Hottest Co-Working Spaces in Sg

SG Magazine
The 21 hottest co-working spaces in Singapore
30 August 2018

Where to work, when home isn’t working

Whether you’re a struggling entrepreneur, an aspiring startup or just someone who can’t get motivated working from home, these shared office spaces may be the answer.

21Moonstone

Touting itself as one for the millennials, this co-working space by day and dive bar by night (on Fridays and Saturdays) takes over what was once an industrial canteen and has converted it into a hangout for creatives. A dedicated personal desk goes for $500 a month, while a hot desking package costs $150 for eight days of use per month. Did we also mention The Sam Willows’ Narelle Kheng is one of the co-founders?

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ClubCo

Ever needed a co-working space on-demand? This centrally-located collaborative space lets you drop in and drop out whenever you want with flexible passes and plans ($35-$500), while still allowing more permanency with dedicated memberships ($750-$1500). Best part? You can redeem your paid value at adjoining restaurant and bar Club Meatballs, meaning you get to enjoy great food and drink for free, technically.

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The Co.

For those used to hot-desking and minimalist spaces, this eight-storey building fits the bill. It has a dark, glossy lobby that’s no stranger to buzzy corporate parties, and an open concept third level that’s hosted the likes of Startup Grind and Elance, making it quite a focus for those on trend with the local scene. Individual desks go for $45 a day, $350 for 10 visits a month and $600 monthly, while a swanky office suite can set you back $700-990 per person.

Collision 8

There is now a new co-working space specifically for innovators at High Street Centre, offering sweeping views of Marina Bay Sands and Raffles Place. Expect industrial-chic chandeliers, a “wall of inspiration”, and a wide selection of collaborative spaces such as dedicated and hot desks, as well as private offices.

Core Collective

This community working space for fitness, health and wellness professionals spans across several floors of 79 Anson Road. Rather than the usual desks and meeting rooms, you’ll find a fully-equipped gym, yoga studios, consultation rooms, and even a boxing ring. Joining fee varies depending on the type of professional service you offer. Or just join as a member to use the facilities and attend classes.

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District 6

A pleasing mix of design-meets-minimalism, co-working space District 6 has opened its oak wood doors conveniently in the heart of City Hall. The 10,000 sq ft space is designed with floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors, but office decor is kept to a minimum, to allow tenants the freedom to personalize their space however they want. Open 24 hours, the work space offers flexi and fixed desks, private studios, private offices, small meeting rooms and dedicated phone booths, plus an event space that fits 100. A Kyoto-based specialty coffee bar is stationed in-house to provide your daily cuppa, complimentary to members.

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The Great Room

They first opened a 15,000 square feet, stylish space at One George Street in 2016, decked in a blue-tan color scheme, hardwood floors, leather sofas and retro-chic touches. Now, the hospitality-themed co-working space has three venues in town—one at Centennial Tower and another at Ngee Ann City—all featuring jaw-dropping city views as you work in hot desks, dedicated offices, or communal areas decked in plush leather. Get a day pass starting at $70, or you can sign up to be a member from $750/month which gives you access to the hot offices, exclusive events, a business address and other member perks.

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The Hive

This co-working space occupying three shophouses is located right in the middle of hip HongKong Street. It regularly organizes networking events for members, creatives and entrepreneurs. Memberships start at $20 for a day pass that allows you access to desks, lounge seats and the rooftop cafe. For bigger teams, $800 gets you an office pass, which gives you a private office space, meeting room time and access to the rooftop cafe. They’ve also since opened The Hive Lavender on Kallang Junction, just a short hop away from Bendemeer MRT.

just_co

JustCo

Occupying four floors of the Parakou building, this co-working space gives you a view of the city’s skyline, and there are plenty of opportunities for collaborations and discussions with booth buddies. Among its amenities are a ping pong and foosball table. Their office spaces are filled with work furnishings, books and some ’80s retro decor (we spy a Space Invaders wall mural and some old school arcade machines). There’s also a pantry and a few meeting rooms, should you want to arrange meetings with clients. It’s $50 to rent a desk for a day, but if you’re in it for the long haul, the rent is $800 a month for a studio space.

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LEVEL3

This local innovation catalyst company—a collaboration between Unilever Foundry and Padang & Co—welcomes tech startups and entrepreneurs in Singapore all around the world to use their 22,000 sq. ft. workspace. Padang & Co designed and manages the space, which houses facilities like hot desks, phone booths, board rooms and event spaces. The space is also connected to Unilever’s headquarters, which will give you access to their events and programmes. Membership plans start from $275, which gives you 10 days’ access to the workspace and Unilever Foundry programs, to $4500 for a six-member team suite plan, which provides you a company logo, individual lockers and more.

mox

MOX

An original addition to the co-working space scene, Mox is Singapore’s first and largest independent design resource workspace—for creatives who could do with more than just hot desks and free charging points. Designed with the creative communities in mind, the self-touted co-making space provides novel facilities such as 3D printers, laser cutters, carpentry machines and working stations equipped with design software. There’s also a sewing room stocked with industrial-grade machines and a photography studio that comes with backdrop and lighting equipment, at added rental costs. For those in the handicraft and design industries, a retail storefront lets you display your works for sale. Plans range from $30/day for a day-pass to $500/month for a private office, so start-ups and businesses at any level can join to enjoy the facilities.

NuSpace by Nulab

The only one to provide a free space (yes, free) to work from, NuSpace at Changi Business Park is perfect for remote working on the fly without the burden of commitment—and it doesn’t end there. A fully-stocked pantry with free coffee, tea, water and snacks is also available, as well as free WiFi, foosball table and plenty of networking opportunities with free tech talks, workshops and other events being regularly organized. The only catch? It’s free for one year for all Nulab account member signups (which is also free) only.

paperwork

Paperwork

Occupying half the third floor of the National Design Centre, Paperwork is a co-creation venue opened by design studio Paperspace. It has a maximum capacity of 60, spread across standing desks, hot desks, meeting areas and private offices. Movable partitioning and modular furniture make redecorating to accommodate meetings, working capsules and private spaces easy. Prices range from $40 for a day pass to $1,700/month for your own private suite.

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Smartspace

This is another one of the cool shared spaces at arts enclave Bras Basah, a huge 8,000 sq. ft. space with meeting rooms, kitchen areas, work stations, private desks, and even space for a spot of table tennis. It’s also user-friendly and accessible per-hour booking rates with work stations starting from $30 a day and going up to $600 a month. This space also lets you work late and is open round the clock.

Spacemob

Spacemob has two branches, one in Orchard and the other in Science Park. While the former boasts an accessible location, the (more recently opened) latter is housed in a new building called Ascent and caters to the people over at Kent Ridge area. The 14,000 sq. ft. space continues the bright, cheerful color tones used in the previous space, with pastel pink walls and other furniture in yellow, green, red and blue. Besides individual desks, there are also meeting rooms, a 60-seater event space and more. To spice up your work day, they serve coffee and snacks all day and do special events like Takeaway Thursdays. Membership starts at $50, or get on the for $580 package to get a fixed desk.

Sparkkspace

This New York styled industrial loft-inspired 2,500 sq. ft. public co-working space offers affordable hot desks at $45 per day, and permanent desks from $350 per month. They also have a stylish meeting sofa and table (available for booking), a modern kitchen, and an in-house photo studio for budding photographers—open for booking on weekdays and weekends, for a minimum of 2 hours, starting from $35 per hour.

WeWork

There are already many branches of WeWork in Singapore, with more openings in the works, making them one of the most prevalent co-working brands in town; and around the world for that matter. Besides gaining access to this global network by being a member with them, other reasons to choose WeWork include 24/7 office access, trendy working areas, and a pantry well stocked with fresh fruit water, micro-roast coffee and craft beer on draft. Prices vary according to location, ranging from $520/month for hot desking to $1250/month for a private office space.

The Work Project Downtown

In its newest branch in the OUE Downtown Gallery, Hong Kong-born The Work Project boasts a staggering 230 private workstations, 100 hot desks and 120 collaborating spaces—the largest inventory of facilities in the co-working scene in Singapore. Prioritizing design to improve work experience, the office space was decorated to the standard of five-star hotels. For $295 (part-time) or $450 (full-time) per month, members can enjoy refreshments from Japanese coffee brand Omotesando Koffee and food retailer The Providore while they work, as both have stations located within the space.

The Working Capitol

It takes over the historic AIA building and merges five shophouses into one giant co-working space. This space is open plan with lots of light from the shuttered windows, despite the fact that it’s decked out in a mandatory white washed color scheme. The co-working space also has private offices and a dedicated events venue with a pretty flexible schedule: you can book on a daily basis or have a permanent space. It’s also home to a cafe, The People Vs., with a selection of coffees, teas, breads and the likes. A day pass is $53.50 and $872.05 per month for a 24 hour access to a workdesk.

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The Working Capitol on Robinson

The second outlet of the minimalistic The Working Capitol on Robinson Road is an 11-storey establishment providing a variety of work stations that can fit up to 200 people. You get to choose from options like individual hot desks, privote offices and duplex penthouses, all designed by international firm Hassell and furnished by OpenDesk. Besides all the working spaces, this outlet also has various lifestyle facilities like F&B establishment Plain Vanilla, a 20-meter outdoor pool, a gym space by Ritual, a sky garden with a great view, a bar and a members’ lounge. They have monthly membership plans from $255, which gives you access to a working seat for 10 days, full member benefits and member rates for events, $729 for a permanent table with lockable storage cabinets included and $995 for a private office space and complimentary meeting room bookings.

TRIBE by TEC

Located at the vibrant and bustling Circular Road neighborhood in a shophouse that dates back to the late 1800’s, Tribe by TEC upholds the concept of “office without walls” across its 4,000 sq. ft. space, which has become a big trend among startup companies to allow workers to mingle and interact with one another. This two-floor open concept office has some quirky bits to it, with furniture like the lorry-shaped table, a colorful solo sofa, cork shelves and many more, which livens up the atmosphere of the office. Tribe offers 15 different offices with varying sizes and has a maximum capacity of 73 workstations.

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

Hottest Co-Working Spaces in Sg

Crazy Average Singaporeans Offend Me

Rice
I Am A Crazy Rich Asian, And Crazy Average Singaporeans Offend Me
Pan Jie
25 April 2018

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A scene from the Hollywood movie “Crazy Rich Asians” shot in Singapore

Dear Singapore,

As a crazy rich Asian, I am deeply offended that you guys are offended by Crazy Rich Asians.

When I saw the trailer drop yesterday, I was so excited that I nearly spat oolong all over my fourth-best Chanel dress. Finally, I thought, a movie that depicts life in Singapore as I know it. Tears of joy streamed down my cheeks when the drone flew over Bukit Timah.

This is home, truly, where the Audis always flow.

However, you guys just had to ruin it for us, didn’t you?

My maid Felicia was nearly done editing my Instastory response when a viral post popped up on Facebook. Mothership isn’t my usual cup of tea but they were talking about Crazy Rich Asians too, so my finger was already hovering over the like button, until I saw the comments:

“Why must make movie about Rich Asian, make fun of us poor people issit?”

“Complete fail in terms of representation.”

“Disappointed with the lack of Singaporean accent in Crazy Rich Asians”

“Watched the two minute trailer and saw only 2 brown ppl”

Are these people kidding? I was so angry I couldn’t think. I had to cancel yacht-viewing for some alone time to compose my thoughts.

Okay, first and foremost, this movie is not racist. How dare they watch a two-minute trailer and assume the entire movie is racist? That’s like seeing one picture of my flawless, custom-built walk-in closet on Instagram and assuming that it’s my only closet. You don’t know the half of it. I have to share space with my husband’s golf club collection.

But that’s beside the point. The point is that us rich people are a persecuted minority too, just like the Wakandans in America. Although we contribute so much to Singapore’s economy, the country refuses to even acknowledge our existence.

If you want to know what it’s like to be truly invisible, try being a Crazy Rich Asian.

Every time you turn on the television, it’s always heartland, heartland, heartland. There are a million and one shows about ‘average’ Singaporeans doing HDB things in Toa Payoh or whatever, but not a single episode on how hard it is to book a last-minute flight to Milan.

Our politicians are no better. When the Ministers make speeches, all they care about are ‘everyday’ problems like water prices and GST vouchers and Smart Nation. It’s as if us rich people don’t even appear on their mental radar.

What about parking in landed estates? Or the jams along Bukit Timah road every morning? My husband missed a shareholder meeting on Tuesday because he was trapped in his Maserati, but my MP laughed it off when I raised the issue at his meet-the-people session.

Is there no ‘I’ in people? To think that I’ve wasted an evening at his tiny office when I could be watching my daughter’s violin recital!

Do you see why I’m so angry about Crazy Rich Asians now? WE finally have a movie to call our own, where WE are being represented fairly on the big screen. But all you people do is nitpick. Instead of celebrating this win for true minority representation, you choose to take what little we have away from us.

We ignored all those jibes about being high-SES.

We kept quiet when Jack Neo’s movies featured not a single High Net Worth Individual.

We even stayed silent when everyone mocked us for not speaking proper Singlish despite our best efforts to leh.

Those days of silence are over. I am tired of having my rights trampled on by the flip-flops of so-called regular Singaporeans. I’m tired of being excluded from our national narrative on account of my fabulous wealth.

Our country needs to know that crazy-rich Singaporeans are Singaporeans too, and not some elite, shut-off tribe that exists as a punchline for your Mediacorp sitcom.

I don’t think that poorer Singaporeans can understand just how hurtful their attitudes are. The other day, I was fetching my son home from ACS Barker when he piped up from the backseat: “Mom, someone called me atas in school, what does atas mean?”

My pulse raced, and I had to ask my chauffeur to pull over. In my naivete, I believed that an inclusive institution like ACS would shelter my children from such offensive slurs. I believed it would protect my kids from society’s privilege-shaming.

But I was wrong, and I cannot see a day when my yoga studio and his polo classes will ever be accepted.

So I hugged him and told him the truth: “Anthony, listen to mommy. Never let anyone tell you that you’re not Singaporean because you’re crazy rich. You have a place in this country, same as everyone else. Polo lessons and swimming pools are nothing to be ashamed of.

Until the day you leave for Yale, you’ll always, always be a Singaporean.”

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

Crazy Average Singaporeans Offend Me

Stop Denying Our Public Sector’s Culture of Learned Helplessness

Rice
Can We Please Stop Denying Our Public Sector’s Culture of Learned Helplessness?
Grace Yeoh
27 March 2018

In May 2017, I left the public service after two years of being a public servant.

It may have been a brief stint, but it was long enough for me to get comfortably acquainted with both the copious amount of red tape and the consequences of fighting it.

Besides mere inconvenience, this bureaucratic nightmare often hindered creativity and innovation. It also enabled those of higher status to wield their authority by turning down ideas from ‘lower-ranking’ staff.

This, in turn, exposed me to the pervasive fear of speaking up that exists within the public service.

Till this year, I’d thought perhaps I was overthinking the situation and that the fear I witnessed was inconsequential or perhaps even misunderstood.

Then in February this year, as part of his Budget speech, MP Louis Ng shared that he’d spoken to fellow public servants and learnt that they were generally afraid to speak up for fear of getting into trouble, thus essentially turning themselves into ‘Yes’ men. He then urged Parliament and senior management in the public service to ensure public servants do not fear speaking up against status quo.

In response, Minister Ong Ye Kung, who leads the public service innovation efforts, said that these generalisations tar the entire service with the same brush.

Despite Minister Ong reiterating that public servants can speak up without fear of getting into trouble, many netizens saw the irony in him ‘calling out’ and ‘chiding’ Mr Ng for his feedback.

Over email, I express my gratitude for Mr Ng’s courage to speak up for public servants, even if it may affect his political career.

Mr Ng shares, “My father always taught me to speak up, to question, and to always focus on solutions. When I entered politics, I said that I’m here to listen with my heart and ears and to speak up from my heart.”

He also believes the fear of speaking up is “mythical”.

“As a civil society activist for the past 17 years, I have actively spoken up and have never gotten into trouble. I became an MP! Some activists have, however, gotten into trouble, and I think this has created a culture of fear of speaking up.”

Nonetheless, he is adamant that constructive criticism is the way forward, and that speaking up should be encouraged and supported.

When I was a public servant, I created a group dedicated to memes and jokes about being a public servant on the public sector’s private Facebook Workspace. The group took off—finally there was an avenue for public servants to ‘complain’ about their jobs with humour.

While Mr Ng and Minister Ong’s views are well-intentioned, not everyone is able tap on their courage so easily, especially when they already internalise the exact opposite behaviour and convince themselves to ‘go with the flow’ for everyone’s sake.

To empathise with the public servants Mr Ng spoke with, we must first realise that humans generally experience two main types of fear.

First, there is the overt fear of specific consequences. This fear doesn’t bother disguising itself. It exists to keep one in check, because crossing the line will likely manifest in dire, tangible repercussions such as a reprimand, being passed over for a promotion, or getting into someone’s bad books.

Then there’s the constant, albeit unwitting, fear that we learn to keep at the back of our minds. In our heads, we grossly exaggerate the perceived consequences should we ‘cause trouble’, even though nothing imagined has remotely happened. Possibly the most obvious (if not the only) outcome of this strand of fear is excessive self-censorship.

But fear in itself is neither the be-all and end-all, nor does it exist in silos.

As a result of both the aforementioned variations of fear, learned helplessness starts to breed. We get used to being treated a certain way, even if we don’t like it.

Learned helplessness also stems from selfishness. We don’t want to bring unnecessary trouble to ourselves, so we resign ourselves to an unhappy situation, unaware that this selfishness also harms us in the long run.

In any case, public servants are already accustomed to taking top-down directives from senior management. Using this existing culture to enforce positive change would be making the best of a worrying situation.

This group on the public sector’s Facebook Workspace was my way of speaking up and showing that there is nothing to be afraid of. I never got into trouble. In fact, I was invited to talk about innovation in the public service as part of Public Service Week, an outcome that was equal parts absurd and hilarious.

Because of the hierarchical structure that learned helplessness needs to thrive, I get the sense that nowhere is this behaviour more prevalent in Singapore than within the public sector, an industry that ironically requires one to be selfless.

This deep-seated learned helplessness becomes clearer when I speak with several public servants. All of them request to remain anonymous, a fact that they all also coincidentally point out supports the fear of speaking up and its perceived consequences.

For a start, pulling rank seems to be a common occurrence in the public sector.

The first public servant I speak to, who only wants to be known as HC, manages her organisation’s website and content updates. She once raised her concerns with the way a project was handled by a senior staff.

She says, “Even though I had experience in the subject, he insisted he knew what he was doing. He raised his voice at me in front of everyone, and cornered me into answering whether I was going to do the work. I merely disagreed with the direction and tried to explain my reasons for disagreeing. Almost immediately, he shot back rudely and said they would get someone else to do the work instead.”

From HC’s perspective, many of her colleagues would rather “leave the decision making to those [of a higher] pay grade”, since dissent would “hamper their own plans to move up the chain”.

Similarly, Melvin, who is currently serving his scholarship bond, has experienced instances where both him and his colleagues don’t dare to oppose bad ideas raised by someone senior.

For the most part, he is satisfied with his job. Nonetheless, his contentment doesn’t blind him to the flaws of his organisation.

“There were numerous times when working-level staff, like me, thought an idea wouldn’t take off, because there was potential for bad PR, it was ambitiously out of touch with 21st century sensibilities, or it was simply obsolete. Often the ideas are raised by someone senior, such as the Executive Director or his equivalent, so no one dares to refute them at meetings. These bad ideas are minuted and taken as confirmed,” he says.

Even though this doesn’t happen all the time, when terrible ideas are executed, the departments play ‘hot-potato’ to get rid of the project later on.

The convenience of pulling rank also creates other equally harmful workplace behaviours, such as the paranoid need to cover one’s ass.

“A colleague I know would save screenshots of informal Whatsapp chats to prove that a certain idea was suggested by someone else in the organisation, so that he could dissociate himself with it in the event that it wasn’t successful. Fortunately, he never needed to use the screenshots,” says Melvin.

While this particular anecdote might be extreme, it reveals a fundamental distrust of one’s colleagues, which can be ultimately unproductive.

Unfortunately, this distrust is not unique to Melvin’s organisation.

As a true creative, I hated anything that forced me to deal with GeBiz paperwork. Luckily I was blessed with bosses who understood and supported my dark sense of humour—as long as I still completed the paperwork.

One public servant, Kevin, who is from the education industry, tells me that at a recent meeting, one of his colleagues explicitly admitted she never dares to speak up, for fear of offending senior management by saying something wrong.

This fear runs so deep that this particular colleague doesn’t trust their boss’s word, even if the boss specifically asks for honest and candid feedback in order to “co-create solutions”.

“Our boss said it was sad if our small team wasn’t able to be honest with each other. In the end, she spoke up first about her shortcomings. I could tell she was gratified when more people started speaking up after that,” he says.

Two of his other colleagues, Frank and Rachel, brought up the issue of workload, despite being afraid their thoughts would be misconstrued as “complaining” or “attacking other teams”.

On one hand, Frank could tell that voicing his opinions created a sense of openness within the room, and helped him see that he was able to trust his colleagues and boss with his feedback.

However, Rachel realised there are greater issues that her boss might not even be able to help with. For example, she laments the lack of resources and manpower as the root of the frustration with her workload, which isn’t something she knows will be solved anytime soon.

She adds, “We also fear speaking up because we know our bosses fear criticism.”

Rachel also readily admits to her own “learned helplessness”, even before I suggest the concept.

In a state of learned helplessness, many of us adopt a defeatist mentality. We don’t just convince ourselves that the ‘every man for himself’ mentality inherent in most Singaporeans is what it is; we also convince ourselves that we should embrace it. Eventually, we stop pushing back altogether.

At the same time, amending internal policies can go a long way to facilitating broader and deeper change, no matter how tiny the initial start. When public servants witness their feedback being taken seriously, there can only be less uncertainty about speaking up in the future.

Outdated HR policies may just enable the current culture, especially in comparison to more enlightened practices in the private sector. At present, because obedience is rewarded, people move up by not rocking the boat.

33-year-old Daniel says, “Sometimes, in fact, it’s counter-intuitive to work very hard. The annual opportunity for promotion means that you have to wait another year if you miss it. Hence, many opt for a slow and steady approach, instead of a revolutionary one. The latter approach in the private sector, however, can get you promoted twice a year or two years in a row.”

Daniel adds that certain HR practices, which “aren’t very transparent in the first place”, result in ambiguity about how individual performance is assessed, as well as how one’s potential is derived and evaluated. This contributes to a culture of uncertainty and fear.

Granted, it’s necessary to implore individual bosses to embrace and implement change within their own teams. Yet, to address overarching policy that affects an entire organisation would truly be living up to the effectiveness and efficiency that our public sector is recognised for.

Several times, I got into trouble with Admin and Finance for forgetting to send an approval email or two, before I’d gone ahead with my purchase. I can’t say I ever learned from my mistake. I still continued to do things without asking for permission.

That said, if the public sector doesn’t want to risk losing some of its more bold and capable employees, then radical change needs to happen soon.

At this point, I recall how Melvin, the aforementioned scholar, recounts his frustration (with the system and with himself) whenever he fails to speak up.

“It usually feels like a mixture of losing my individuality combined with a hopeless resignation to the incurable malady of a conservative bureaucracy. Due to the herd mentality of not confronting anyone or going against a boss’s opinion, doing what is most effective or most conducive for growth will almost certainly offend others.”

According to Melvin, after he was vocal against a particular policy in manpower planning, “they bore a grudge and would bring it up to senior management as a black mark against me”.

The only silver lining is that his candid opinion may have helped future colleagues, since the implemented changes had positive outcomes.

Unlike Melvin, however, former teacher Laura’s insistence on speaking up hasn’t been as successful. The 28-year-old used to work for the Ministry of Education.

“My colleagues and I were victims of two upskirt incidents, where students took videos and photos of us. Back then, my principal discouraged us from reporting it to the police and told us to give the students a chance. I don’t know whether it was shame on our part or reluctance to ‘disobey’ the principal, but the students got away with light punishment,” she says.

Laura was also bothered by the seemingly better performance bonuses and promotion for her male colleagues, as well as the injustice of covering for colleagues whenever they took MC during crunch periods or to travel overseas.

Even though she regularly brought up these issues, she was told that they would be dealt with “during appraisal” and that she should be “more understanding”. In the end, nothing got done.

Then Laura adds something that I believe most of us wish we had the guts to say: “I think the only time I felt like I was appreciated was when I threatened to leave [after my bond].”

I know Laura doesn’t say this lightly. For one, the public sector is an incredible paymaster. After living with an iron rice bowl and being able to afford certain luxuries in life, almost anything else feels like a step down.

In addition, no matter her struggles with her school’s management, she remained passionate about teaching and loved her students.

While the option to extricate herself from the situation may seem like the easy or ‘cowardly’ choice, Laura realises she did what she could, but that the public service is far too entrenched in its own culture of fear and learned helplessness. It isn’t an issue that will be solved overnight, let alone within a few years.

Like me, despite her stubbornness to enact swift and bold change, she also didn’t hold enough authority to make it happen.

And so, she did what I did when I realised my love for public service was quickly being eclipsed by a growing fear of speaking up, and an inevitable, creeping sense of learned helplessness in the face of unyielding rigidity.

She quit.

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

Stop Denying Our Public Sector’s Culture of Learned Helplessness

Lou Engle in Singapore

Rice
Lou Engle: An American Threatens a Christian-Muslim Divide in Singapore
Benjamin Lim
25 March 2018

On stage inside the Singapore Expo hall, a Christian leader from the US proudly addresses the 2000-strong crowd: “The Muslims are taking over the south of Spain. But I had a dream, where I will raise up the church all over Spain to push back a new modern Muslim movement.”

I’m at Kingdom Invasion, a mass evangelism conference that is in its sixth year running. On its website, the event is described as a platform to activate believers and churches to “take up the Lord’s mandate” to “bring the Kingdom of God into our world”. The conference also “acts as a catalyst for the prophetic destiny of the nations around Singapore”, fulfilling the prophecy of prominent American evangelist Billy Graham that Singapore would become the “Antioch of Asia” – the theme of this year’s conference.

In simple words, it means that Singapore is destined to be the base from which the words of the gospel and humanitarian aid would spread to neighbouring countries.

A ticket for the three-day conference costs $220, with the night sermons open to the public. On Tuesday night, March 13th, during the first sermon before the event officially begins the following day, it’s full house inside the hall.

Teenagers, young adults still dressed in office attire, families with young children, and the elderly have all congregated here, all eyes and ears on the American who has come to deliver a jolting message from God.

The man in the spotlight is Lou Engle, co-founder of the Christian organisation TheCall which advocates political change through prayer and fasting. Over the years, he has been embroiled in controversy after controversy for his homophobic and Islamophobic comments. He once spurred the Detroit base of his movement to pray all night long “because it’s when the Muslims sleep and all over the world right now Muslims in the night are having dreams of Jesus, we believe that God wants to invade with His love Dearborn with dreams of Jesus”.

He is also known for using his influence to galvanise the anti-abortion movement in the US.

I have come to Kingdom Invasion to investigate whether Engle’s speech would be as controversial as the ones that have cemented his reputation, and especially since he’s featured prominently on the conference’s website as a guest speaker.

The crowd at Lou Engle’s first sermon on Tues night, March 13th. (Photo from Kingdom Invasion Singapore’s Facebook page)

Sitting in the audience, I cannot believe my ears when it actually happens.

Immediately, it occurs to me, “Isn’t the mention of other faiths at a religious event sacrilegious in Singapore?” If an imam had made comments about Christianity at a Muslim conference, no doubt there would be an uproar.

Last year, an Indian imam was fined and deported to his home country for making offensive remarks about Christianity and Judaism during a Friday sermon. Yet here is Lou Engle, aggressively stoking the emotions of the audience, almost spitting as he singles out ‘Muslims’.

The context is incredibly suspicious; he seems to suggest that Islam is a threat to Christianity, and that there needs to be an urgency to curb it.

Attendees, many of them Singaporeans who have pledged themselves to be one united people regardless of religion, applaud to show their apparent affirmation for this need to counter Islam.

Engle’s contentious viewpoints do not end here. Two days later on Thursday afternoon, he urges the audience in another sermon to be united in their endeavours to end abortion, again to rousing applause.

Engle first came to Singapore as a guest speaker for last year’s conference, which has been held annually since 2012 by Cornerstone Community Church (CSCC). So surely, he has been briefed by his hosts on the strict laws pertaining to religious harmony here?

In fact, he seems fully aware of the restrictions of religious speech here, and skirts around them by recounting his experiences overseas without directly mentioning the state of affairs in Singapore.

But extremist views, sandwiched between Bible verses and interpretations, are still fundamentally extremist views, and there’s no mistaking what I hear.

He does not appear to restrain himself either, delivering his sermons in a booming, gravelly voice while rocking back and forth vigorously on stage, as though a powerful divine force has taken over him.

It’s one thing to do so at regular sermons, where such a tone of voice is often used to invoke love, compassion, and Jesus’ name. But to bring Islam into the picture is something else.

I email Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong, senior pastor of CSCC and main host of Kingdom Invasion, to clarify Engle’s comment on pushing back “a new modern Muslim movement” in Spain. Did Engle try to put down Islam at a Christian conference, in the same way he has unabashedly incited Islamophobia in the US, or had I missed something?

A spokesperson for the church replies that the American was referring to the rising ISIS propaganda that has become an increasing threat in Europe, including Spain.

Yet if this was indeed about ISIS, Engle should have said so that night in the Singapore Expo hall. If a “modern Muslim movement” represents radical Islamic fundamentalism, then Engle is either making a gross oversimplification or a targeted attack on Islam—both of which, I would argue, are equally dangerous.

Engle’s admission into Singapore also raises a curious question: how did someone so radical in his religious beliefs slip past the rigorous vetting processes of the authorities and land on our shores for a second year running?

You only need five minutes on Google to open a Pandora’s box of Engle’s tendentious exploits, including supporting a bill in Uganda authorising the imprisonment of homosexuals and the death penalty in some circumstances.

It’s not as though the authorities grant permission to anyone who wishes to speak on religious matters in Singapore. Last year three foreign Muslim preachers were banned from entering Singapore over their hardline and divisive teachings that were “unacceptable” and “contrary” to the values of Singapore’s multiracial and multi-religious society.

Two foreign Christian preachers who had applied for short-term work passes to speak here were also denied entry due to their heavily Islamophobic statements outside of Singapore.

Furthermore, such entry bans can be meted out regardless of the size of the preachers’ followings here, or whether their comments were made in relation to Singapore.

So it’s perplexing that Engle, for all his controversy, has gotten a free pass. Twice.

The Ministry of Home Affairs and police did not respond to my queries on why Engle was granted a permit to speak in Singapore, given his notorious background. They also did not clarify what the rules for speaking at religious events were.

This lack of transparency and clarity is distressing, and gives the impression that double standards are exercised in the treatment of the various religious groups, especially when the authorities have lately been clamping down hard on Islamic extremism.

The Kingdom Invasion conference attracted Christian followers from 47 nations, including predominantly Muslim nations like Bangladesh and Brunei.

Reverend Miak Siew of the Free Community Church says that strict laws may not guarantee the preservation of our multi-religious society.

“Lou Engle’s theocratic ideas are very dangerous in Singapore. You may be able to prevent someone from coming here, but ideas do not need visas, they can still spread via social media and the Internet,” he tells me.

“I think the best way to counter dangerous ideas is by encouraging critical thinking and open dialogue. Banning them only drives these ideas underground where they will fester.”

That said, Lou Engle and his audacity to say what he spoke at Kingdom Invasion represents a larger concern: the growing influence of the Christian right in Singapore’s society.

In the US, the Christian right firmly believes in a non-separation between the church and state, and advocates for the presence of religious institutions within the government and the public sphere.

While Singapore has always maintained its secularism, the voice of the conservative Christian community has been growing louder. The homophobic movement We Are Against Pinkdot and its fervent desire to block the repealing of Section 377A of the Penal Code is primarily driven by this minority segment of the population.

Last year, we also reported on how sex education in Singapore schools is still founded on conservative Christian values.

Pastor Yang, whose church has a congregation of more than 5,000, has used his position as a religious leader to propagate his views on homosexuals. Recently, he aired his support for US president Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying that it was “non-negotiable”.

With his views very much aligned with that of Lou Engle’s, it’s no wonder that the latter would be invited as a guest of CSCC for Kingdom Invasion.

And it seems the movement is gunning to wield an even stronger political influence in Singapore, emboldened by the prophecy that Singapore would become the Antioch of Asia.

More than once, conference speakers emphasised the need to “transform governments”, which seems to suggest the hope for a religious takeover of our political institutions. While this, according to the other preachers, fundamentally comprises the spread of good values and doing good for the community and society to encourage governments to follow suit, Lou Engle’s speeches are more complicated than that.

He repeatedly cites TheCall’s movements in the US to encourage Singaporeans to do the same; namely, using the power of the church and prayer to effect political change. More than once, he recalls how his prayers led to then US President George W Bush appointing Supreme Court Justices who upheld the ban on partial birth abortions in 2007.

This outright contravenes the strict laws of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony (MRH) Act which governs the separation between religion and government. In its reply to my queries, CSCC stresses that the “heart and message of the Kingdom Invasion conferences are essentially to encourage and strengthen churches and believers alike to make a positive impact on society and their communities for good”.

It adds that attendees have the “common understanding that the teachings and statements made during the conference were given within a specific and spiritual context based on sound biblical principles”, which should not be taken out of context or misconstrued.

But it did not clarify the political agenda that Lou Engle and the Kingdom Conference seem to be pushing on their congregation. This does not bode well for the integrity of religious harmony in Singapore, when religious events of such a scale like Kingdom Invasion’s are able to proliferate far-out views.

Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said in his 1987 National Day Rally speech, in the wake of worldwide escalation in religious extremism:
“Churchmen, lay preachers, priests, monks, Muslim theologians, all those who claim divine sanctions of holy insights, take off your clerical robes before you take on anything economic or political. Take it off. Come out as a citizen or join a political party and it is your right to belabour the Government. But if you use a church or a religion and your pulpit for these purposes, there will be serious repercussions.”

The need to maintain secularism is unequivocal in Mr Lee’s words. But lately, religion has seeped into the political fabric. The original decision by the Ministry of Communication and Information and the National Library Board to pulp a children’s book with supposed gay themes was in part motivated by the Christian conservatives.

More notably, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin shared a Facebook post seeking divine strength after he had been asked by the prime minister to vacate his ministerial post.

MHA’s refusal to comment on Lou Engle and Kingdom Invasion also points to the possible existence of a grey area in which religious leaders are allowed to operate.

In his essay Religion and Politics in Singapore: A Christian Perspective, Dr Roland Chia of the Trinity Theological College writes that the MRH White Paper is vague and allows for various interpretations, which does not help clarify the relationship between religion and politics.

“While the Church has no political ambitions, it is profoundly concerned with issues of justice, equality and peace. Put differently, as part of the larger political community, the Church is profoundly involved in the life of that community. The Church has always spoken out against injustices and the violations of the dignity of the human being. This prophetic act, which is a part of the Church’s witness in society, can be easily construed as politically motivated.”

While CSCC could defend Lou Engle by saying that speaking out against abortion is part of a Christian’s duty, it is his strong hardline push for the agenda, as well as the apparent targeting of the Muslim community, that crosses the line.

And this could set the precedence for a more politicised religious community in a secular country, especially when preachers like Engle are still allowed to spread their radical views here.

Says Dr Mathew Mathews of the Institute of Policy Studies, who has done extensive research on race and religion in Singapore, “Singapore’s government does tap the views of religious leaders and groups, as part of efforts to update or refine its policies. The contribution of religious groups to the development of good policy in some areas has been welcomed and doesn’t cross the line, for example when religious leaders submitted their suggestions to the recent Select Committee on Deliberative Online Falsehoods.

Religious groups also contribute to attempts to transform society to be more gracious – less materialistic and more conscious of values such as mercy, kindness, generosity and love.”

But more significantly, he adds, “It is not acceptable for religious groups to work to take over institutions and force a certain kind of agenda.”

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

Lou Engle in Singapore

We Don’t Care About Thaipusam, We Just Resent White People

Rice
We Don’t Care About Thaipusam, We Just Resent White People
Rachel Lau
20 March 2018

Why is live music banned for Thaipusam but not for St Patrick’s Day?

This was the question on everyone’s mind when the police issued a ‘public entertainment license’ for last weekend’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations permitting the playing of musical instruments—a right that was denied for the Hindu celebration of Thaipusam just one month before.

Naturally, outrage and accusations of hypocrisy ensued.

The government’s excuse for this apparent “double standard” was that we are comparing apples with oranges. St Patrick’s day is a cultural procession, while Thaipusam is a religious one.

Of course, this explanation did little to temper online expressions of exasperation.

At the same time, the wrongful (or rightful) classification of St Patrick’s Day as a cultural celebration was never what this was really about. Rather, it was how the allowances made regarding St Patrick’s Day have been read as yet another instance of preferential treatment of ang mohs (white people) over locals.

The truth is, Singaporeans (apart from Hindus and Indians in general) don’t actually care about Thaipusam and the discrimination the festival and its devotees face.

Prior to this incident, Singaporeans have hardly—if ever—rallied against the supposed unfair treatment of Thaipusam despite the fact that musical restrictions on the festival have been around since 1973.

Even now, as Singaporeans express their indignance on behalf of Thaipusam, many stop short of calling for the reinstatement of the festival’s right to its musical instruments. Anger and effort is instead spent on denying the Irish a place in Singapore and denouncing the existence of leprechauns.

It’s no secret that anti-foreigner sentiment amongst Singaporeans has existed since the beginning of time, giving birth to terms like “AMDK” (ang moh dua kee or white people big shot) and ‘foreign talent’.

The Thaipusam vs. St Patrick’s Day debate is merely the latest incident supporting the belief that expats have it better than the rest of us average, non-Caucasian Singaporeans.

Unfortunately, such beliefs are not only circumstantial, but of little help regarding the plight of our fellow Singaporeans.

If we really want to make a difference and be rid of this inequality, what we need to do is resist making this issue about foreigners and focus instead on where the real problem lies: with the outdated and antiquated laws governing Thaipusam and religious processions in general.

Perhaps the 45-year-old ban on the use of musical instruments during Thaipusam was relevant during a time when fights between competing groups were common and would threaten to disrupt the procession.

But given that it’s been decades since a notable riot broke out during the Hindu festival, it’s high time the law be relooked.

I also believe that society has since matured enough to know that if racial riots don’t result from regular (usually Taoist or Buddhist) funeral processions and festival marches like the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, the same can be expected for Thaipusam.

One argument that Singaporeans often put forth is that most processions happen during the day and not overnight unlike Thaipusam. As such, the ban on musical instruments is necessary so as to not disturb Singaporeans.

But as one commenter on Facebook aptly put it, “When fellow Indians can tolerate a month of smoke and burnt ashes that float into our household and loud music from Getai performances, ain’t the Indians tolerating this for Singaporeans.”

This, I would argue, is the issue. Not the fact that we, as another eloquent commenter put it, “Are always opening our legs for ang mohs.”

We Don’t Care About Thaipusam, We Just Resent White People

Raffles Stole Singapore

The Spectator
How Raffles stole the jewel of Singapore
Alex Colville
27 January 2018

The true founder of Singapore, the humane and diplomatic William Farquhar, has for centuries been unjustly eclipsed by his bullying, reckless superior

BOOK REVIEW:
William Farquhar and Singapore: Stepping out from Raffles’ Shadow
Nadia H. Wright
Entrepot Publishing (Malaysia), pp.258, £27.91
rs_0_170629_1739543954_pg16

Accounts of the founding of the British Empire once echoed the pages of Boy’s Own, featuring visionaries, armed with a flag, a faith and a funny hat, arriving in exotic lands untouched by civilisation. Overcoming great odds, they would kick-start the regions’ histories, show the locals the proper way to live and extend the imperial pink on the map a few inches before sailing off into the history books. Cook in Australia, Rhodes in Africa, Clive in India: in the popular imagination, the Empire was built by remarkable men, all by themselves.

Singapore was no exception — and the myth endures to this day. Stamford Raffles continues to dominate its pedestals, revered as the inspired founder who built an international trading enclave from the island swamp at the foot of the Malay peninsula where he disembarked in 1819.

Into this dusty tale Nadia Wright throws a much-needed stick of revisionist dynamite. Raffles is here portrayed as a reckless, inept opportunist, a bully and a hypocrite, who stole the crown from the man actually responsible for building the entrepot. Spare a thought for Raffles’s second-in-command, a tall, gentle Scotsman named William Farquhar.

Most versions place Farquhar at the margins of the story, presenting him as the bumbling, incompetent caretaker of Raffles’s brainchild for the first three years of the territory’s history, wandering around in military uniform with his stick and his dogs. But without him, Wright argues, Singapore would never have survived.

Although some new research has allowed Farquhar a greater role, Wright goes into unprecedented detail in this respect, having sifted through piles of East India Company documents to unearth the truth. Farquhar, it is immediately obvious, was far from incompetent. In his previous post as commandant of Malacca, he had only been expected to oversee this Dutch possession while the Netherlands were occupied by Napoleon. Yet he managed to turn around the Malay state and its capital entirely, creating substantial profits after years of losses.

The great range of merchants who traded there — Arab, Indian, Chinese, Malay and European — affectionately knew him as the ‘Rajah of Malacca’; and news that Farquhar was to run the show in Singapore in the early 1820s gave more than 5,000 of these merchants the confidence to leave their homes in Malacca and risk settling in the fledgling trading post. So concerned were the Dutch, they even blockaded the harbour to prevent a mass exodus.

Farquhar’s secret in both settlements was to cooperate closely with the local population, using his expert knowledge of Malay culture and politics developed over 25 years in the East. He promoted trading relations by networking with the different communities of south-east Asia and often acted as a cultural go-between, explaining to the British why certain actions in Malacca would upset the Malays and suggesting diplomatic alternatives. He did everything possible to make Singapore appeal to local traders, even permitting gambling and opium dens, provided a licence was paid — which ended up funding the Singapore police.

That Farquhar’s role has been neglected for so long is extraordinary. But the more remarkable part of the story is that Singapore exists at all. From the start, Raffles did not inspire confidence. Singapore was considered just one in a long line of failed settlements that he had attempted to found in the South China Sea. His superiors in the East India Company despaired of anything he touched, and refused to back the project. He had caused diplomatic headaches in the past by trying to settle in Dutch territory, and his spell as lieutenant- governor of Java between 1811 and 1816 had haemorrhaged money. To one frustrated colleague he was ‘a man who sets a house on fire, and then runs away’.

When Raffles departed Singapore a few months after his arrival in 1819, he left Farquhar understaffed, underfunded and under-stocked, having issued hopelessly impractical orders to be carried out in his absence. Farquhar was directed to obtain supplies from Raffles’s command post six weeks’ journey away, rather than from another British port only eight days’ distance, whose governor Raffles disliked. That Farquhar managed to build up Singapore from scratch in these conditions is all the more impressive.

But keen to safeguard his legacy, Raffles returned almost four years later and removed Farquhar from his post on exaggerated, misleading and hypocritical charges, about which he kept him in the dark to prevent him organising a defence. These charges, and a later glowing memoir by Raffles’s widow, resulted in the two men swapping roles in the history books. Still dotted across the island are streets, squares, statues, schools, museums, libraries, the famous hotel and even a lighthouse all stamped with the name of Raffles. But there is not a single memorial to William Farquhar.

It is a pity that Wright focuses so narrowly on Farquhar’s desk job, as the glimpses we have of his personal life are intriguing. He soon dispensed with his uniform in favour of looser garments, and his household included a pet leopard, a tame tapir (which would arrive at the dinner table hoping for cake) and even a Malay mistress. Being a keen naturalist, he also commissioned Chinese artists to paint a magnificent series of watercolours, illustrating the fauna and flora of Malacca and Singapore, now preserved as the Willliam Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings.

Clearly, he was a man devoted to the East and fascinated by its ancient, flourishing civilisations. Instead of remaining aloof, he chose to interact with the local population almost to the point of assimilation. This book, not to mention the existence of Singapore itself, is a reminder of how profitable this attitude could be. Going native didn’t always lead to the Heart of Darkness.

Raffles Stole Singapore

Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’

The Guardian
Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’
Decca Aitkenhead
8 December 2017

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have free will – a book by a US academic has analysed the unconscious, evolutionary instincts driving modern society and the results are a chilling indictment on how far we are yet to come.

As the year’s end draws near, many of us look back and reflect on what we got right and got wrong during the past 12 months. For some, this will be a less agreeable experience than for others, but however you feel about your behaviour in 2017, you will almost certainly assume that the choices you made were your own.

You could not, according to John Bargh, be more wrong. The Yale psychologist has just written a book, Before You Know It, about the eye-opening extent to which our actions are dictated by forces within us to which we are almost entirely oblivious. Who knew, for example, that we feel less hostile to people different to ourselves after washing our hands? Or that the reason why you’re feeling so friendly is the cup of piping hot coffee you are holding? Or that parents who want to encourage their children to be generous will have more success by turning the room temperature up than by telling them to share? Bargh’s book, as Malcolm Gladwell puts it, “moves our understanding of the mysteries of human behaviour one giant step forward” – not least in helping make sense of some of the big stories of 2017.

The 62-year-old American is a big, smiley man, but his demeanour is at odds with the rather depressing message of his work. Human beings’ brains, it explains, are primed by prudent and rational evolutionary instincts to trust people who look like us, and to fear those who look “other” as a threat. This goes some way to explain why, despite all of modern society’s efforts to promote progressive values of openness and equality, and for all our stated intolerance of prejudice, social progress is so agonisingly slow. That’s pretty dispiriting, isn’t it?

“Yes, I hate to say it, but yes. Democracy is an advance past the tribal nature of our being, the tribal nature of society, which was there for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. It’s very easy for us to fall back into our tribal, evolutionary nature – tribe against tribe, us against them. It’s a very powerful motivator.” Because it speaks to our most primitive self? “Yes, and we don’t realise how powerful it is.” Until we have understood its power, Bargh argues, we have no hope of overcoming it. “So that’s what we have to do.” As he writes: “Refusing to believe the evidence, just to maintain one’s belief in free will, actually reduces the amount of free will that person has.”

If unconscious racism is an ancestral legacy, it is also reinforced by contemporary culture. Bargh offers a study of popular prime-time US TV shows – Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, Bones – in which participants who had never seen the programme before were shown scenes in which the main character interacted with either a black or white character. The scenes were edited, however, to show only the main character. The audio was also removed, so that participants could see only the main character’s non-verbal communication – facial expressions, gestures, body language – towards the off-screen character. They were then asked to judge how the visible character felt towards the unseen character.

“These are shows, remember,” Bargh says, “that intentionally tried to have equal-power black and white characters. It’s not like the black people on the show are all the criminals, and the white people are all the detectives. They have the black detective and white detective; they actually have equal power.”

The findings were chilling. The main character was consistently judged to be conspicuously more positive towards the show’s white characters, and more negative towards its black characters.

“They don’t script it that way. And it’s not intended by the producers or actors of the show. There are programmes that do intend it – but we’re even talking about the ones that don’t, and it still has this massive effect. It’s conveyed so powerfully to people watching that, after they see it, they have more negative automatic attitudes towards black people. The research found that the more they see of shows like that, the more they have more of a racist attitude.”

Anyone who has ever wondered why minorities often object about what colour a doll comes in, say, might reconsider their scepticism about the importance of culture after reading Bargh’s book. He presents a study of two sets of Asian-American five-year-old girls, who were asked to perform maths tests after being “primed” with activities designed to trigger their unconscious sense of identity. One group was asked to colour in pictures of Asians eating with chopsticks; the other to colour in pictures of a girl holding a doll. The first group dramatically outperformed the second in the maths test. By the age of just five, they had absorbed the cultural stereotypes that Asians are good at maths and girls are bad.

“These Asian-American girls are not hearing at home that girls can’t do maths,” Bargh points out. “These are Harvard preschool kids; the parents are, like, tiger mums and dads. A lot of them brought the children into the study thinking that being in this Harvard study at age five would help their girl get into Harvard at age 18: that’s how motivated they are. They’re not the ones who are telling the girls they can’t do maths. It’s in the culture we soak up, without even knowing it.”

Bargh decided to test his own unconscious racial bias, using a complex system of word association and physical reflexes devised to eliminate any possibility of him consciously dictating his responses. He was dismayed to discover that his unconscious associated “white” with “good” and “black” with “bad”. However, he found he could override his bias by deploying the power of imagination. He sat the tests again, and got opposite results, “simply by really trying to feel as if I was a black person. Now obviously with no experience, it’s laughable that I could try – but I really did try to convince myself temporarily that OK, I’m a black person. And I reversed the results.”

In a fascinating study conducted by Bargh, participants were invited to imagine they had a superpower that rendered them safe from all physical harm, and were then quizzed on their social attitudes. Half the participants were liberals, and half conservatives. The imaginary superpower had no impact on liberals’ social attitudes. “Feeling physically safe,” however, “significantly changed the conservative participants’ social attitudes to being similar to those of liberals.”

This worked, he explains, because research has found that “conservatives have larger fear centres of the brain. They’re more concerned with physical safety than liberals.” Once we feel afraid, our own fear can further distort our perception of actual danger. For example, research has found that when people become new parents of a tiny, vulnerable baby, they begin to believe their local crime rate is going up, even if it is falling. “That happened to me,” Bargh admits. “After my daughter was born, suddenly we felt that the neighbourhood was getting so dangerous that we had to leave.”

Even more pertinent to current world events is Bargh’s research into sexual harassment. In the 1990s, an esteemed law professor had studied supreme court cases of sexual harassment and concluded that 75% of the accused genuinely did not realise they were doing anything wrong. Intrigued, Bargh devised a study to see if this could really be true.

Participants were asked to fill out an anonymous questionnaire devised to reveal their willingness to use power over a woman to extract sexual favours if guaranteed to get away with it. Some were asked to rate a female participant’s attractiveness. Others were first primed by a word-association technique, using words such as “boss”, “authority”, “status” and “power”, and then asked to rate her. Bargh found the power-priming made no difference whatsoever to men who had scored low on sexual harassment and aggression tendencies. Among men who had scored highly, however, it was a very different case. Without the notion of power being activated in their brains, they found her unattractive. She only became attractive to them once the idea of power was active in their minds.

This, Bargh suggests, might explain how sexual harassers can genuinely tell themselves: “‘I’m behaving like anybody does when they’re attracted to somebody else. I’m flirting. I’m asking her out. I want to date her. I’m doing everything that you do if you’re attracted to somebody.’ What they don’t realise is the reason they’re attracted to her is because of their power over her. That’s what they don’t get.”

Perhaps the single most confronting revelation of Bargh’s work is its implications for consumer capitalism. It’s not that our economic model makes us sad – although it does – so much that making us sad is good for consumer capitalism.

He describes a study by a Harvard social psychologist. “It found that sad people not only buy more, but they pay more. They’re willing to pay more because, basically, when we’re sad, we want to change state.” Someone feeling sad would rather spend £100 than £10, “because it changes the state more. And stores know this.”

Ever wondered why shops like to pipe out mournful music, or why Walmart plays Céline Dion on a loop? Well, Bargh grins – there’s your answer.

“They don’t want us to be happy; they want us to be sad. Politicians want us to be fearful. All these things are not in our own interests at all. They’re manipulating us for their own interest, and against our own, and I think that’s horrible.”

Before You Know It; The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do, by John Bargh, is published by Penguin Random. To order a copy for £17 (RRP £20) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders minimum p&p of £1.99.

Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’