Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Drum Aged With Moss

In politics, in political science, there is often this argument about political idealism as opposed to political realism. In History, examples of realpolitik always appear to hold greater sway than idealism. The failed Wilsonian League of Nations, the appeasement policy of Chamberlain somehow get construed as instances of idealism. But yet there abound in History as well examples of visionary political movements and acts of iconic political resonance which define an era. Mahatma Gandhi's non violence movements, Netanyahu's Middle East peace overtures, Rosa Parks' simple act of defiance. Is it really about realism against idealism in politics? I do not think so. While adherence to logic, reason, practicality and interest gains and consolidates political power, it is from acts of political grace which trancends power into History.

Yesterday, the new Singapore Government was sworn in. In a ceremony of necessary sobriety, political power was officially handed to the new Government by its erstwhile caretaker, the Singapore President. In their addresses, both the President and the Prime Minister recognised that the future of Singapore lay in its youth. And both addresses had a subtext that the Government has been somewhat remiss in its engagement of this group of Singaporeans. Furthermore, in the Prime Minister's address, there was also a subtle hint or concession that perhaps, there is a growing perception of inequalities existing in Singapore society. What is perhaps more worrying for the Government is this : the perception of inequalities is tinted with unhappiness that the better-off in Singapore are getting favoured treatment. Politics of envy.

So there are really two issues identified to be key in the next five years for Singapore, for Singaporeans. Engaging the young Singaporeans. Levelling inequalities between Singaporeans. The way to solve both issues, as evidenced from the address, is to grow the "small" Singapore economy and raise income to improve the "standards of living". And to do this, the Government and the people must be united. And then, this postive progress will create that unity between Government and people.

Unity to beget further unity. So then, after this textual distillation, we arrive at unity.

The real key.


You cannot buy unity. To unite a group of people requires a little bit of legitimacy and large doses of charisma. To unite a group of peoples, you need that fable. To unite a group of human beings, you need political grace. To get this group of peoples to dream a common dream even when they are a million miles apart. Instead of dreaming of Neverwhere, of California.

The nightmare of any Government is this line from Schoppert in my earlier entry : "at night, it seems everyone is dreaming about somewhere else." It is not about the different shades of green on the grasslands on whichever side. Its not about angst-ridden navel gazing. The problem lies where people's dreams are in Neverland, when their gaze is always turned towards a faraway Mirror. Because this begins a fissuring which is perhaps irrevocable. A dis-unity, a dis-placement with little chance of mending.

The sense is that such a mood is more prevalent, "a rule rather than exception", helped perhaps by an empowering education which provides an "all access pass" out of Singapore. But why out? Because this education empowers us but ironically, cannot be expressed to its full-ness in Singapore, it cannot give us the sense that we can "uphold the ideals of a democratic society based on justice and equality". And this emptiness translates to an inability "to offer my country" anything. Nothing. Nothing is left but "an empty shell of a corporeal body". How then can we "Majullah Singapura"?

So the Prime Minister's and the President's address is correct. It is about Unity. But is it enough only to grow the economy? To buy the unity? In GE 2006, many millions of dollars were dangled in front of Hougang and Potong Pasir. But it did not buy unity. If the newly sworn-in Government believes in unity, then it must begin with acts of political grace, to win back the people's hearts and not buy them back. "We have built a society where every Singa­porean has access to good housing, education, healthcare, and much more". So yes, we look at the injustice meted out to Hougang and Potong Pasir and wait for unity.

Unity requires acts of political grace by those who hold political power.

In ancient Chinese fable history, there is a legendary sage ruler known as Yao. To ensure good governance, Yao set up a drum outside the palace walls where any subject who wished to admonish him, or who wished redress of grievances could strike the drum. But the drum grew moss and the cattails were rotted. In Singapore, there are such admonitory drums too, but they never grow moss because the guards clean them every day.


Quote of the Day --

"The punishment whips and cattails are rotted ... on the admonitory drum, the moss is deep. And the birds are not disturbed." -- an old Japanese poem, Wakan roeishu


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The feedback unit is seriously a joke.

1:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


3:35 AM  
Blogger *The Lunatic Fringe* said...

In Singapore, feedback only works if you are within the elite circles. What you say matters only if you are who's who in Singapore.

Take MP Irene Ng's comments about how Ministers will listen to PAP MPs more than Opposition MPs. It's not what you say or the merits of your argument. It's who you are that allows your words to get up to the powers-that-be.

From my own NS experience, I realise the bonding in my reservist unit comes about because of our shared experiences through tough military training exercises where we were put through, together, challenges that we overcame together. In reservist, even ranks become less important, i.e. I help out in the work as the next men (whether men or specialist). The dissonance that arises is that the PAP lead by telling you what is good for you, and not swallowing the bitter medicine themselves. The moral authority to lead CPF cuts rings hollow when at $1m annual salaries, CPF cuts hardly dent a minister's paycheck, but means a lot to majority earning $2-3k a mth.

How can there be unity when the wage gap is obscene? How can there be unity when there is a "White Horse" system. How can there be unity where some people are more equal than others?

12:49 AM  

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