Kuan Yew’s Confession

“Over time, our political leaders have become less hard-driving and hard-striving, winning elections through GRC walkovers. That’s why it would be a good thing for the people to welcome more opposition in the Parliament. If the incumbent party is falling behind because of its own complacency, that is its problem.”

(We should always learn from the Great Mentor himself, should we not?)

When Kuan Yew merely said that the approach to teaching Mandarin was wrong and sounded as though he was confessing that he was wrong, people took him too seriously and started saying that he has admitted that bilingualism was wrong. Unfortunately, he was merely insisting that bilingualism was right but certain practices pertaining to it were not. When Kuan Yew confessed that the relentless (and some say ridiculous) import of foreigners serves a social engineering purpose without making it sound like a confession, people do not pay attention to what a great confession he has made even if it was not deliberate. The following lines from The National Geographic have caused people to (justifiably) lambaste Kuan Yew for accusing them of an inferior work ethic and blaming them for being unable to keep up with imported competition:

Over time, the MM says, Singaporeans have become “less hard-driving and hard-striving.” This is why it is a good thing, the MM says, that the nation has welcomed so many Chinese immigrants (25 percent of the population is now foreign-born). He is aware that many Singaporeans are unhappy with the influx of immigrants, especially those educated newcomers prepared to fight for higher paying jobs. But taking a typically Darwinian stance, the MM describes the country’s new subjects as “hungry,” with parents who “pushed the children very hard.” If native Singaporeans are falling behind because “the spurs are not stuck into the hide,” that is their problem. (Emphasis Molly’s)

Yet, it should be more important to us that Kuan Yew’s remarks reveal that in the minds of our policymakers, the import of foreigners does not merely serve a practical economic purpose, as the most common justification goes. Neither is it really to add to the vibrance of the society through the introduction of different cultures. Rather, one conscious objective of Singapore’s policymakers is to shape Singapore though foreigners—by molding the social make-up with the sort of foreigners they desire, and thereby pressuring Singaporeans to match up in terms of these desired (even if not necessarily desirable) traits. In other words, upon finding that Singaporeans are beginning to demand too much, those that have the power for formulate policies are attempting to tame them by importing people who are willing to suffer what Singaporeans refuse to suffer. Hazy as the notion of “demanding too much” seems, it is essentially a political issue—people might be demanding for the pay workers in the developed world deserve (after all the cost of living has been getting higher and higher), or they might be expecting the rights that they deserve (such as the right to unionize and go on strike without a bogus national union). Needless to say, the likes of Kuan Yew would prefer to say that people are getting lazy and the country needs an impetus for them to become the way he wants them to be. It is a fact neither scientifically proven nor universally acknwoledged (and probably not politically correct either), but many new immigrants China (and perhaps elsewhere as well) are like ready-made successful socially-engineered Singaporeans par excellence. They are Kuan Yew’s ideal citizens (except when they do things like protesting to the Ministry of Manpower, but we are not talking about that class of Chinese citizens here) and he is holding them up as model citizens.

Kuan Yew has more than once expressed his dissatisfaction with local Singaporeans (I know “local Singaporeans” sounds tautological, but, believe me, it is not), saying that the newer generations of local Singaporeans are not rugged enough. Perhaps the best sort of Singaporeans are the ones who take millions of dollars from tax-payers every year for making remarks that offend them occasionally while oppressing them constantly. Clearly, most Singaporeans are not capable of achieving this feat, but we can at least expect Singaporeans to be willing to suffer needlessly and endlessly without complaining—or be “hard-driving” and “hard-striving” if euphemisms are preferable. In the current world, hard work may gain one’s exploiters more mileage with every bit of investment but it may not get one anywhere and that is why it can be said to be explotative. The law of diminishing returns sets in quickly for the exploited but the latter is expected to work increasingly harder, with job scopes stretched and working hours lenghened. But I suspect the National Geographic is slightly inaccurate in saying that Kuan Yew was being Darwinian. When I think of Darwin, I think of what happens in nature. Some call it the survival of the fittest— a species evolve over time because those individuals with traits that result in them being unable to survive well die out and those with trains that enhance their survival become representative of their species. (Do pardon me if I am over-simplifying Darwin or if I am technically incorrect.) But what is happening in Singapore is more akin to the disruption of ecological systems through the introduction of a foreign species. It is like human interference with nature, such as the introduction of rabbits to Australia, which has led to the extinction of native species. It is important, of course, to see that such an analogy has its limits lest it is mistaken that I am saying that there should be no foreigners in Singapore at all. Nevertheless, when the introduction of foreigners into a country is a means of manipulating the local population, sinister politics seem to be at work. Politically, introducing many foreigners to Singapore dilutes the already few voices of dissent that are present. Given that almost everyone in the world believes that the PAP is going to maintain its political hegemony for a long time to come, migrants to Singapore may be different from migrants to countries such as America. Or they simply have the financial means to get away any time they feel that it no longer benefits them. If new immigrants do not find the PAP’s policies and its hegemony acceptable, they may not choose to take up Singapore citizenship to begin with given that the hegemony is going to be quite permanent. As such, what we have are more and more citizens who favor or are at least not against the continued dominance of the PAP. Opposing voices will to some extent be drowned especially when new immigrants take it upon themselves to defend the status quo, and it is already happening if the examples of people like Frederic Fanthome who writes for the P65 blog and new citizens who write to the ST Forum are anything to go by.

To make matters worse, what Kuan Yew values in Singaporeans may not benefit Singaporeans although it might boost the country’s economy in terms of statistics.

“You gotta love how I push my children.”

What Kuan Yew wants is perhaps simply an intensified version of Kiasuism. He says that parents who are new immigrants push their children hard. And perhaps he is right. There was once when I saw a man from China (I am guessing from his accent) severely lecturing his son for not properly making use of the time to read when he (the father) went to the washroom. And perhaps Kuan Yew is right in implying that Singaporean parents do not push their as maniacally even though this by no means suggest that Singaporean parents are not pushing their children hard enough, if people should be “pushed” in the first place. Even if it is true that (some) Singaporean parents are not pushing their children hard enough, matters have to be clarified. Parents cannot push their children with just brute force. I am not taking an ethical stance here. Rather, one needs to have sufficient financial means to push their children. What good would it do for a parent to constantly scold his child and tell him to do good when the parent cannot even afford school fees? When there is solid ground in front of you, a gentle nudge would propel you forward.
If you are at the edge of a cliff, a hard push does no good and you are better off not being pushed at all. Do not blame Kuan Yew for forgetting this fact, however. I doubt he has ever seen his children at the edge of a cliff. He is just speaking from decades of inexperience.

“Don’t you wish you could be like me?”

There is no need to prove Kuan Yew wrong when he compares immigrants from China with local-born Singaporeans. His observations may not be totally wrong. We do see that many immigrants are “hard-driving” and “hard-striving”. We may disagree with the prescribed ethos of Hyper-Kiasuism and we may disgree that Singaporeans are not “hard-driving”, but Kuan Yew is entitled to his views. What we have to remember, though, is his failure to acknowledge that not everyone has the capital to participate in such an ethos and the fact that perhaps being silently hard-striving is not necesarily good for people or even for the country. This, in my opinion, is worse for an elected leader than being wrong about Singaporeans or disparaging them.

“I’m not hard-striving enough?” (Photo Stolen from TOC)

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