Bruce Sterling has just left Singapore after speaking at the Singapore Writers' Festival, an event I've been speaking at all weekend. He's been blogging fascinating Singapore links and observations all week, but he's just posted a roundup that's really good, a kind of coda to William Gibson's 1993 Wired article about Singapore, Disneyland with the Death Penalty.
For me, the unsettling aspect of Singapore isn't
their repression, which is subtle and always nicely-dressed
in legalisms. No, the weird part is the public
exhortations, the regime's Taoist PR campaign.
They've got some kind of genuine Techno-Confucian
Mandate of Heaven thing going on. It's being
carried out by really bright, eager, workaholic city
apparatchiks who are keenly rehearsed.
Once you've got the population ship-shape through
relentless moral pressure and the efficient delivery of social goods,
they really don't require a lot of caning and
drug executions; on the contrary, even though they're
not all spontaneous and touchy-feely, they're
proud of themselves. They're not real thrilled
at waving party flags and national banners — they'd obviously
rather go shopping — but, well, they put up with the
official triumphalism. They seem to take some
comfort in knowing that some exquisitely educated
Lion City mandarin is firmly in charge of coining slogans.