Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tharman's wishful meritocracy

Among the ministers, I like Tharman best. I think he understands us better than most of his colleagues. He wasn't on an anointed path to the top. He wasn't a straight As student. In fact he had retaken his A levels to get better grades. In many ways he is one of us. No wonder he speaks and thinks differently from his PAP colleagues.

Unfortunately I think Tharman's vision of meritocracy will not happen. Simply, where are the driving forces much less the initiatives to get there? In fact we have been doing everything to go in the other direction because the Old Man believed and managed to get the rest on board or was it imposed on them that some of us are born to succeed more than others. I think that is bunkum and I am glad the growing amount of credible literature to rubbish the idea of nature over nurture. Come on, we don't even understand how to reproduce genius. LKY had been talking beyond his ken. He was all along bullying us with his nature argument. He is now out of the picture amd his favorite book on the subject  "The Bell Curve" is now completely debunked. Unfortunately the Cabinet seem to have inherited this nonsensical 'hard truth'. I am waiting for Tharman to disavow it otherwise we cannot have a substantial and meaningful discussion on meritocracy.

Tharman's version of meritocracy will still yield a system where some products of meritocracy are more desirable than others. As long as our culture produce and reinforce a social hierarchy (Confucianism!) rather than egalitarianism we cannot escape this result. We would just produce new politically correct behavior of respecting and extolling the less meritorious but nevertheless meritocratic achievement in order to maintain social peace. I think we are too well informed for this bait.

Until we turn around nature trumps nurture to nurture over nature there is nothing to discuss except eventual social break down and chaos. We would have risen and fallen like any society in history when the social hierarchy ossifies and mobility disappears. To use nature to justify success through meritocratic sorting will only lead you to social bankruptcy. The elites would be overthrown, I hope peacefully. Over a couple of decades a new elite would be created and the cycle repeats itself. Terrible way to live.

What we need is a real meritocracy that disbelieve nature over nurture. Therefore the fruits of meritocratic achievement must always be open to fair competition and challenge. Today, much of our society and economy, winners receive the keys to open doors and then quickly shut and lock it after them. So we must also check the abuse of power by the successful to entrench their success, but first we must win the intellectual battle that would remove their claim to power to perpetuate themselves. The worst abusers of meritocracy is the PAP through the systematic abuse of the spirit of the law to create the most unlevel playing field in politics. That is why their MPs and ministers no longer command as much respect because they got in through the easy door. They say is meritocratic but how many are deceived? Enough people bought the crap as long as the wealth and lifestyle goods are delivered.

Tharman's vision of meritocracy will remain only as a wish. It is not compatible with our culture narrow concept of success. It is good for politics but don't be stupid and believe. Until the PAP trade their intellectual old wine for new wine everything they do are just new forms over the familiar old substance. Only time will tell but for now Catherine Lim is right that the PAP cannot change. You will know when they invest more time communicating better than anything else. Fortunately Singaporeans aren't stupid. If they fail to deliver they are out. It is the same attitude they have been promoting: No hard feelings, it's just business. But this time the benediction is upon them.

Forget about changing mindsets. We have been bandying that for years. It's our culture that's the problem. We fail to truly respect the person's for who he or she is. The job or role has been defining the person worth more than the other way round for too long. Given enough time, it can only lead to our demise.

I still like Tharman because I think he will see the light more quickly than the rest, if at all.


  1. Just so we are all on the same page about the meaning and definition of

    1. Government or the holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability.
    2. A society governed by such people.

    Meritocracy is a political philosophy that holds power should be vested in individuals according to merit.

    Advancement in such a system is based on perceived intellectual talent measured through examination and/or demonstrated achievement in the field where it is implemented.

    1. Can anyone see the problem with this system?

      Who decides which traits are more meritorius?

      Is a foreign talent more meritorius than a Singaporean?
      Who decides?

      Who sets the exams to decide the scholars?

      If a rich scholar scores higher marks because he has the help of capable but expensive private tutors.
      Is the rich scholar more meritorius than a poor student who has to DIY on his homework?

    2. If a person has real merits, why does he need to be "groomed" for higher office?
      Surely a person with real merits can "stand on his own merits" without crutches.

      Surely a truly meritorius system is fully capable of being self-sustaining.
      Does it really need Tharman to "broaden it, make it more flexible, and ... allow for more mixing"?

      Would not a truly meritocratic system by definition be naturally broad-based , flexible and inclusive?

      If a system is truly meritocratic, would not artificial attempts to make it better ... actually make it worse.

      Does not the self-appointed person who is "improving" a meritocratic system ... does not this self-appointed person have to be more meritocratic than the meritocratic system he is charged with improving?

      Who decides what traits are truly of merit?

      Who chooses these guardians of merit?
      Who guards these guardians of merit?

    3. The bell curve has not been debunked.

      What has been debunked is the idea of only IQ matters for success in life, it is a combination of many Q's which determines that.

      However, the idea to move the bell curve more towards high plateaus is working, the problem remains that until such intelligence is leavened thru experience, compassion and some trials will there be compassionate success.