An elite dedicated to serving one and all
Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National University of Singapore Society Lecture on.
FROM the experiences of these three countries - Britain, China and the US - I draw three conclusions.
First, every society will have an elite. Even if it aims to become a classless society where all men are equal, some men will turn out to be more equal than others. The issue is: What kind of elite will it be? If they only care about their own narrow interests, then the society will suffer, and in the longer run so will the elite. But if they have a sense of mission and social responsibility, and use their talents and power to promote the interests of the country as a whole, then the society will prosper.
Second, there is a tendency for the elite in any society to entrench themselves over time, and to become more closed and exclusive. The children of successful people tend to do well, and the social networks and guanxi which make for a cohesive group at the top also make it harder for outsiders to join. The elite gradually develop their own social norms, behaviour or codes, which mark themselves off as being different and serve to exclude outsiders. If the society finds ways to maintain social mobility and keep open avenues to the top, then its elite can adapt to the changing needs of the country, and remain in close touch with the wider society they belong to. If not, the society will stratify; tensions will develop; and eventually the social order will break down.
Third, the education system is crucial in shaping the type of elite a society has. If it offers open access to all, and provides a good education across the board, as well as peaks of excellence for the most talented students regardless of background, then people from many different backgrounds can rise to the top. But if it is unequal, giving privileged access to a few but closing doors to many others who are equally deserving, it can become a mechanism for entrenching a privileged group.
Number One "all men are equal, some men will turn out to be more equal than others." Maybe you might want to include women, and heaven forbid 'gay' men, in that quote from George Orwell. And is it possible to teach altruism? Reminds me of a belief of Comte, to have the ruling elite composed of an altruistic sociological priesthood, or Plato's philosopher king. This argument also runs headlong into the problem that there exists some sort of 'common purpose'. Assuming there is, how can this elite tap into this 'common purpose'? Is it a sign that the Department of Sociology at the NUS is about to receive a massive investment in funding. Funding to sponsor research into what Singaporeans desire, what their attitudes are. Will individuals be encouraged to speak openly and freely?
Number Two "there is a tendency for the elite in any society to entrench themselves over time, and to become more closed and exclusive. The children of successful people tend to do well,". LHL would know all about that. And just out of interest, does anyone know what the current levels of upward mobility and downward mobility are in Singapore? Maybe someone from the Department of Sociology at the NUS could enlighten us. LHL refers to upward mobility but is it possible that downward social mobility might actually occur. Surely that would be a better indicator of the level of 'meritocracy' in Singapore. So are there avenues that enable those at the top to fall to the bottom? Or is being born at the top an automatic iron rice bowl? Ah yes, social order will collapse if society becomes stratified. Or does he mean polarised? So how will the nightmare of the collapse of social order be avoided....
Number Three "the education system". There are other institutions in society, other than the state, family and education. How about allowing free trade unions, a judiciary, executive and legislature, that are separated from each other. How about an independent mass media? Imagine a newspaper controlled by 'journalists' being able to "speak truth to those in power", conduct investigative journalism into the dealings of Members of Parliament, Managing Directors, minister Mentors, claims of nepotism. What about a welfare state based on the Swedish model. Imagine a trade union, encouraging non-university graduates to speak their mind, and actually being listened to.
The entire speech stinks of "Educational Elitism". Is it as close to the days of 'eugenics' as it seems to me? I would really like to know what Singaporeans think?
Here is what Sheena;s Little Fragment of Time thinks.