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Who’s On the Higher Horse? July 29, 2008

Posted by The Truth in Im Allgemeinen.
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Something for you all to read

Not all in West call for liberal ideals out of jealousy

AS A politics and international relations undergraduate attending university in Britain, I have followed the recent furore over perceived ‘Singapore-bashing’ comments in the local press with great interest. I would like to think my views do not stem from just one side of the divide. I grew up in Singapore, and attended local schools. These days, I attend lectures by ‘Western liberals’, and discuss politics with young people of similar leaning. This, thus far, has been my exposure to the ideals of human rights and free speech, among other principles which have received fairly short shrift by sections of the Singapore public and academia.

At my university, there is a campaign or protest on the steps of the Student Union at any one time – against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, against xenophobia in Britain, against the atrocities in Darfur… These campaigns are not public nuisances, and they are never regarded as such. To my mind, they are the product of passion and intellectual discussion, and their utility lies in the debate they spark, on issues which are often controversial.

Note that these campaigns – often centred on, and calling for human rights, or at least the broader concept of human security – are not propagated by the government. More often than not, these students target government policies, calling for change, and encouraging civil society, in turn, to urge action in Parliament. This is the value of constructive dissent, in itself possible because of freedom of speech – within limits – and the right to protest.

My point is this: Not all in the West call for liberal ideals because they are ‘jealous’. Singaporeans writing in and to the local press have asserted that the West must understand that Singapore’s principles are fundamentally different, that here the focus is on pragmatism, on meeting material needs, and on stability. I feel it is also important to recognise that the Western intellectual tradition is perhaps more philosophically oriented, and certainly more vocal.

I find most disturbing the accusations that all criticism aimed at the Government must be from ignorant, jealous outsiders. Perhaps this stems from the perception that all radical dissenters in the local political landscape are lunatics. To begin, I am currently working with local women’s non-governmental organisation Aware, and it offers constructive criticism of government policies relating to sex and gender in its 2007 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) Shadow Report. Former and current Aware presidents have risen to the fore to argue for local and migrant women’s rights, if not for the recognition of universal human rights. Surely they are not ignorant or jealous – but attempting to spark debate, and eventually reform?

The worst possible approach Singapore could take at the moment is to go on the defensive and adopt the same moral high-handedness it believes the West is levelling at it. Of course the West is no vanguard of human civilisation; it is ridiculous to assume academics in the West are oblivious to that fact. None of my professors will hold, I am sure, that the United States or Britain presents a ‘perfect’ democracy. But nor does Singapore. It is time to stop pointing fingers back across the water, and start exchanging ideas on what we can learn from each other.

Dell Marie Butler (Ms)

Indeed, who’s on the higher horse? Personally, I believe that both sides are guilty of moral high-horsing. Being based currently in Germany, I can see that Singapore is a dream when it comes to efficiency, and so on. Why are there student movements in Europe? It is a tradition born out of Continental idealism (especially Kant and the Deutscher Idealismus), and the Aufklärung (Enlightenment) which sees reason as the instance of human activity and judgement. It is this view which the West feels that all humans should have, and thus the West attempts to influence the East.

There has been, probably since Classical Athens, no perfect democracy. However, i think the West has, based on these principles, spoken out more for democracy, because Man is a rational being, and in bending to any government (as can be seen in the Orient), Man is chained. And it is his fault. Perhaps the ratio (lat.: reason) of the people should be allowed to shine through more, according to the West. And since there are no more pure democracies (for a pure democracy, again, read up on Athens) people elect their representatives, who are ultimately responsible to those who put them in power.

Perhaps this doesn’t sit well with the Orient, because an ideal state here would be a benevolent despotism. Which the Singaporean government, IMHO, appears to be. Thus, we have reached our ideals. However, despots don’t like to listen to criticism, and thus the furore about the whole hoo-ha. I guess this is especially relevant in Singapore because Singapore is two-faced – we feel somehow responsible for (i mean, sure, we ARE responsible for our Government) to the Government, despite Singapore being a ‘democratic’ country. Keep the Opposition weak, and the press cowed, and the masses lost in their materialistic insanity, and you have absolute power.

I, too have wondered why people who are jacked up about the whole thing assume that the West is ‘jealous.’ I mean please, get off your high horse already. People in the West, although having to deal with higher criminality, high taxes and low efficiency, are happier. We may be efficient and very safe, but are we happy? Both have their strengths, one born out of respect for the ordinary human being, the other out of respect for numbers. Would Westerners, then, be jealous of us? I don’t think so. Perhaps for certain MNCs which like the very liberal market here, perhaps. But the big question is: is the ordinary Westerner jealous?

MM Lee has a big, but fragile ego, but he has earned it with his work. I don’t think Singapore or Singaporeans deserve to have this kind of ego at all. Jealous? Sounds like sour grapes to me! It is interesting how people compare apples with oranges…you can’t compare efficiency against human freedom, because these are two separate standards. Maybe a restriction in freedom is worth it for efficiency. But how far does it go? Politicians in a so-called ‘democracy’ would pay attention to such details. But is this so in Singapore? When you have an octagenarian wave threats in our collective faces? It saddens me that in Singapore, the average human is assumed to know nuts.

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