.

Low tax rate seems like a contributing factor to prosperity, though?

> How can they have such prosperity with such a low tax rate and no natural resources?

Cheap foreign labour, long work hours, and a strategically important location.

Thanks for posting. It was a nice coincidence since I was literally having a conversation about Singapore with some co-workers that morning it was posted. I am now also digging through my past few years of Wired issues to find the more recent article that served as a follow-up to this one.

That's fascinating. I spent a few days in Singapore on business in early 2002, and while my impression wasn't quite so bleaks as described in the article, my main impression was that parts of it were very much like something out of the World Showcase at Disney World.

Ive heard Singapore cited as the one instance where multi-culturalism actually works. The catch being that you need a police state to enforce the norms on everyone. And you enforce it equally.

I wouldn't call that "working" multi-culturalism. Equally enforced norms amount to a monoculture, a new culture spackled over the peoples' former culture. It'll inconvenience different groups and individuals unequally, and over time it will stamp out their unique identities because in practice, everything you think and believe and then actually follow comes from the governmental authority.

Well yeah, if it is your culture to spit on the ground and be a menace to society, then your culture will be erased.

You inspired me to think of net-negative public health risks like smoking, casual sex, and very distracting media. And then to look this article up:


"I have never known that Singapore. My Singapore is pragmatic and sensitive, one of enforced invisibility, reduced risk, minimum noise."

Faith in whatever god or adherence to whatever principle of "harmony" may personally describe an individual's pattern of being, it is the government towards which truly meaningful, actionable intercessions are made. No more noisy Calls To Prayer from these minarets! Instead we will have Calls To Politeness blare from the tallest metaphorical tower. For the successful "multi-"culture, that is god - that is harmony.

Unfortunately, while your zeal is appreciated, "your culture will be erased" is a dangerous, panic-inducing way to say what you mean. To help encourage successful, peaceful discourse and assimilation, let no more of your spittle accidentally hit the floor with this aggressive rhetoric.

I think it's a bit unfair on Singapore to call it a police state. In several visits I'm not sure I've even seen the police. I find them much scarier in the US. I remember being in the Singapore area when the George Floyd / BLM stuff happened and thinking the US looked pretty third world in comparison.

The US is “third world” in comparison.

Now you have to ask why that is, right? My guess would be the law & order mentality of the state.

Define "works"? I'd suggest the vast majority of those in my own city (a state capital in Australia) would agree that multi-culturalism is a positive and key feature. We briefly experienced something close to a police state during the covid lockdowns of the previous two years but you could hardly call it that normally.

I don't have word count tool on my phone, but does it strike others as strange that there's a 1000+ word wikipedia page about a 4,500-word article?

the declaration of independence is ~1300 words. a half-assed attempt at counting the words in the article (minus of the copy of the declaration that it contains) comes up with about ~10900 words. is that strange?

what ratio isn't strange?

tbf the Declaration of Independence was a nation-defining historical event, a collaboration involving a lot of people, and text which has shaped a couple of centuries of American law.

Disneyland with the Death Penalty is a pretty self-explanatory magazine article which has somehow ended up with a more detailed summary than many of Gibson's novels. Only on Wikipedia would that sort of prioritisation be normal.

> Only on Wikipedia would that sort of prioritisation be normal.

perhaps if you addressed your concerns to their prioritization committee, you could effect some change.

You think that’s bad? Check out the article for the Gettysburg Address (272 words).

I remember reading that, when he wrote it.

Was about to write the same thing. The first few years of Wired were incredible. I was both a geek and at that time heavily into "desktop publishing" and Wired was a revelation akin to discovering a new religious text.

I miss magazines. I rarely read them now, but there was something exciting about browsing through a new issue - the ads were as interesting as the editorial material. In the best magazines, each page flip was a masterpiece of graphic design. In our collective transition to online content, we definitely lost a lot in terms of the visual language developed for print. Though we have high resolution screens now, it doesn't seem to be returning. The visual innovations seems to have complete moved to video now, and "pages" are now just scrolling text.

Amusingly, I signed up for ACM recently to get access to a research paper, and they unexpectedly mailed me their monthly magazine. An actual physical printed periodical? Wow. As I was reading it, I realized I've become so used to digital screens, it felt weird to read. You have to move your eyes up and down columns! They don't just scroll into my line of vision. Figures and images are numbered and you have to look around for them, they're not just embedded in a carousel in line with the text. Took me a minute or two to adjust for real.

I have the print copy right here :-0

Very interesting, thank you for sharing.

The government banning _Wired_ because it contained a critical article immediately confirms so much of the criticism.

The U.S. also limits foreign control of its media.

> The government banning _Wired_ because it contained a critical article immediately confirms so much of the criticism.

and then

> The U.S. also limits foreign control of its media.

Beyond an attempt at a what aboutism, I'm not sure how these two statements are really connected. Just because Xinhua can't purchase Foxnews (which is ironically controlled by an Australian), the USA government lacks the legal power to ban anything except maybe child porn.

Wired is foreign media in Singapore.

This isn’t what-about-ism — I am defending Singapore’s practice of banning foreign media that decides to have a say in how the country should be run.

These kinds of places are way too creepy/cringey for me. Grew up in such a culture, putting authority on a pedestal and doing as you're told is childish behavior and frankly boring. It also leads to people having tons of pent up/stored ego that makes it impossible to rationally deal with them when they just expect you to do as you're told or accept their bad ideas.

I much prefer being somewhere that has everything- grimey to super nice and flashy. Makes life more interesting and there are more opportunities.

> I much prefer being somewhere that has everything- grimey to super nice and flashy.

The psychological trait of Orderliness definitely plays into both the aesthetic qualities and the deference to authority within a society.

I prefer the clean and flashy aesthetic to a grimey one, but I probably prefer a more natural, organic aesthetic to either.

While I think many politically right-leaning people (like myself) see a lot to admire in Singapore, my own response is more measured. Like you noted, the authoritarian nature of such a state can come across as paternalistic, whereas I would rather be treated as an autonomous adult.

"The Singaporean government banned Wired upon the publication of the issue. The phrase "Disneyland with the death penalty" came to stand internationally for an authoritarian and austere reputation that the city-state found difficult to shake off."

Gosh, I wonder why that would be a hard reputation to get rid of?

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