Animal Farm and National Education

Have you ever read Animal Farm? It’s a book by George Orwell, reflecting events leading up to and during the Stalin era before World War II.

The novel addresses not only the corruption of the revolution by its leaders but also how wickedness, indifference, ignorance, greed and myopia corrupt the revolution. While this novel portrays corrupt leadership as the flaw in revolution (and not the act of revolution itself), it also shows how potential ignorance and indifference to problems within a revolution could allow horrors to happen if a smooth transition to a people’s government is not achieved.

If you haven’t read it, you really should. It describes how the few who rise to power with good intentions, to free their people from oppression, can end up becoming the oppressors themselves.

Now consider the following National Education messages:

  1. No one owes Singapore a living.
    We find our own way to survive and prosper, turning challenge into opportunity.
  2. We must ourselves defend Singapore.
    We are proud to defend Singapore ourselves, no one else is responsible for our security and well-being.

These were originally written in response to colonial rule and to the Japanese Occupation. Those were the oppressors that we were fighting off- that was the rhetoric that the PAP government used to motivate and encourage us to work hard, to accept that sacrifices had to be made. (National Service, for instance.)

In this frame of reference, the PAP-dominated government is elected by the Singaporean people. The PAP, in a way, represents Singapore. (We must ourselves defend the PAP.)

But consider the more ‘universal’ case presented by George Orwell. Eventually, the oppressed become the oppressors. A nation is more than its government.

Our National Education messages are principles. And the principles here, as I see them, are independence and personal responsibility.

As such, I argue that these principles are violated when we become overly dependent on the PAP, and when we relinquish personal responsibility for the state of our Nation to the Government.

If we’re violating the principles of nation-building, then we are diminishing the health of our Nation. Being unthinkingly supportive (or critical!) of the PAP is bad for Singapore. 

We should not be depending on any single agent for Singapore’s survival. It should be a collective effort. Nobody should be bigger than the collective. The PAP’s rhetoric used to be somewhat dominated by threats and fear-mongering. If not for the PAP, Singapore would fall into chaos- there would be riots, our women would be maids in other countries, so on and so forth.

If you use a parenting analogy again, the incumbent Government is like an overbearing parent who refuses to let his children out of his sight- because the kids don’t know how to make decisions, don’t know how to handle their lives. If the parent were not around, the kids would surely fall to ruin.

Again, what does that say about the quality of parenting? What kind of parent are you, if you strive to keep your children so dependent on you that they cannot fend for themselves? What kind of government are you, if you strive to keep your people dependent on your political party for survival?

From what I understand, the Singapore Government is full of hardworking Singaporeans who keep the country running, regardless of the people at the top. The people who really run the show are the people who show up to work everyday, doing all the mundane nitty-gritty work. I salute you all.

I don’t mean to portray the PAP as a villain, or to black out all the good things that they have done for us. Similarly, I’m not asking you to rush out and vote for the Opposition at the next General Election. The “villain” here is not a person, entity or an institution. If we have to frame this as some sort of war, we are fighting ignorance, intolerance, fear and the like.


Our leaders told us that no one owes a living, and that we must ourselves defend Singapore.

This is true. No one owes us a living, not even our leaders. We find our own way to survive and prosper, turning challenge into opportunity.

No one owes us a living. We must ourselves defend Singapore.