Friday, June 16, 2017

38 Oxley Road: The practical vs the ideal

The practical is hard but the ideal is easy but impractical. So I shall begin with the ideal first.

Ideally the house should be demolished as per LKY and wife wish. He had said that is the thing to do publicly many times notwithstanding the revisions he had made to his will on this subject.

It is up to the public to support or oppose his last wish. Personally I am for tearing it down but everyone is entitled their point of view. We have rules and norms how a matter like this should be settled and we should just do that. Airing your family private linens in public is not one of them.

In practice things are not so simple. If I were LWL or LHY, I would have felt hadn't my late father done enough for this country? The family owes the nation nothing, the debt is from the people to the family especially its patriarch and matriarch. Therefore they should be allowed to do to their property at Oxley Road as they wished. Besides filial piety demands they try their utmost to fulfill their late parents' final wish.

In an ideal world we can look at each issue or object independently and to make things easy for everyone to understand. That is how schools everywhere taught their subjects or most pupils will fail their exams. In the real world many things are linked to each other and you cannot consider an issue independent of its impact elsewhere. Therefore the house although legally belongs to the family, it also unfortunately belongs to the nation. It is not fair but it just is. DPM Teo is right that there are larger issues involved here.

If the public is overwhelmingly for demolishing the house and public opinion makes it clear there is little the government could do but accede or risk losing support, I don't think LWL and LHY would have acted as they have because LHL would never entertain turning the house into a national monument. But the public is probably divided on this matter. If you are filled with gratitude towards LKY, you can't refuse his final wish. If you think he should continue to serve the nation after he is gone through preserving his hermitage, there is nothing wrong with that except that some of us wonder why you do not feel as much gratitude as we have toward him?

When LWL and LHY made a family feud over the house public, I recognized that they had no choice because LHL was borrowing state authority against them. But no choice here must be qualified. If they act as determined and filial children as they are displaying this very moment, they rank their late parents ahead of their elder brother in order to carry out their late parents' wish for the house to be torn down. This is regardless of how they would negatively impact the reputation of their PM brother and country. In their moral and principled reasoning, their elder brother did not possess the values to govern and so it legitimizes their course of action. He should be replaced with a better person, one that possess the right values. That is ideal but how practical is that? I always believe there are men and women that are abler and more principled that LHL and quite a few ministers as well but we don't know who they are. It is also horribly difficult and risky to select the right people. Elections is not the right way to choose the best people unless another process is in place to first short list them for elections. At the end of the day we have to live in the practical real world and keep the ideal with us for inspiration and aspiration. We confuse the two at our peril, and this is where LWL and LHY have gotten their approach wrong. What they have done has damaged us but I am also sympathetic to their deep desire to do right by their late parents. Anyone who thought they are fortunate in life, that is a superficial view. They are prisoners no different from being born into a royal family.

It is doubly unfortunate that what LWL and LHY accuse LHL of could turn out to be true of our PM if we take this public kerfuffle to its conclusion. Perhaps to be practical it is best not to complete the journey. We live in an imperfect world with even more imperfect humanity. Let's be humble and learn to forgive. Hold fast to your ideals but in pursuing them do not exceed your faith or you will crash. Ideals give life meaning but we must get closer to them in practical ways. LHL as PM must be evaluated against what other countries managed to have for national leaders. Be grateful but also discontented at the same time. This is a good tension.

I hope the public would overwhelmingly support demolishing the house. Now that part of the truth is out and you can't put the genie back into its lamp, we will have to live with the consequences. LWL and LHY must understand they do not come from ordinary families like the rest of us and trying to live like us is simply impractical unless they start life anew in a foreign country. Lee Kuan Yew paid a very heavy personal price to serve this country and instead of getting rewarded he got invoiced for his family as well. As I look back nobody probably understood this better than their late mother Kwa Geok Choo. She said many times running Singapore is a thankless task. Their children are living that now.

Update: 7:45 pm

Steve Tan made a very good comment which I want to use to look ahead. 

Assuming the house is not demolished and it became a national monument. Then I hope a more mature and wiser generation will have a change of heart and demolish it. When that happens Lee Hsien Loong and Ho Ching names will go down in Singapore's history in infamy. 

It is our Asian culture which has inadvertently created a First Family, and LWL and LHY are clearly resentful to be forced into these roles they never agree too, but LHL loved it and wants to leverage it.

Let's learn to by trial and error combine the best of the west and east. To have a First Family in every way except in name is not one of those treks we should travel on.

Let's have the George Washington spirit who refused to be made the first king of America. LKY never wanted to be one and he stayed around in Cabinet because he was useful, in other words he stuck around for our sake, played a role nobody else could.

As long as that house on 38 Oxley Road stands it would be a screaming reminder that LKY and his wife wanted it to be torn down. This is not China, the government cannot scrub this fact out from our history books. Make the right and wise choice but I fear unlike your late father you and your ministers are secretly leading by watching the poll numbers. Then at LHL's watch the rot in government would have begun and soon we will have an ordinary government like we see elsewhere, a government your father said would not be sufficient to serve Singapore's security and future.

Update: June 17 9:00 am

This post has been about the practical vs the ideal. Taken over a long time, we want to get closer to the ideal but to survive the journey we have to be practical, and this is not about striking a balance at all. If you heard and read too much from our leaders they loved to say "strike the right balance" but never bother to add they only they know how to do that which is not true. The practical meaning of striking a balance is the shrewdest response of the moment without losing sight of our ideals. Therefore sometimes you are totally practical and there will be moments we are completely idealistic. Go study Abraham Lincoln, he is a very good example of "striking the right balance"

It is not about not too hot or too cold but just right for the moment. It is about compromise without giving up true north.

ESM Goh was simply reminding us what matters here. It is not the Lee family but Singapore and the issues confronting our survival and well being. In that light, the family quarrel is petty and we must not let that distract us. 

LWL and LHY are leaning toward the idealistic but without skin in the game they can afford to. LHL, the evidence seems increasingly to point toward him as one has lost his way. He would have been a much better PM if there were more checks on his power. If he is bold it is because he also recognized for better or worse in the practical now, Singapore has no choice but to live with him. Time might show that LWL was right about calling him an dishonorable son, and LHY calling him a liar. Now we let time take us to the truth but wisdom is preparing for that moment. If proven guilty, you might want to throw LHL overboard or make him walk the plank but it would be stupid to sink the ship doing so. That would be clearer but politically incorrect for ESM Goh to say.

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