Leaving aside the Western expatriates and the Indian Nationals, one will find, more often than not, that Singaporeans are a fairly docile lot when compared to their brethren from Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar and China. Things are changing, the AWARE saga was a case in point. However, chances are, if you read about protest these days, you'll find that it usually involves a group labourers from China protesting outside the Ministry of Manpower over unpaid wages. Singaporeans as a group don't do things like protest or set-up noodle stalls. Why is this so?
To be fair to Singaporeans, there's actually not too much need to think, protest or even speak. As a friend of mine often says to me,"Does it concern you? Why bother, the majority is happy and so leave it be?" He's right. Life in Singapore many not always be good but it's fairly comfortable. There's no need to think or to question why things are the way they are. Singapore is Confucius's wet dream, a place where the bureaucrat rules. The path to success is simple. Study hard, get good grades and a government scholarship to one of the world's best universities. Within ten-years you'll be without fail an exceedingly senior civil servant, paid an enviable amount of money to run the life of the nation. Of course, if you can't get a plum scholarship, at least get yourself into university and into a secure job in the civil service or a multinational company.
With the exception of street hookers like myself, everyone is exceedingly happy with the system. The people are happy because they are comfortable (no one starts a revolution of a full tummy.) The foreigners, particularly the Western Expatriates are happy - leaving aside company perks, they live in a society where the local population reveres them for being, well Western and therefore better (which to be fair, is true to a certain extent - they're allowed to do some thinking - which is in favour of the powers that be). The government likes it because the foreigners keep investing and the population remains docile. Like I've said, when you hear a Singaporean grumble about this and that, there will be a foreigner (ranging from the Bangladeshi construction worker to the well paid American Expatriate) to tell the Singaporean that they're sheltered and don't know how good life is in Singapore. As one US Navy boy said to me,"If Geylang is your worst area, wait till you see an American Inner City."
If you think about it, Singapore is the Celestial Kingdome in just about every way you can think of. If you don't like it, you can just bugger off - and guess what, there are those who bugger off but come back - I should know I was one of them. Why does anyone need to think or even speak out?
The truth is, this happy situation won't last forever. The day of large cohesive structures like governments and multinational corporations coming in and giving prosperity to the obedient masses is long over. Just look at the world's geopolitical situation today. In the old days, there were two big superpowers (USA and USSR) and everyone belonged to one camp or the other. Today, you have a big hyperpower that is bigger, stronger and richer than everyone else (USA) versus terrorist who are for the most part a group of individuals with nothing in common except an ideology. In the good old days, there were pitched battles with two opposing armies. These days, you can bomb a country to oblivion only to have one nut case stroll into your country and cause the same damage in one of your cities.
What's happened on the battle field is taking place in the business world. You have a big corporation that "owns" the market. Suddenly a few loan individuals from the big corporation leave and do their own thing and before you know it, the "big" corporation is facing extinction because the market it thought it owned is either obsolete or it turned out to be bigger than the single corporation. Remember, the computer market was all about IBM and it's hard wear. Today, IBM has sold off the hardware to Lenovo from China and is trying to compete in IT services.
Let's return to the ideology of terrorist versus soldiers. Singapore is a nation of conventional soldiers. We await for "Opps Orders" from our HQ and then we execute as we have been trained to do. We've been drilled into doing things in certain ways and that's how we'll do them. You don't question because, well that's how it's always been.
A terrorist on the other hand is a lone individual linked to a group of other individuals. The only thing uniting the people is an ideology. A terrorist gets an objective from HQ but the execution is up to him or her. He or she has to get creative to get past highly advanced security systems, while the person in question has limited resources. Much to the horror of law enforcement agencies throughout the world, terrorist are amongst the most effective users of the internet for their purposes. Like it or not, the effective terrorist are quite ingenious in their execution of their activities.
Now apply the terrorist analogy to the entrepreneur and you get the situation that you do in the USA and dare I say Communist China. In America the ideal is not to become an established politician or keg in corporate America. Americans have always worshiped the loan individual taking on the big boys and winning. The same thing is happening in China - hence the irony that the most capitalistic nation today is in fact a communist dictatorship. America is actually quite messy and China is worse but individual Americans and Chinese are highly effective thinkers. The Chinese government is quickly understanding that it can no longer control individual Chinese like it once used to. The people have tasted a certain way of life and removing it will cause a revolution. The Communist Party is searching for an ideology that it can share with the people.
Say what you like of terrorist groups but they've proven to be very effective at doing what they do. The Israeli Army crushed the combined might of several Arab armies in the 60s. Today, a more highly trained IDF has problems taking on groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. The organisation structure of these groups allows them to activate resources at the most unusual of times and it's hard to cripple them. Bomb this place and they'll pop up at that place. It takes brains to come up with such a structure and it takes emotional intelligence to get people to gladly do something that will get them killed.
Now apply that to business. Loan individuals and companies can only do so much. But when they unite and form alliances the results are amazing. You can do multinational business without spending a multinational's budget. The Chinese diaspora in South East Asia has prospered precisely because of this system. You help your clansmen and they help you. Wealth is shared and everyone benefits.
An effective businessman needs to think and that's the same for artist and scientist. Brilliant artist and scientist are constantly thinking about their objectives and thinking about how to create.
In Singapore we are very comfortable. There is no need to think, which is why we can only operate in Singapore and we can only go abroad if it's under the umbrella of the government or a multinational. Hong Kong Chinese by contrast can travel and settle overseas and thrive. Why? In Hong Kong, thinking is a necessary part of life. Communist China produces internationally sell able writers in English, a langue China is not known for being proficient in. Singapore has yet to produce a writer Singaporeans find readable.
Does this matter? Well, let's put it this way, more and more of us need to go overseas to seek a living let alone become a winner in life. The rules of the game change when you don't have big brother to think for you and throw resources your way whenever you just call for it. Then look at what happens at home. You lose to either an Indian or Caucasian at the higher end of the market or to China born labourer at the other. Why do we end up losing at home? The answer is simple - the other guy thinks and can see things we are drilled not to see. The other acts, we don't because we've been drilled into understanding that acting without permission is bad for you.
Yes, I get irritated with foreigners coming into Singapore and somehow getting jobs just like that. A lot of them are shit people. But instead of asking for a government - lead solution, let's look at why these guys can beat us on our own ground and let's see if we can work together as lone individuals united by shared ideas and a willingness to cooperate when we need to. My favourite litigator, has done something for the small law firm community in Singapore. He's set up something called Open Law, where Singapore's 600 plus small law firms can share resources and expertise to take larger cases. The idea is based on the analogy of bee-hive where small bees and can gather together and make a bear run. So, 600 plus lawyers can unite accordingly and share cases that were traditionally only available to the big boys. Everyone wins.
Thinking and cooperating individuals are good for society. Sometimes thinking individuals get out-spoken but surely this is worth nurturing if the society is means that society can prosper?