Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lee Kuan Yew to PhD student Joan Sim

Found this when I tracked back from my blog logs to Singazine and then to a very good blog, "Diary of a Singaporean Mind"

Beside Lucky Tan, I read yesterday another fellow (most likely Jonathon Porritt, I can't remember) had suggested more forcefully and even went further, a declining birthrate is not a disaster. His article based on the British example, a population of 30 million for the isles was published in 2001.

Indeed there is nothing new under the sun but from time to time it is useful to be reminded.

So does population growth matter? It does.

I have read some many well argued articles but many of them are wrong. They make fatal assumptions but many readers are not going to be able to catch them except by trying out those ideas. Once of the most attractive and seductive ideas that gained currency so widely and got a chance to be socially experimented on is Communism. It didn't work. Its assumptions about human nature is way off the mark. Of course, today psychologist have experiments to show that humans regularly over estimate their capabilities and virtues.

We must entertain alternative ideas but be careful of those without the benefit of being tested in real life experiments.

What is actually the deeper meaning of a shrinking population due to declining birthrates? To me, it is collective suicide by any other name. It is to die in such a way without having to face death. It is the ultimate expression of hopelessness about the future.

Well, it could also be something else: Selfishness to the extreme.

No, we have not become more selfish. Our nature hasn't changed. We have only just acquired the means to be more self defeating like never before. For most of history old people needed younger people to see them on their way especially near the end of life. Today, our advanced economy have by and large found ways to dis-intermediate that. It is a tragedy of the commons we are witnessing, i.e., it makes sense at the individual level but collectively it is a disaster. There is no way to get off this path to extinction except by ridding ourselves of the tragedy of the commons. At the moment this is impossible without destroying our way of life and the economic ideas that it is based on.

So is it suicide or selfishness? They are actually the same thing. Let me borrow from CS Lewis, "The Four Loves"

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

For now it is an unsolvable problem. Meanwhile Joan Sim might be ruing that she ought to have responded to LKY with, "I don't know what to say!"

Yep, we are trying to solve the problem too early. If we have more courage, we can engage this sooner and that would be much better. I need to get breakfast. Will explain it another time.


  1. Joan Sim, will you marry me?

    Seriously, I think you're smart and you're gorgeous. A little make-up and you'll be a super model. What's wrong with pursuing your own ambition and choice. Did LKY not change the law to give Singaporean woman equality because of the need to do so? Why is he singing a different tune now that his wife is dead?

  2. There is a better person to answer this question for Mr Lee than Joan - his own daughter and perhaps, granddaughter as well.

  3. Raising a child or two is very hard in today's stressful society - esp so for parents who have graduate degrees and are working long hours. The socio-economic impetus is also no longer there in today's modern society. A solution to help Singaporeans have more kids is 1. make property more affordable, 2. reduce working hours, 3. increase the rights of workers to not get forced by their boss to work overtime or on weekends, and make 4. childcare and hospitals free. Tada!!!