The British transformed Singapore from a sleepy fishing town to a bustling trading port- but we eventually had to transcend them to move forward. What about the PAP?
It’s always interesting how you have ideas like “literacy is the path out of poverty”, and “we need an educated workforce for economic growth”- because what typically happens in these scenarios is that you create something that ultimately undermines your own authority.
Think about it. The Nationalists in Southeast Asia all learned their rhetoric as students in Western Universities. Lee Kuan Yew would never have developed his arguments had he never been taught by ang mohs in Raffles Institution, and more ang mohs over in Cambridge. So in a way, Western thinking was what undermined colonialism and gave rise to independence in Southeast Asia- and everywhere else, probably.
The Singapore government is now going through pretty much the same thing- as Singaporeans become more educated, they become more sensitive to any bullshit coming down from on high.
Here’s the question- did Western thinking undermine Western influence, or did it enforce it? In a way, the West has won. The Western narrative has become the global narrative- ideas of justice and freedom and such have been adapted to local contexts. We might not believe in individualistic freedom as much as our Western counterparts, but we ourselves are fiercely individualistic in defending our right to think differently from them. Think about that one. (In a way, the Westerners are being kinda “Asian” by suggesting that everybody listen to Uncle Sam… deference to authority, isn’t it?)
We overthrew the shackles of colonialism using the colonists own arguments- does that make us superior, or inferior? You begin to realize that such terminology becomes altogether redundant. We have to adapt to survive.
The more you empower your children, the less likely it will be that you can deceive them. This is a good thing, especially if you care about their survival. The truth is more important than your overbearing dominance. You exist to empower your children, not smother them. And part of that empowering involves teaching them to rise above you.
You could see this as the undermining of your authority, and see it in your interests to keep them stupid and uneducated. But I find that to be an incredibly narrow, selfish perspective. If you really cared about what’s best for yourself, then you must realize that you should nurture the successors who will eventually take over. (If you don’t do this peacefully, you just might find yourself being beheaded in a revolution! Happens pretty often.) We should stop clinging to forms, and focus instead on constant renewal and rebirth.
The PAP should acknowledge that it will one day be obsolete- and the PAP leadership should be proud of that fact! It’s just like how parents should feel proud to watch their children discard their earlier frameworks and forge their own path. That was what Lee Kuan Yew did in the face of colonialism, and that is what we must do in the face of the PAP.
It’s a remarkably natural process. Singapore attained great heights as a British colony, but its strength eventually became its weakness. Similarly, we attained great heights under the PAP leadership, but this strength will eventually become our weakness. (You could argue that it already is.) Singapore had to rise above being a British colony, and one day it will have to rise above the PAP.
This is a continous, endless process, and it will be something that our future leaders have to keep in mind, too. The best sort of public service you can do is to teach people to think for themselves, to take care of themselves, to make yourself redundant. The British did eventually make themselves redundant. The PAP should, too. This is the role of all parents, authors, creators.
I’m not saying the PAP should disappear altogether. I imagine that they will continue to play an important role, and always will- the same way our parents still matter after we leave home and start families of our own. When I say “PAP”, I’m technically referring to a very specific form of the PAP. If the PAP is to continue to survive, it will have to adapt, and change, and eventually become something completely different from what it is now, from what it was before.
There is no survival strategy that allows for absolute deference to centralized authority. Nobody is that smart, not even the PAP leaders. As Chan Chun Sing once said- diversity is the only survival strategy.
The PAP’s greatest achievement, then, will be that it has sown the seeds of its own ‘destruction’. It has built a country that has begun to learn to think for itself. What would Singapore be like if we never sought independence from the British? It’s a pretty frightening thought! And what will Singapore be like, if we never seek independence from the PAP? This is what motivates me to be an opposition supporter, at least for now. I’m not happy with the quality of opposition that we’re getting right now, but I find it even worse to cling on to our old ways.
We need the leadership of people who are driven and passionate. Hey, Stamford Raffles was probably a driven, passionate guy. And so the colony flourished. Eventually it stagnated. Then came along more driven and passionate people- Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam, Toh Chin Chye and gang. Eventually it stagnated.
I’ve always thought that the PAP way was defined by ruthless pragmatism. Perhaps it was Lee Kuan Yew’s way. But I believe it’s shaped our policies, our thoughts, and our behaviour. Singaporeans have become a very pragmatic people.
What’s the pragmatic thing to do now, moving forward? I think it’s clear what needs to happen.
“If we fix on the old, we get stuck. When we hang onto any form, we are in danger of putrefaction.
“Hell is life drying up.
“The Hoarder, the the one in us that wants to keep, to hold on, must be killed. If we are hanging onto the form now, we’re not going to have the form next.”
– Joseph Campbell
Diversity is the only survival strategy. The PAP taught us to be pragmatic. The pragmatic thing to do is to embrace diversity. If the PAP did its job well, it has sown the seeds of its own ‘destruction’- at least of its current super-dominant form.