PSC doesn’t like this

by Shihang

What kind of Singapore would you like to see in 15 years’ time?


What I would like to see in the next 15 years is a move away from the sort of rigidity of thought that still characterises a sizeable part of the Singaporean population. In a world with kaleidoscopic comparative advantages and an increasing emphasis on high-skilled industries like pharmaceuticals and finance, flexibility of thought becomes more important as Singaporeans move to adapt to these changes. What I wish to see is a Singapore where people are comfortable engaging with arguments rather than slogans, where there is not a prima facie rejection of ideas and attitudes because they differ from the traditional way things are done.

This includes a shift away from the sense of anti-intellectualism felt in some parts of society so that important issues are not simply talked about, but rigorously debated. Economically and socially, Singapore has developed into a very robust country-state, with a resilient economy and considerable success at engineering a national identity.  Unlike other countries like the United States who formulate policy on the basis of metaphysical non-entities like ‘justice’ or the ‘American way’, Singapore has always emphasised sensible governance, supporting the policies that work, and being careful to understand why it works. However, Singapore society is vastly different. In social policy and education policy, admirable government initiatives are reduced to cheesy slogans, fit for mass consumption. For example, the population policy “have three or more (children) if you can afford it” manages to be axiomatic without being convincing, and while I do not reject their veracity, I question the simplistic manner in which it is presented.

Personally, I feel that any meaningful vision of the future must recognise that the national spirit evolves organically and it is neither possible nor desirable to manufacture virtues for the self-propagation of society. It is important to realise that society is not an end in itself, but a means to empower the individual, not vice versa. The Singapore I would like to see in 15 years will take a more sophisticated approach to nationalism, where citizens are not exhorted to love them their country on the basis on faith. The important thing is that people are convinced by the need for defend their country.

In my opinion, uncritical thinking is also the cause behind many societal issues, like discrimination and xenophobia. The most apparent manifestation of the blight of uncritical thinking is undoubtedly discrimination in any shape or form. Personally, I have been picked on because of my nationality. I was born in China but have been in Singapore for over 14 years. Yet constantly, I am irritated by unsubtle and crude stereotypes about my place of birth. People still feel the need to register surprise at my adequate grasp of English. I hope to see Singaporeans being more critical in evaluating their stereotypes towards various groups in society, and the purposes these stereotypes serve.

All this, one may argue, betrays an immature idealism. Will a culture of debate cripple the efficiency of our legislative system, much like what is happening in America? I believe that the inefficiency of the American system is the result of emphasising debate as a virtue in itself. The participants disagree primarily not because of any fundamental disagreement, but because of misinformation and dogmatic thinking. This is why I hope that in 15 years time, Singaporeans will be well-equipped to face to moral and social challenges that inevitably arise as the power of the nation state is eroded by non-state actors. An ability to consider issues in their entirety and openness to new arguments are essential to ensure meaningful debate, where disagreement is reflective of genuine problems we have to tackle.