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Figure ∞: The passing of Queen Elizabeth II

Welcome to Figure ∞! Each Figure ∞ post rounds up commentary and ideas from around the world about current affairs happenings, and poses reflection questions for use in EL, GP and ELL through the 8-function model from Individuation Theory in combination with a number of other useful schematic frameworks and compartmentalisation schemes, such as the SPERM/PERMS, stakeholders and Social World models, as well as some subjective commentary from my own point-of-view as a gay, non-binary millennial Singaporean language revitalization worker, scholar and teacher. All posts are not necessarily comprehensive, and will not use all sixteen of the 8-function patterns; rather, they are meant to demonstrate the process of deduction and argumentation that the author (and by extension any student) will undergo with the facts and information available to them.

The death of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom on 8 September 2022 was of course a very somber affair for many in the (British-)Eurasian community, who looked up to her as the preeminent symbol of not simply British middle-class identity and civilising values that brought such progress and change to Singapore, but of ideals of dignity, decorum, duty and respect that she maintained even in her very advanced age. On a wider scale, however, reactions have been more mixed, even within the Eurasian community and Singapore, as well as elsewhere in the world; let's use those reactions to try and understand why this might be the case, and why she might still be such a divisive and polarising figure.

Type I / Details with respect to Respect (Si-Fe)

Matt Fitzpatrick at Australian newspaper The Conversation sums up the situation nicely for us in the title of his opinion piece observing Elizabeth's passing: "The Queen has left her mark around the world. But not all see it as something to be celebrated". And why would that be the case? As Fitzpatrick puts it,

Is it possible to disentangle the personal attributes of a gentle and kindly woman from her role as the crowned head of a declining global empire that waged numerous wars and resisted those demanding independence across the globe? (...) How the queen and her reign is being remembered depends on where the remembering is taking place and by whom.

EL/GP Paper 1 & 2/AQ: If the only ex-Commonwealth countries that you know of are Singapore and Malaysia, now's the time to widen that mental model! Take a look at how Kenya, Malawi and Fiji responded to the queen's passing.

  • What incidents or events shaped how people in these countries have chosen to memorialise Elizabeth's passing? How do they differ from how you have noticed Singaporeans have been responding to the event?

  • Are the events that happened in other Commonwealth countries on par with what happened when the British were in control of Singapore? If they are, then why do we remember them differently?

Type III / Relations with respect to Completion (Fe-Si)

Indeed, the old adage about how one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter is especially interesting when it comes to analysing the legacy of the British Empire and how we as average individuals perceive and relate to that time period. Just a month before Elizabeth's passing, while being sworn in to the Australian Senate, new Australian senator Lidia Thorpe added the word colonizing while taking her oath during the swearing-in ceremony as follows:

I, sovereign Lidia Thorpe, do solemnly and sincerely affirm and declare that I will be faithful, and I bear true allegiance to the colonizing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II—

Senator Thorpe is of DjabWurrung, Gunnai and Gunditjmara descent, and was the first Aboriginal woman serving in Australia's national parliament in 2020 after being elected at state level in Victoria in 2017.

GP Paper 2/AQ & ELL: Language is key in getting at the deeper nuances behind different responses to who Elizabeth was and what she symbolised; taking a closer look at how your own fellow citizens have responded to her passing can prove instructive in unlocking deeper awareness of the trends happening within our various collectives.

  • First, consider the lexemes occupation and colonisation; what emotive associations or connections does each term bring up, and how do they invite us to characterise each period differently?

  • Why don't we in Singapore call the period when the British controlled Singapore the British Occupation, like how we call the Japanese Occupation the Japanese Occupation? Why would other countries do otherwise, and what does that suggest about the different relationships each state has with the United Kingdom?

  • Thorpe's act, in itself, some might argue, does not do very much; the single word colonizing in itself does not change the semantic meaning of the sentence to that strong a degree. However, consider the pragmatic and performative aspects of the context of her utterance. What was the performative intent of her speech act, and how did her inclusion of the word affect it?

  • And indeed, why couldn't Thorpe have demonstrated her displeasure in some other fashion? What about the Purpose and Audience of her speech act was so critical to what she was attempting to achieve?

Type VI / Values with respect to Identity (Fi-Ne)

Senator Thorpe included what Town & Country Magazine identified as a "Black Power salute", which to the uninitiated may seem to be far beyond the ambit of her identity as a person of merely indigenous descent, and not African-American descent. But it is important to recognise that the anger and fear felt by people across the world whenever the British Empire and Elizabeth's names are mentioned is not simply palpable but grounded in the history of that Empire's effects across the globe on non-British populations, especially populations and communities that had darker (or in some cases just non-white) skin, my own included.

EL/GP Paper 1 & ELL: Take a look at Melissa De Silva's piece for Esquire on Kristang and its revitalisation led by myself, and compare how Kristang is characterised vis-a-vis English.

  • Why would Portuguese-Eurasians, who like me are darker-skinned, want to not just learn English as their mother tongue, but identify it as such and, like De Silva's great-grandfather, enforce the speaking of English, when Kristang would be a perfectly usable language within the community? What factors do you think would come into play?

  • Connect the factors you have delineated to Senator Thorpe's behaviour, and what you understand about the legacy of the British Empire on indigenous, creole and other minority communities. Why do you think many such communities would have such a mixed-to-hostile reaction against the queen, and an indifferent-to-completely-apathetic reaction against her death?

  • Do we need to have the reactions that we often do about creoles, indigenous communities and communities of colour, where to the average person, there are still many negative stereotypes and prejudices associated with each of them? Why do you think these might even exist?

(And if you live in Singapore and need even more information and a sense of the vibe of such communities in comparison with the Eurasians, check out the National Gallery's fantastic exhibition Ever Present: First Peoples Art of Australia running until September 25 of this year.)

Type VII / Structures with respect to Evaluation (Te-Si)

Based on my own analysis, Elizabeth's psyche was likely of this ego-pattern

The argument that then one usually considers is, to what degree can we blame Elizabeth II for the strictures of an empire that was largely, at least at face value, beyond her control as a mostly ceremonial head-of-state? As Nora Greevy observes in The Smithsonian Magazine, Elizabeth definitely seems to have said the right things when it comes to exemplifying herself as a progressive figure:

Elizabeth was a private person who spent much of her life squarely in the public’s gaze. (...) “[T]he Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of the past,” the queen said in her inaugural 1953 Christmas broadcast. “It is an entirely new conception built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man. … To that new conception of an equal partnership of nations and races I shall give myself heart and soul every day of my life.”

EL/GP Paper 1: Consider the major facets of Elizabeth II's life as outlined in Greevy's piece for The Smithsonian Magazine.

  • Would it be fair to say, based on those details and others that you have collected, to say that Elizabeth embodied the imperial spirit of the British Empire to such a degree that we can blame or not blame her for the decisions that were made by her Prime Ministers?

  • Should one individual, indeed, be allowed to either take credit or blame in such a broad fashion, no matter how natural it may seem? (A question that has come up in A-Level papers before!)

  • Do we hold other celebrities to such standards? What makes Elizabeth different or similar?

Type II / Routines with respect to Stability (Si-Te)

You could even argue that Elizabeth was concerned with the symbolic to the degree that she actively seems to have presented an image of ignoring the symbolic. As Maya Jasanoff argues in The New York Times, although Elizabeth II was "a fixture of stability" and someone who, by therefore just existing, brought a sense of security and comfort to many across the world, she was also

as devoid of opinions and emotions in public as her ubiquitous handbags were said to be of everyday items like a wallet, keys and phone. Of her inner life we learned little beyond her love of horses and dogs.

EL/GP Paper 1: Consider the intersection of those two sub-arguments, that Elizabeth was "a fixture of stability", but was also largely lacking in meaningful substance in how she enacted and performed that role.

  • If she appealed to so many people, as Jasanoff (and many others, including myself above) observe, what does that tell you about what people wanted or desired from her, and what people wanted or desired in general?

  • Did we actually need to know about her inner life? Why or why not? What does that say about how we respond to celebrities, and what we demand from them? Was it fair to treat Elizabeth as an average individual? Would she be entitled to her privacy?

GP Paper 2/AQ: Who plays the role that Elizabeth did in the United Kingdom in Singapore? Familiarise yourself with the Republic of Singapore Presidency and how it differs from the British monarchy, even though it succeeded the latter, and then, compare the ways we approach both institutions.

  • Do we expect our Head of State (currently President Madam Halimah Yacob) to be "a fixture of stability"? Why or why not?

  • Do we also expect our Head of State to have a clear, visible inner life? Why or why not?

  • Would you say the British public and the Singaporean public have different expectations of their Heads of State?


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