Friday, October 28, 2011

Rambling from political philosophy to "eating bitterness"

I sit here reading articles, facebook and email all over the place and out of the blue, I said to myself, we have no political philosophy and we have thus far been able to get away with it. We will need one later, perhaps soon, I don't know except that we must have one. Pragmatism is not a political philosophy.

A developing nation is like a growing up child. A kid cannot answer the question, "Who am I?" Its business is simply to learn and grow up. That was us, and we are now maturing, and we must ask, "Who are we?"

The absence of a political philosophy may eventually make this nation ungovernable. Why? The people would be too divided, and as a multi-racial, multi-religious mix, there would be too many fault lines to count. There would even be new fissures, many unexpected ones.

Without a political philosophy we agree on, as our social compact based on the simplistic idea of building a better living tomorrow wears down, there will be nothing to replace it. What about long term-ism?

The long term good is the ultimate reason to rally the people. It means that some will do better first and others will also, but later. Everyone benefits eventually. However this long term good now lacks clarity especially in a society that is getting more diverse and under pressure for short term gains. Iconic of this pressure is companies management living and dying by their short term stock price performance.

The short term is the enemy of the long term. Nothing divides a people as a result because there are always winners and losers if we only live for the short term. Today businesses are mostly worrying about the short term, and most of them can't help being so. The long term is anything but certain these days. Planning horizons have shrunk to the tip of the nose. If you ask current losers to wait for the long term to get their benefit, you are asking them to show herculean faith. We have a very serious problem.

So the old paradigm of long term-ism is breaking down and I can't think of anything to fill that vacuum it is going to leave behind except fostering a new political philosophy. Alas, I have no idea what such a political philosophy ought to be except that I know the PAP government will not and cannot offer one. They still believe in milking their exhausted paradigm, mounting weak defenses for their impetus. Bloggers will tear them down but like me bereft of alternatives. You know their paradigm is tired and spent when problems get harder to tackle and solutions become more complex and now getting to incomprehensible.

Our leaders would very much like us to be better at "eating bitterness". That would help to extend the life of their tired paradigm. Therefore 'better, cheaper and faster' contrary to what Lim Swee Say try to re-interpret is not about equipment but us.

Would our leaders be willing to join us "eating bitterness"?  Once upon a time Lee Kuan Yew and the Old Guard risked their lives before ours were put on the line. Today it is the reverse. Should we be surprised that the present leaders are less respected? Less credible?


  1. I believe that your answer will come slowly, just like an ever-maturing person. For me at least, I am just working on promoting more equality and liberty in Singapore. I believe in individual rights. All my cluster of beliefs fit well into the idea of a secular democracy with the rule of law.

    Different people will have different demands. Different generations also have different demands. There wouldn't be any one set of philosophy which will be the eternal truth that will work well for all generations of people.

    Actually, Singapore is already "supposedly" practising some political philosophy. Democracy is one of the biggest political concepts of all time.

    As I said above, I think that the answer will come naturally. It will come as a result of Singaporeans tackling the social issues confronting them. There will be a thesis; then an anti-thesis. When the synthesis is formed, it then becomes another thesis and the cycle starts again.

    The current political climate is already an answer to the questions raised by us in the previous period.

    The important question now is not what we should do, but what we want to do. If we want capitalism, then we will make our society that way. If we want authoritarianism, we can also have it. If we want political liberation, we can also achieve it. What we want to do (and if we succeed in doing it) will later justify the result.

  2. Well, I've thought the PAP's paradigm has always been "Long Termism". Hence, as an example, the government's reluctance to extend the social welfare net (for fear of unsustainable public liabilities down the road), or the government's expansive immigration policy (to offset low birthrates amongst native Singaporeans).

    I have no doubt as to the PAP's government's ability to attain long-term goals. However, as the previous poster seems to imply, the most pertinent question how for Singapore is no longer how to achieve economic prosperity.

    Instead, for Singaporeans of our generation, having attained a certain level of prosperity and social resources on the blood and sweat of our parents, we need to ask ourselves what social goals should the country aspire to, and how much future economic growth should we be willing to trade off in order to achieve those goals.