Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Problem with Knowledge

Allot of people have asked me why I bother entertaining a certain young grassroots leader from Pasir Ris GRC. At the age of 18, this young man has mastered the art of incoherence. When confronted by a clear and reasonable argument, the young man retreats into a rant on the most indefensible cases. While most young men his age become idealistic to do good, he strives to climb the most slippery pole of the political achievement. So, why do I bother sitting down to listen to his incoherant rants? A part of it is ego. He provides me with an audience and his comments add spice to my postings. But I think the most important part of my dialogues with him, is that he's had an inevitable talent of drawing out the issues that I've commented on

Singaporeans are on the whole like most people. There are good ones, bad ones, pretty ones and ugly ones. Perhaps its just me, but I've started to notice a trend of incoherance and gobbldygook speakers becoming more prominent in public life. Two examples that have come to mind are Nominated Member of Parliament, Professor Thio Li-Ann and Young PAP member, Nicholas Lazarus. Both Professor Thio and Mr Lazarus have mastered the art of disguising ignorance as public morality. As I've said in previous writings, they have their right to their personal views, but it becomes a different matter when they make their views public from the positions they hold.

I've demonstrated Mr Lazarus's lack of analytical ability and after a glance at one of Professor Thio's key speeches, I could blow away her points with a ten minuite search on the Internet. Call me an alarmist but I think it's very worrying that a public, political figure and a representative of the ruling party don't see anything wrong with passing of ignorance as defending public virtue.

What's more disturbing is when you get young, impressionable people like my young politician believing that the arguments that Professor Thio and Mr Lazarus present are credible defenses of 'conservative values.' It just took a bit of common sense to see that neither Professor Thio nor Mr Lazarus presented credible or conservative arguments during the 377A debate. So, why do people like my young politician find them convincing. We're not talking about major government shakers here, so I can assume that this has nothing to do with an effort to carry favour.

I suspect, this is a mindset that has been cultivated within Singaporeans during the past 40-years. One Indian businessmen described Singapore as being a nation of 50 Ministers (Shepherds), 500 civil servants (sheepdogs) and 4,499,450 sheep. This system has worked wonders for Singapore. We are a small nation and as long as our shepherds know what they're doing, its very easy to follow. While state control and central planning have failed miserably in other countries, its worked brilliantly in Singapore - just look at the way the URA has made 4,500,000 people fit on an island 640 square KM, with plenty of parkland to spare.

This is a fine and dandy situation when the shepherds are in control and obviously know what they're doing. It works when the shepherds and sheepdogs are genuinely interested in protecting their flock. Look at Singapore's cabinate in the early days. Men like Goh Keng Swee were genuinely driven by the need to make something for the people they were looking after.

But what happens when the shepherds and sheepdogs don't have the ability to guide their flock and more importantly have no genuine interest in the welfare of their flock. Do the sheep have the ability to recognise and do something about an incompetent or worse - rogue sheherd?

Well, I hope my young politician's attitudes are not a reflection on the rest of the sheep. He's now taken to calling me a 'Gay Right's Western Liberal' because I've proven Mr Lazarus's arguments to be of poor quality. Try and point out the obvious to him and he'll acuse you of undermining Asian Values (the brand espoused in Singapore was incidentally taken from an English Bording school). Poor old God (I mean the Hebrew Yahweh or Muslim Allah, not Lee Kuan Yew), gets dragged in there to enforce the point that "Liberals Know NUTS." (Not that he knows the difference between a liberal conservative).

What was most interesting was when he chose to defend the Bush Administration's indefensible policies - ie it was necessary because Saddam had WMD (5-years still not found), links with Osama (Pentagon admited to be not true) and so on. He proudly told me that the Modern State of Israel was "Liberated for the Jews," (He's Muslim) and the land belonged to God (I assume Yahweh/Allah)

I told him that Sykes-Picot (British and French Foreign Secrateries who carved up the Ottoman Empire after WW1) were not God. When I asked if he knew who Mr Sykes and Mr Picot were, he proudly told me - "Dun Know, dun care to know." He calls it, "Not ignorance, but prejudice against liberals who are trying to do us in."

I can only wonder if he's an odd cookie or if he's representative of the generation below me. Have we reached such a state where the sheep are so comfortable being sheep that they would rather be swindled by a rogue shepherd than to try and live a good life for themselves.

Perhaps I cannot be hard on the "Dun know, dun care to know," mindset of being a sheep. As anyone who has been a unit man during national service can tell you - it's fun because you have no responsability. You just do what the Officer Commanding, Platoon Commander and Section Commanders tell you to do. If anything goes wrong, it is someone elses fault. The bottom will pass the blame up the chain of command, while the top will pass it back down. In the end, passing the buck becomes more important than solving the issue at hand. Just revisit the escape of Mas Selamat - the man remains at large but the sheep, shepherds and sheepdog are still passing the buck.

But the modern economy does not function like that. It is increasingly important to know things and more importantly, one has to care to know things. Singapore's sheepherds remain, thankfully comitted to the welfare of the sheep. But in today's world, its necessary for the sheep to go beyond places where there may be no sheepherd. The sheep will get information and advise in their new pastures. It's common sense to point out that the system in new pastures are not always like at home. How do you know what you've just been told will fill your tummy with fresh grass or turn you into lamb chops for the wolves? So, you have to care to know.

Knowledge, is of course problematic. It means, you have to take responsability, which means you may have to suffer consequences. However, this is how lambs develop into rams. You take responsability and you take ownership. As such, you grow and develop and become stronger.

Yes, my young politician has a point when he tells me that in the Singapore system, we don't have to worry about Temasek Holding's S$18 billion profits, which they derived from S$17 billion worth of asset sales. After all there is the sheepherd to take care of these things.

But we are increasingly moving into a world where relying on the sheepherd is no longer good enough for basic survival. It's no longer to have the Singapore Syndrome of "Not Me" when things happen. One has to care to know things rather than to sit there and accept what any idiot with title offers as good stuff. The sheep who insist on the 'dun known, dun care to know,' mode and blissfully munch on any old crud without taking 10 minuites to analyse things are the ones who end up as someone elses lunch.

1 comment:

Temp said...

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