Having read Kelvin Teo’s piece: Get rid of that colonial mindset please! , this is my response to his article.
I think it would be too much of a stretch to call Singapore’s dependence on foreign talent as indicative of a ‘colonial mindset’. I can understand your sentiments, but the government’s desire to bring in professionals and sportsmen from other countries to boost its own image and status reflects its thoroughly pragmatic approach more than anything else. You would have to explain what you mean by the colonial mindset before using the term to avoid any confusion.
It is a celebrated fact of Singapore’s history that it managed to stand up on its own feet almost by itself after being given independence by the British and separating from Malaysia to reach the position it is in today. Many Western countries admire the ‘Singaporean model’ and some even try to internalise parts of it. I certainly do not think that we Singaporeans still consider our country to be enchained to any colonial power for our survival. We have broken loose, long ago.
What you should have attacked really is the philosophy of pragmatism that the government functions upon. We prioritise economic development over social and political progress, because it is the more practical concern. Singapore needs to survive, and for that we need to encourage MNCs to enter and do business freely. The arts and sports are secondary considerations, not imperatives. Our education system must be designed to produce competent leaders of the future, and so much be highly structured around this aim. A more democratic political system would distract the leaders from the project of nation-building (as our current PM said) and so is a nuisance. Everything must be centrally managed, because we cannot afford to allow any one sector of our society to govern itself and potentially run havoc. Singapore is like a small boat that can easily shake and capsize if just a few people start jumping in it – in the astute words of Kishore Mahbubani.
Understanding this master plan, how is this country going to produce the requisite talents necessary to sustain itself? We live in such a stifling environment, where creativity and risk-taking attitudes are given little space to thrive. It is a clichéd saying that creativity comes from chaos, and this might make many of our leaders squeamish. But what cannot be denied is that a degree of freedom is necessary if excellence in sports or academia is to manifest itself. Look at the countries that produce great talents in these fields, examine the societies that give birth to them. What do they have that we don’t? Size, a PAP politician would say, something that will always disadvantage us, and so we cannot make such comparisons. But is this really true? Just because we are small and have no natural resources except our people, does that mean that we are forever doomed to focus on mere survival?
The real problem is that our leaders, going back to the founding fathers, have always been burdened with a survival instinct. We came out of desperate situations, and so we desperate seek to survive. Anything beyond is simply a luxury. City states do not survive for long, and they are worried every day about Singapore’s survival. So how does encouraging sports help? It didn’t matter too much in the past. But today it does. It enhances the country’s image. It is an advertisement to the world. It sets us apart from our neighbours and so makes the country as a whole a more attractive place to stay. We need sports. Ditto for the arts. It is all in the name of survival. That is what Singapore’s pragmatism ultimately boils down to.
Nobody was complaining in the 80s and early 90s when Singapore still had an edge over its ASEAN neighbours. But now they have caught up, and our advantage has been largely eroded. This is the primary concern for the government: how to keep the country ahead of the pack. If it takes foreigners to achieve that, then so be it. The same pragmatic approach that we lauded in the past when it justified restrictions on civil and political liberties in the name of social stability we now rebuke for its prioritisation of foreigners over locals. We feel cheated. But it is all for the betterment of the country, the government would say (along with some placatory words about retraining the local workforce and providing unemployment aid).
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