22 Mar 2005

Three models: Three lessons UNlearnt

The entire article can be accessed here and when that is removed it can be accessed here.

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.


Merenwen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Merenwen said...

1) I don't think the PM was thinking of gay men when he said that. Women? Highly unlikely, given the fact that LKY must have drummed into his head countless times that we are a "patriarchal society". And I don't think S'poreans can speak openly and freely; we've never been able to. Take the casino issue for example. There were so many voices of dissent, so many letters written into the ST and other papers to protest against it, yet it was still given the go-ahead.

2) Well, in his speech, there was no mention of downward mobility at all. But from that quote of his, I infer that he does mean that if you're born into the upper stratum of society, you immediately have advantages the masses don't. Which is true. The "elite" families can provide for their children the best education, the most travelling opportunities for exposure, will have enough connections to open doors for their children, or will groom their kids to take over their businesses, all of which will combine to keep power in the hands of those few elite familes. Though it is true that in terms of education, the middle and lower classes in Singapore are not TOO disadvantaged thanks to bursaries, improved school facilities etc., they will still have to fight for everything else.

3) The PM did mention a welfare system such as was used in Europe, but he said it would create a lot of social problems and is not a viable system to be used in Singapore. I took this to indicate that, like I said in my blog, the country only bothers about the best and the elite, and no others. An independent mass media is a virtual impossibility, and so are free trade unions, in my opinion. Right now we only have ONE labour union, which is NTUC, and it's government-owned, which is quite a laugh, since this means there is no protection for workers the way real labour unions in the USA, for example, provide.

ye said...

Everytime he speaks, I laugh, his words are the same as pointing to the sun at noon and claiming it is midnight
something i never quite understand, is he trying to act stupid to misled others, or is he really stupid , as usual he speaks of ideas and goals, but not of concrete(and sensible) steps to follow
in times like these , i'm really confused, because i really do not want to vote for someone like him, but to vote for the sdp or any other parties seems crazier

suspiciousbastard said...

Oh God/Satan/Buddha/whatever, please, please let me emigrate as soon as possible since I'll be DOOMED in this country.

soci said...

Sometimes I think it's just the usual rhetoric of politicians the world over. But this was at a certain educational establishment, wasn't it? Did his speech writer,(assuming he has one) really consider the audience when writing this? Or maybe it was an attempt at a rallying speech in front students. Is that why he claims that Education, will save Singapore from the nightmare? And therefore the speech writer underestimated the intelligence of the audience.

soci said...

Or maybe it had something to do with an election that should be called soon. Well as soon as the economy picks up and employment increases. Or as soon as they can claim that a blip in the downward trajectory, is more than a blip.

When is the deadline to announce the election. I use the term 'election' loosely.

ye said...

if he really does have a speech writer, now might be a good time to sack him\her
i'm not one to boast but i do believe i can write a better and more convincing speech

akikonomu said...

1. Well, since you asked about the NUS Dept of Sociology, Tan Ern Ser has done studies on social stratification in Singapore and recently published a book called "Does Class Matter?"

2. Yes, it's obvious that the speech is full of bull, but "only non-elites actually care about whether things are right". For elites, power justifies whatever (bull) they say...

3. The audience may have been able to discern the emptiness in the middle (and everywhere else) in his speech, but point (2) probably explains their silence and polite applause anyway?