Living in a pure bred world
The following was posed to me in an email correspondence by a Straits Times Insight journalist seeking comments on recent comments made by Lee Kuan Yew. My comments follow in green.
The context: In reply to a question on what he sees in Singapore in 40 years and how he'd feel if the opposition did not prevail in those 40 years, Singapore's "Minister Mentor" Lee Kuan Yew spoke of the challenges Singapore faces as a "little red dot surrounded by green". Thus, the need for Singapore to have a government that was "really firm, stout-hearted, subtle and resolute". He went on to say that the attitude of Malaysia and Indonesia towards Singapore was shaped by the way they treated their ethnic minorities, and added: "My neighbours both have problems with their Chinese. They are successful, they are hardworking and therefore they are systematically marginalised, even in education. And they want Singapore, to put it simply, to be like their Chinese - compliant."
MM's bottomline was that Spore being a small kid in a tough neighbourhood exists under very different circumstances from other small liberal democracies, for eg NZ (which has also a population of 4 million) - and that is why we need a strong govt.
MM's position seems to be that this is one of the unchanging fundamentals about Singapore - and this explains why he and the PAP leadership are fight so hard against the growing desire for more opposition voices. Does this view need to change? Does Singapore need more opposition?
It is a fallacy to state that Singapore's unique circumstances require us to have a "strong government". Every country exists in a unique situation, and each requires not only "strong", but also responsible and good governments to lead them to progress and prosperity. MM Lee's comments must be taken in context of Singapore's leaders of the 50's and 60's being subjected not only to racial politics, but also Communism and Marxism. In order for the PAP to overcome and prevail, they had to adopt strategies that were undoubtedbly successful and effective at quashing the opposition. But are these strategies still relevant in the 21st Century?
Living in a society where there is only one ruling party can be analagous to being raised in a pure-bred family. In pedigreed animals, certain traits have been carefully selected and bred for over generations (in Singapore's case - three to four generations now!), but what few people know is that pure-breds are prone to genetic diseases and less adaptible to any kind of change - be it environmental, social or otherwise. Mixed breeds, on the other hand, offer several advantages - having a diverse genetic gene pool to select from, natural selection and evolution allows mixed breeds to select the best traits to be passed on, with each generation "learning" and improving on the last.
Yes, Singapore can continue to grow and improve by following the pedigree strategy, but we run the risk of finding ourselves selecting for traits that are no longer in favor in the near future. Our systematic silencing of opposing voices may yet be our downfall by making us less resilient to changes in the global environment.
Singapore no longer exists in the same set of conditions as it did in the 60's. We are now members of a global developed society which thrives above all on its diversity of ideas. In order for Singapore to fully participate in this new world, we must change our ideas of how different, or opposing views, may be welcomed instead of repressed. Most other developed nations have learnt how to embrace and manage this difference in ideas, philsophies and principles, harnessing it to create societies that not only tolerate, but embrace diversity. In this regard, it would be a shame for Singapore to still be in a 1960's mindset, where controlling and limiting ideas was the way to make progress.