"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan
I remember when I was in JC1, I was discussing with some friends as to the future of Singapore and I argued that eventually Singapore’s lack of physical resources will catch up with it and I recommended that we should merge with Philippines to maintain our existence.
About ten years has passed since I made that recommendation and it seems that instead of us merging with the Philippines, the Philippines have come to us. So in a sense, I was sort of right, although not in the exact sense I thought. You can read more about it here.
So I thought I would indulge in a bit of idle speculation and re-evaluation of Singapore in the light of my current beliefs.
-Ultimately I view the nation of Singapore as a doomed tragedy which would collapse sooner or later. It is fundamentally a mistake which should never have existed and for which it would pay dearly sooner or later for its presumption.
-Like a classic tragedy whereby its doom seems to have been plotted by an unlucky convergence of events, no particular or individual human agency planned or plotted our path or existence, like an existentialist tragedy, we simply popped out of nowhere and soon we shall vanish as suddenly and as randomly as we appeared, we just happened to be unluckily caught in the middle of this meaningless and purposeless event.
– Certainly had I been living during the referendum for Singapore to leave the British and join Malaysia, and had actually been given a choice to join Malaysia or remain with the British (the actual referendum didn’t give the people a choice, all the options were for joining Malaysia with varying levels of autonomy), I would have voted to remain with the British. Not primarily because I am an Anglophile (although of course I am), but due to a much more base and primal motivation. Fear of the unknown. Just like now I continue to support the PAP, for all their flaws and mistakes, for fear of the unknown and untested alternatives (I will come back to this later), I would support remaining behind with the British for fear of what might happen should we leave the safety of Britain’s protection for nothing more than hopes and promises of a “better” future with Malaysia.
– However, it is difficult, if not virtually impossible, to argue against the influx of idealism and dreams and hopes of the 1960s. This was not a time for sober reflection or prudential judgement, it was a time of an unflinching faith in manifest destiny. Lee Kuan Yew himself has said explicitly that he was convinced with all his heart and soul that the destinies of Malaysia and Singapore were entwined, that, almost by the will of Heaven, we were meant to be together. How is one is argue against such conviction to the point of religious certainty? How can cool heads and prudential fear prevail against such optimism and idealism?
– Of course eventually those who were fearful were right. Our “merger” with Malaysia has been a disaster. Heaven seems to have other plans than our manifest destiny with Malaysia and we were forced out of Malaysia.
– Having left our colonial masters and no longer under the wing of our hinterland, what can we possibly do? I believe that Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP have made the best of an already awkward and terrible situation. We were never meant to be a nation-state. Under Britain we had a focal foundation for a common civic order, our colonial masters and rulers. Each culture and race could co-exist side by side as long as we all listened and obeyed the Brits. But once they are gone, the situation was perilous. Racial tensions were already high and to turn the Chinese into the “master race” would be tantamount to national suicide and we would be condemned to perpetual racial strife for decades to come.
– It was necessary, therefore, to create a new common civic order, and this the PAP did by sheer authoritarianism. Each race and culture must be aggressively streamlined and organised to make central management easier. Especially for the Chinese, dialects were promptly suppressed from the public sphere, and uniform English usage and education enforced throughout the land. Kidnappers and drug traffickers were executed, the ISA (Internal Security Act) retained to root out all enemies of the state.
-Was such authoritarianism necessary? Certainly. We were riotous savages and chaos mongers. We had to be brought to heel and be forced to conform to the new order rising out of the will of our Elder Statesman which would serve as the foundation of the new nation. How else could they have provided mass sanitation, water and electric supply and clean housing to the entire population of Singapore if they didn’t have the power to mass build HDB flats and to shove all of us out of our villages and kampongs and into these modern flats?
-It is impossible for me to judge the action of our past leaders simply because I do not see what the alternative is, given their circumstance. I do enjoy all the fruits of their authoritarianism, I like living in a relatively safe and orderly draconian state where there is virtually full employment and reasonable welfare. Remember, my first conviction is always that Singapore should never have left the British, but given that we have left both the British and floundered on Malaysia, I think the miracle is that we have not only survived but prospered as long as we have. And, whether we like it or not, we have the sheer wilful authoritarianism of the PAP to thank for it. Were there some ISA mistakes? Yes, of course there were. Should we regret the suppression of our distinct cultural or racial traits to a centrally managed uniform and colourless culture? Maybe we can. But what would the alternative have been?
-Fast forward to today, it is clear today that the internal stress and contradictions of Singapore has only been plastered over, not healed. Now we are witnessing the fracture of our nation. The root problem of course is that Singapore cannot possibly be a nation and a city at the same time. I have already mentioned all the economic reasons and arguments before for why Singapore is the way it is now and why our government cannot really do anything about it, short of highly drastic solutions such as a merger with a hinterland. We are a mercantile city which can only accumulate capital but can’t buy anything concrete or material with it. We cannot build farms, mines, factories, etc, to provide employment and work for most of the people. It would be fine if we were a *real* city and thereby the proletariat masses can go elsewhere to find proper real work. But we are not, we are a nationally self-contained city and we’re essentially stuck and perilously dependent upon capital movement and the fickle international financial industry.
-I sincerely and honestly do not know what else the PAP could do given our dilemma, short of highly drastic solutions which few Singaporeans would stomach (e.g. merger with access to hinterland resources) Flooding the nation with cheap labour is but a stop gap solution to sell the only other resource we possess, e.g. labour, but this, as is quite evident, is already leading to lots of other problems and difficulties.
-The opposition is long on promises but short on actual solutions. WP’s performance in parliament has so far been a farce and of course it doesn’t hurt to keep essentially mum during times of controversies instead of taking a concrete stand so that one can allow every Tom, Dick and Harry to project their ideals on them and not alienate anyone with their own concrete proposals. Thus, it is not so much that I think the PAP is currently going an excellent job or that they are wonderful or whatever. I don’t. It is simply the fact that I fear and am very much afraid of what might be the alternative should we allow jokers, clowns and crackpots to step into parliament. The PAP may not now be improving the situation, but at least they are preserving it as best as they can.
– Despite the best efforts of the PAP however, sooner or later, Singapore as a nation would perish, especially if and when the international financial industry collapses and capital becomes worthless. I fear that this is something which not even the mighty LKY can prevent. What shall become of us, only Heaven knows, but may God ease our sufferings when it comes!
We emerged by a freak accident, and we shall likewise disappear on a whim of Fate…
[Update: Apparently Today has an article about the economic breakdown of our nation.
And as the Republic transforms its economy, economists told TODAY the gap of GDP contribution between services and manufacturing, which hit an all-time high last year, is likely to keep widening.
The services sector accounted for around two-thirds of GDP at the end of last year, following a steady uptrend since 2000, the report showed, “buoyed by demand for financial services, business services and tourism”. Meanwhile, the contribution from the manufacturing sector to GDP fell to 18.6 per cent.
About 65% of our economy is made up of the service industry, of banks, the financial industry, investment firms, and of course, your little hispter cafes. Only 18.6% of it is manufacturing and produces real stuff.
In the event of a financial meltdown, HALF of our economy would be wiped out.
We are well and truly screwed.]