Drawing the Trump Card

Very little work was done in the office, on 10 November 2016 in Singapore (9 November in the U.S.).

As we watched the levels of red and blue creep towards the target of 270, the red faster than the blue, American colleagues started to ask about taking up Singapore citizenship. Others were trying not to choke while attempting to call Cheeto-face “my President”, or were fingering him as the beast from Revelation.

Magnum photos of the day:

Some data about the voters:

And loads of memes whose copyright owners are unknown.
memes on the U.S. Presidential Elections 2016

Struggling with disbelief, there were many theories about how this all came to be:

Analysing Why the Democrats/Hillary Clinton Lost

Clinton ignoring the economic anxieties of the white working class

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Ftheguardian%2Fvideos%2F1491239407569788%2F&show_text=0&width=560
The contempt of the (liberal) political elite for the common man

Disagreement with Obama/Clinton’s policies

Facebook as Echo Chamber and Vehicle for Fake News

Fake News About Clinton from Enterprising Teens in the Balkans

WikiLeaks’ leaks

Because Hillary Clinton was Hillary Clinton

Ignorance of Trump voters

And because not enough credit was given to the merits of the Trump team, Jared Kushner’s evil genius:

Analysing Why the Donald Trump Victory Was a Shock

Then, the stage known as Denial, in grief counselling – residual hope that Clinton might still make it to the White House:

memes on the U.S. Presidential Elections 2016
And then, there is also looking onwards to Trump as President:

Predictions about the Future

You can’t really make any decent predictions if: (i) the Prez-elect seems to just to have treated his campaigning as a publicity stunt and hasn’t really any coherent vision for leading the country; and (ii) he isn’t quite known as a man of his word anyway.

Predictions of a bleak future for some/all people

Worries that immediate incidents of racism are indicative of next 4 years

Stirrings of hope

(because, somewhat ironically, Trump isn’t a man of his word and may not make good many of his anti-immigration, anti-welfare, etc. promises)

Predictions about the rise of China

memes on the U.S. Presidential Elections 2016

Analysing Other Responses

Acts of resistance

Demanding better of Trump

Poetry

Ultimately, trying to pin the Trump victory on one factor is impossible. Just as claiming to write an objective history is too naively reductionistic.

What is clear though is that the sovereign God has put him there, for there is no authority (whether good or bad) that exists, except what God has instituted.

Peashoot smoothie bowl, and Christ’s descent to hell

Holy Saturday, some call it. That day between the death of Christ and his resurrection from the dead.

Laryngitis still gripping me by the throat, the smoothie bowls continued with a shocking green peashoot smoothie, topped with the now-usual strawberries, blueberries, chia seeds, homemade gula merah granola:
peashoot yoghurt smoothie bowl topped with strawberries, blueberries, chia seeds, homemade gula melaka granola

There has been much speculation as to the whereabouts of Jesus on that interim Saturday. One of the Christian creeds states that he “descended into hell”, to rise again on the third day.

In his chapter on Christ’s Humiliation in Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Bavinck argues that there is no proof of this in Scripture:

  • Acts 2:27, citing Psalm 16:10 teaches that Christ, having died, was in Hades and belonged to the dead but contains no hint of the idea that he descended into hell
  • 1 Peter 3:18-22 about Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison, first does not speak of what Christ did between his death and resurrection, but of what he did either before his incarnation or after having revived his body. Second, there is no mention whatever of a descent of Christ into hell for this purpose.
  • According to Hebrews 12:23, the devout of the old covenant form the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven and have received heavenly citizenship before the believers of the New Testament.
  • The concept of Hades has changed through the centuries from merely denoting death to being equated to the concept of Gehenna (hell, a place of torment).

peashoot yoghurt smoothie bowl topped with strawberries, blueberries, chia seeds, homemade gula melaka granolaWhat we do know is this: that Christ drank the cup of suffering to the last drop and tasted death in all its bitterness in order to completely deliver us from the fear of death and death itself. Thus he destroyed him who had the power of death and by a single offering perfected for all time those who are sanctified (Hebrews 10:14).

The Tangled Web of the History of Daesh, and the Sovereignty of God

3 days after the Friday the 13th Paris Attacks and the commentaries keep rolling in.

If nothing else, they confirm Leo Tolstoy’s dismissal of the arrogance of historians and commentators who claim to have knowledge of the past and think they understand the causes of present day events.

“Both Tolstoy and Maistre think of what occurs as a thick, opaque, inextricably complex web of events, objects, characteristics, connected and divided by literally innumerable unidentifiable links – and gaps and sudden discontinuities too, visible and invisible. It is a view of reality which makes all clear logical and scientific constructions – the well-defined, symmetrical patterns of human reason – seem smooth, thin, empty, “abstract” and totally ineffective as means either of description or of analysis of anything that lives, or has ever lived.” (Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and The Fox)

Starbucks, Citylink Mall, Singapore

To expand on the list given earlier, these have been trotted out as the cause(s) of the rise of ISIS/ISIL/the Islamic State/Daesh and/or the resulting atrocities (though even that link shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion) – in no particular order:

crepe with whipped cream and fresh strawberriesThere is nothing like the inability to untangle the strands that led to any one event, the lack of knowledge and processing power to comprehend the nature and nurture that made one individual the way he/she is at this present moment, to understand that we are far from being in control of our world.

There are two possible responses to this helplessness: (1) existentialism and despair; or (2) contending with the God who controls all things.

The absolute sovereignty of the LORD
You can’t really be a god worth worshipping unless you are (i) really in control of every single thing that happens in the world; (ii) eternal so you can control even time. And this is what the LORD claims – he is in-charge of the sway of international affairs as he is of the rhythms of the day and the hirsuteness of an individual:

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven” (Daniel 4:34-35a)

the Most High rules the kingdom of men and give it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men (Daniel 4:17, 25c, 32b)

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)

he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45)

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:29-30)

The LORD’s sovereignty over evil

And just so we can be sure no one made up this God, being sovereign also means he has control over evil; there isn’t even a hint of any duality of good and evil that would make him less than completely sovereign:

Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? (Amos 3:6)

I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things (Isaiah 45:7)

But…the present evil…?

The more pressing question is: why the present good? Because evil is to be expected in a fallen world where men’s hearts are evil all the time.

But if God is in control, how can evil happen and he still be a good God?

An old question and one answered succinctly in the Book of Job:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!

“Shall a fault-finder contend with the Almighty?
    He who argues with God, let him answer it.” (see Job 38-42!)

The Sovereign God is not obligated to explain his divine decisions to anyone. Job (and with him, all humankind) is put in his place. We have neither the ability nor the right to understand everything because we are not God. But what we do know from the Bible gives us sufficient cause to rely wholly on him as a good and trustworthy God.

Friday the 13th Paris Attacks. Pray for Paris; Pray for Humanity

Far too early on a Saturday morning in Singapore, abruptly awakened by Facebook notifications, I peeked a bleary eye at what was happening. Two friends had, in quick succession, marked themselves safe in Paris, on Facebook’s Safety Check.

Paris Terror Attacks - Facebook Safety CheckNo, I’d thought. No, no, no.

But yes.
screen capture of Telegraph's headlines on Paris shootingSo ISIS (or is it ISIL? Daesh? The Islamic State?) has claimed responsibility, leading to the usual reactions in national and social media:

Immediate Reactions

    • immediate vows of retaliation, and an appeal for unity and togetherness (François Hollande: “So France will be merciless in its response to the Islamic State militants…use all means within the law…on every battleground here and abroad together with our allies”.)
    • calls for non-retaliation – you cannot bomb an idea that is religious, anti-Western, anti-imperialist (Peter van Buren);
    • calls for justice not vengeance – war on terrorism fuels more terrorism (The Nation);

Speculating how this could have been prevented

    • err, pointing to this as an example of why people need the freedom to own guns to shoot “the bad guys” (Donald Trump);
    • the authorities should have had adequate information to stop the attacks (Buzzfeed)

Speculating on the rise and aim of ISIS

  • fingering George Bush’s Iraq War as responsible for the creation of ISIS (Vanity Fair, Huffington Post);
  • rebutting that, qua Leo Tolstoy, no one can really be certain of the cause of historic events – “US invasion of Iraq, massive corruption, recent drought, Sunni v Shia sectarianism, constant Western and Russian meddling, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, trade sanctions, foundational scriptures, Muhammad’s example of religious militarism, Hulagu Khan’s sack of Baghdad, Al-Ghazali’s anti-scientific ‘renewing of the faith’, the Curse of Oil, establishment of the state of Israel etc etc. So many causes of the bedlam in the Middle East. Some are traceable to US foreign policy. Some not at all.” (comments from Muslim Matters)
  • (and also apparent real joy at the American liberation of Iraq (Wait But Why))
  • demanding that politicians finally officially acknowledge that ISIS is a Muslim organisation albeit one that interpretes the Quran differently from peaceful Muslims (The Spectator);
  • explaining that the West needs to know the intellectual basis of their enemy; that the Islamic State really believes that they have set up a caliphate with Baghdadi as caliph, that all good Muslims are to show allegiance to the caliphate, that they are working towards the Day of Judgement (The Atlantic);
  • insisting that it is grossly misrepresentative to say the Islamic State is Islamic (The Slate).

Another group has been greatly offended. Their cause of anger: #prayforparis and #prayforhumanity.

Atheist responses to #prayforparis
Atheist responses to #prayforparisAu contraire, God is neither powerless to prevent evil, nor does he ignore the tragic consequences of evil.

  1. God is so concerned with evil and that most of the Bible, God’s word, teaches how he has dealt with it and will deal completely with it.
  2. Good news for the good guys? Yes. But bad news for all of us, the whole of humanity. Because evil isn’t out there – not zombies, not another country or race or economic group or political party or bloodthirsty terrorist group, it’s in us – it is us. Since the Fall, every intention of the thoughts of the human heart has been evil continually (Genesis 6:5); it has been deceitful all the time and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9); out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matthew 15:19). No one seeks for God or worships him – the ultimate definition of sin.
  3. If God had dealt completely with evil at the Fall, none of us would exist. If God comes to deal with evil now, all of us, on the basis of our own records, will have to be wiped out for justice to be done.
  4. So as I write this and as you read this and life goes on around us, it is erroneous to ask why bad things happen to good people. Because there is no one good, not even one. (Romans 3:10). No one seeks for God. The real question then is this: why do good and bad things happen to us bad people? Why does the sun still shine on us? How can we still enjoy life and love and companionship and food and air?
  5. It is the mercy of God for now. But we cannot be so complacent as to think this means we are home free. There is a judgment to come:

    “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly.

    But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:7-10)

  6. And what does repentance look like? It is acknowledging that we have forsaken the true and living God and have wickedly chosen to live our own ways. It is turning back to acknowledging God and trusting his promise that the blood of his Son, Jesus, who died on the cross, has paid for our sins. It is submitting to the lordship of this Christ.
  7. It is to this God whom we pray. It is this judge Jesus whom we must fear. So yes, ISIS is scary but “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

And why pray? The Christian is in a very different relationship with God the Father – able to speak to him and be heard, but of course, God being sovereign may not give us everything we ask for. Skimming the surface of the topic of prayer is D.A. Carson:

Haig Road Market Putu Piring and Letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to PAP MPs on Rules of Prudence

This made me forget I was eating very tasty Haig Road Market putu piring. (Oh, but how tasty. Not chewy in texture like Tan’s Kueh Tu Tu, but slightly delicately crumbly like idli. With melty coconut sugar in the middle. Festooned with sweet-salty shredded coconut. 5 for S$2.)

Haig Road Market Putu PiringNow Christian leaders are no strangers to the concept of servant leadership, and the idea that one must not just be godly but also must be seen to be godly so as not to stumble the flock. It was a pleasant surprise to see these things reflected in PM Lee Hsien Loong’s letter to the PAP MPs.

Surely common grace means that the sort of biblical wisdom found in the Old Testament isn’t just advantageous to Christians, but because God made all things, it is also the best way to live in this world.

Also, Isaac Watts!

PM Lee’s letter reproduced from here:

Letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to PAP MPs on Rules of Prudence

All PAP MPs

RULES OF PRUDENCE

BEYOND SG50

It is a tradition for the Prime Minister to send a letter on “Rules of Prudence” to all the PAP MPs after an election.  The context each time may be different but the subject remains constant, because integrity, honesty and incorruptibility are fundamental to our Party.  We must never tire of reminding ourselves of their importance.

2.        Our Party has won 83 out of 89 seats in the just concluded General Election, with all seats contested. Overall, the PAP won 69.9% of the votes.

3.        The people have endorsed what we have done in the previous term, and given us a clear mandate to take Singapore forward beyond SG50.  Now we must fulfil what we have promised to do in our manifesto. We must never break faith with the people, but must always carry out our duties to them responsibly, address their worries and advance their interests.

4.        Be humble in victory. As MPs, always remember we are servants of the people, not masters. Do not mistake the strong election result to mean that our efforts have succeeded, and that we can afford to slacken. Much work remains to be done tackling issues which concern Singaporeans, and finding new ways to improve people’s lives. Listen hard to voter concerns, help them to tackle pressing needs, and convey their worries and aspirations to the Government. Persuade them to support policies which are in their own long term benefit, while helping the Government to formulate good policies and stay in close touch with the people.

UPHOLDING OUR REPUTATION AND INTEGRITY

5.        One vital factor that has enabled the PAP to retain the trust of Singaporeans all these years is honesty and integrity. The PAP’s reputation for clean, incorruptible government is one of our most precious assets. As PAP MPs, your personal standing reflects this high standing of the Party as a whole. I cannot stress strongly enough that every MP must uphold the rigorous standards that we have set for ourselves, and do nothing to compromise them. Never give cause for allegations that you are misusing your position, especially your access to Ministers.  That would discredit both you and the Party.

6.        As MPs, you will come across many different sorts of people. Many altruistic, public spirited individuals will help you without wanting anything in return, spending time and money to get community projects going and to serve residents. But a few will cultivate you to obtain benefits for them-selves or their companies, to gain respectability by association with you, or to get you to influence ministries and statutory boards to make decisions in their favour. Gift hampers on festive occasions, entertainment, and personal favours big and small are just a few of countless social lubricants which such people use to ingratiate themselves to MPs and make you obligated to them.

7.        You must distinguish between these two groups of people, and be shrewd in assessing the motives of those who seek to get close to you. At all times be seen to be beyond the influence of gifts or favours.

8.        Be scrupulously proper in your contacts with government departments or public officers.  Do not lobby any ministry or statutory board on behalf of anyone who is not your constituent or grassroots activist.  Do not raise matters with public officers on behalf of friends, clients, contractors, employers, or financiers to advance their business interests.  Conduct business with government agencies in writing and avoid making telephone requests.  If you have to speak, follow up in writing to put your requests on record.

9.        MPs are often approached by friends, grassroots leaders or proprietors and businessmen to officiate at the openings of their new shops or other business events. They usually offer a gesture, such as a donation to a charity or constituency welfare fund. Though it may be awkward to refuse such requests, once you accept one, you will be hard-pressed to draw a line. As a rule, you should decline invitations to such business events. If you feel you should attend, please obtain prior approval from the Whip.

SEPARATING BUSINESS AND POLITICS

10.      Separate your public political position from your private, professional or business interests.  MPs who are in business, who occupy senior management positions in companies, or who sit on company boards should be especially vigilant.  You must not exploit your public position as Government MPs, your close contacts with the Ministers, or your access to government departments and civil servants, for your personal interest or the benefit of your employers.  Your conduct must always be above board.

11.      MPs who are employed by companies or industry associations may at times have to make public statements on behalf of their company or industry association.  If you have to do so, make it clear that you are not speaking as an MP, but in your private, professional or business capacity.

12.      Do not use Parliamentary questions as a means to lobby the Government on behalf of your businesses or clients. When you raise questions in Parliament related to your own businesses or your clients, be careful to first declare your pecuniary interest in the issue.

13.      You may, however, speak freely to Cabinet Ministers, who are your Parliamentary colleagues.  Ministers will listen carefully to arguments on principles, especially when they relate to the general policy of their Ministries.  But Ministers will not exercise their discretion to change individual decisions without very good reasons which they can justify publicly.  Parliamentary Secretaries and Ministers of State who intervene in their Ministries to reverse or alter decisions should promptly report the matter to their Ministers to protect themselves against possible accusations of misconduct.  The Government must always base decisions on the merits of the issues, and cannot yield to pressure from interested parties.

DIRECTORSHIPS

14.      MPs are often invited to serve on the Boards of private and publicly listed companies.  This is a sign that the private sector values PAP MPs’ integrity and experience, and reflects the high standing of the Party and of PAP MPs in general.  The Party permits MPs to serve as directors, provided you keep your private and public responsibilities rigorously separate, and your private appointments do not compromise your duties and performance as an MP.

15.      The public will closely scrutinise your involvement in companies, because you are a PAP MP.  Conduct your business activities so as to bring credit to yourself and to the Party.  Adverse publicity on your performance as a director, or lapses in the companies you are associated with, will tarnish your reputation as an MP and lower the public’s regard for the Party.

16.      You should not solicit for Directorships in any companies, lest you appear to be exploiting your political position to benefit yourself.

17.      You should not accept directorships where your role is just to dress up the board with a PAP MP or two, in order to make the company look more respectable.

18.      Some grassroots leaders are businessmen who own or manage companies.  You should not sit on any boards of companies owned or chaired by grassroots leaders appointed by you, so as to avoid the perception that you are obligated to them or advancing their business interests.

19.      If you are offered a Directorship, you have to decide for yourself whether to accept.  The Party is not in a position to vet or approve such decisions.

20.      Before accepting, consider the possible impact of the Directorship on your political life.  Ensure that the company understands that you are doing so strictly in your private capacity, and will not use your public position to champion the interests of the company, or lobby the government on its behalf.

21.      Make every effort to familiarise yourself with the business, track record and background of the key promoters of the company.  Satisfy yourself that the company is reputable, and that you are able to make a meaningful contribution.  Specifically, just like anyone else contemplating a Directorship, you should ask yourself:

a.         How well do you know the company, its business strategy, financial status, shareholding structure and the underlying industry?

b.        Do you know your fellow directors, the way the Board and its committees fulfil their responsibilities, the reporting structure between Board and Management and the relationship between shareholders and the company?

c.         Do you have sufficient industry, financial or professional expertise to fulfil your expected role and responsibilities as a Director?  Do you understand your obligations under the law and the Code of Corporate Governance?  Will you be able to discharge your fiduciary duties properly and without fear or favour?

d.        Will you face any conflicts of interest, and if so can you manage them? If in any doubt, you should decline.

22.      Once you have decided to take up a Directorship, please inform the Whip. Detailed reporting requirements are listed in the Annex.

PARLIAMENT

23.      MPs are expected to attend all sittings of Parliament.  If you have to be absent from any sitting, seek permission from the Government Whip.  Please inform the Whip if you have to leave the Parliament premises while a sitting is on.

24.      If you travel abroad, or need to be absent from Parliament for any reason, you must apply to the Speaker for leave, with copies to the Leader of the House and the Government Whip.  You should also inform the Whip where you can be reached while abroad.

25.      I have asked the Speaker to give all MPs, particularly new MPs, ample opportunity and latitude to speak in Parliament.  Your first opportunity will be during the debate on the President’s Address at the opening of Parliament in January 2016.  Following that, at the Budget Debate, all MPs should speak up.  Script your speeches or put your key points in note form to structure your presentation and help the media.

26.      The public expects PAP MPs to express their views frankly, whether for or against Government policies. During debates, speak freely and with conviction.  Press your points vigorously, and do not shy away from robust debate.  However, please exercise judgement when putting your points across, and do not get carried away playing to the gallery.

27.      Bring out questions and issues that Singaporeans and your constituents have concerns about, and grapevine talk for the Government to rebut, but avoid unwittingly lending credence to baseless gossip. This will show that you and the Party are in touch with the ground, and speaking up for Singaporeans. Bringing up pertinent issues and questions in a timely manner helps ministers to put across the facts, explain the reasons for policies and decisions, and maintain public confidence in the openness and integrity of our actions.

28.      Your honest, informed views are an important political input to Ministers when they formulate and review policies. Ministers will accept valid, constructive suggestions, but they have to challenge inaccurate or mistaken views. Over time, the public will see that PAP backbenchers are as effective as opposition MPs, if not better, at holding ministers to account, getting issues fully debated, and influencing policies for the better.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC OCCASIONS

29.      On certain occasions, like the National Day Parade and the Investiture Ceremony for National Day Awards, the whole Establishment, i.e. the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, will be there.  Those who cannot attend must have very good reasons.  Those who have accepted the invitation must attend, otherwise they leave empty seats, which does no credit to them or to the Party.

30.      At all public functions and constituency events, punctuality is of paramount importance.

GIFTS

31.      You should not accept gifts which might place you under obligations which conflict with your public duties. If you receive any gifts other than from close personal friends or relatives, you must declare them to the Clerk of Parliament who will have the gifts valued.  If you wish to keep the gifts, you must pay the Government for them at the valuation price.

FUND-RAISING

32.      Party Branches should not raise funds on their own without permission, for example by soliciting advertisements for a souvenir magazine or a carnival.  If you intend to raise funds, please clear it beforehand with the Organising Secretary.  When your branch embarks on a collective fund-raising activity, e.g. a Family Day or Walk-A-Jog, you must follow the rules strictly.

FINANCIAL PRUDENCE

33.      As MPs, you should manage your personal financial affairs prudently. Do not over-extend yourself or become financially embarrassed. This would be not only a potential source of personal embarrassment, but also a weakness which may expose you to pressure or blackmail.

34.      In particular, be careful about making major financial commitments assuming that you will continue to receive your MP’s allowance.  While MPs typically serve several terms, you cannot assume that you will automatically be fielded in future General Elections, or that if fielded you will definitely be re-elected.  There is neither tenure nor job security in politics.

DECLARATION OF INCOME

35.      For your own protection, every MP should disclose to me, in confidence, your business and professional interests, your present employment and monthly pay, all retainers and fees that you are receiving, and whether your job requires you to get in touch with officers of Government Ministries or statutory boards on behalf of employers or clients.  Office holders need not do so because you will be subject to the reporting requirements of the Code of Conduct for ministers. This should be done by 31 October 2015.

GENERAL BEHAVIOUR

36.      The PAP has held our position in successive elections because our integrity has never been in doubt, and because we are sensitive to the views and attitudes of the people we represent.  MPs must always uphold the high standards of the Party and not have lifestyles or personal conduct which will embarrass themselves and the Party.  Any slackening of standards, or show of arrogance or indifference by any MP, will erode confidence in him, and ultimately in the Party and Government.  New MPs can pick up the dos and don’ts from older MPs.  You should conduct yourselves always with modesty, decorum and dignity, particularly in the media. You must win respect, not popularity, to stay the course.

MEDIA PUBLICITY

37.      I am releasing a copy of this letter to the media so that the public knows the high standards we demand of our MPs.

LEE HSIEN LOONG

cc: Government Whip

“Democracy Kills: What’s So Good About Having the Vote?”

Sinar Pagi Nasi Padang, 13 Circular Road, SingaporeLunch at Sinar Pagi Nasi Padang (13 Circular Road) and we were talking politics loudly enough that neighbouring tables, who were discussing swaps and bonds when we sat down, had started to listen in.

Somewhere along the line I mentioned that I’d been reading Humphrey Hawksley‘s Democracy Kills: what’s so good about having the vote?

Rather than a tightly-woven argument with stats, Hawksley had chosen a more emotive approach with stacks of personal narratives. As one might surmise from its title, the leitmotif of book, as we travel from Africa to the Middle East and the Islamic world, to South Asia, to Latin America, to South East Asia, to Europe, is skepticism about the benefits of democracy.

We read about West-imposed elections in Africa ending with catastrophic consequences when would-be dictators took advantage of the weakness of fledgling political institutions to sweep into power.

We are brought to the Middle East where the relevance of elections is questioned in a society where power is commonly shared according to birthright and candidates are manifestations of societal (tribal) faultlines. And we are shown how wrong Condoleezza Rice is in alleging that dictatorships caused terror, so democracy would end it. Violence erupted whenever a Western power came along to overthrow a dictator, leaving a vacuum of power for various factions to fight over.

etc.

tauhu telor, Sinar Pagi Nasi Padang, 13 Circular Road, SingaporeDemocracy is not the panacea that the West (mostly, America) touts it is. Hawksley repeatedly suggests that American involvement in various countries is a fig leaf – it is about protecting U.S. interests and installing leaders they think will be friendly to them, rather than the welfare of the locals. Hence, the inconsistency in their labelling the democratically-elected Hamas as terrorists. Hawksley then contrasts the poverty and instability of suddenly-manufactured democracies with the prosperity and stability of monarch-ruled Dubai or authoritarian Singapore.

The oft-quoted dictum of Winston Churchill (from his speech in the House of Commons, 11 November 1947):

Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…

has just as often been forgotten. But, in any case, says Hawksley, it’s not enough just to observe this fact. More needs to be done:

  • educate the electorate: create a generation of people who can think calmly and critically, and reason well – something greatly hampered by sanctions on books
  • allow time for electoral candidates to make themselves known to the locals and not just be handpicked by eg. the Americans in Iraq, mentor them so they understand what the democratic system entails and know how not to be a bad loser
  • ensure proper planning for the future – it’s not just enough to plot to get rid of a dictator without a plan for how to run the country thereafter

a diet of yoghurt and muesli and political theory for breakfastWell, said AH, other than the absolute perfect rule of Christ over all (see, eg. Ephesians 1), perhaps the best form of government is the benevolent dictator. I suppose that’s just as feasible in this fallen world as a completely unselfish community-centred rational electorate.

The Sharing Economy, Collaborative Economy, “Gig” Employment

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista Road
Cafe-hopping, I was told, by various people and oft, when I arrived in Singapore, was totally the thing right now. It leveraged on synergies:

  • people wanting some content for Instagram
  • cafes ensuring their food was instagrammable, but at a cost
  • people banding together and pooling resources to ensure a much lower overhead cost for each enviable instagram-shot

The sharing economy or collaborative economy goes further than the mere cobbling together of resources. And the companies that have made the greatest gains don’t even start with much:

Uber – the world’s largest taxi company, yet owns no vehicles

Airbnb – the world’s largest accommodation-provider, yet owns no property

Alibaba – the world’s most valuable retailer, yet owns no inventory

Facebook – the world’s most popular media owner, yet creates no content

These sharing platforms have been hailed by many as representative of the new dawn of socialism. The idea isn’t new of course – Napster was nabbed for that a few years ago. And before that, the people in Acts “held everything in common”.

So this is libraries and hitchhikers, on steroids, built on the necessary foundation of “the internets”.

flat white coffee, Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista RoadWhat are the benefits of such peer-to-peer transactions?

  • transparent utility
  • transparent allocation of benefits
  • lowers inefficiencies in the market – through capital-sharing (Airbnb, Relayrides, Zilok), labour-matchmaking (Uber, Lyft, DogVacay, Taskrabbit,) person-to-person marketplace platforms (Alibaba)
  • better for community? more emphasis on social capital – the return to pre-industrial relationship (albeit in a very artificial superficial way) and the creation of trust relationships
  • more personal interest in behaving well, providing good service?
  • participation x choice x social justice? because the cost of use falls
  • if “sharing is the new buying“, there will be less demand for new products, and less strain on the world’s resources (as the environmentalist spiel goes)

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista Road
What are some concerns?

  • easy for these large corporates to flout laws much like the traditional big companies of old, except this time, they bypass the usual democratic process by appealing to their consumer-following to pressurise regulators into capitulating on laws, effectively nullifying the electoral/legislative process.
  • making business out of not being responsible – the companies running these platforms don’t bother with legislation meant to protect employees (from overwork, from discrimination, from exploitation, to ensure they are properly insured, etc); they don’t bother with consumer rights;
  • while marketing solidarity and saving liberal consumers a few pennies, what allegedly happens is that the rich get richer by shirking taxes (that are a mechanism, amongst other things, for the re-distribution of wealth).

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista RoadIt is with some amusement that one realises how similar the dangers of a (neo)liberals’ dream economy is to criticisms of liberalism in the political arena. This fetishised dream of freedom from “burdensome” laws! and “oppressive” authorities! and “overbearing” commitments! forgets that laws and authorities are meant to protect the weak, and commitments ensure job security (hence the protests against zero-hours contracts).

And if so for human laws and authorities which are inevitably flawed on many levels, what about God’s laws and the lordship of Christ?

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista RoadBut…I myself work for a gig employment type company that enables me to earn some bread to feed myself, while also part-time unpaid full-time ministry. It distinguishes itself by actually employing people and then seconding them, and it accords them with the usual benefits of healthcare and insurance.

This is a mere thought-in-gestation…I wonder about the efficacy of a collaborative economy or gig employment for Bible teachers. In a city where there are many churches and few good teachers of the Word, would it be possible to have some sort of platform for desperate churches or parachurch organisations to get the services of (be served by) someone well-trained but, as is usual in any monopoly, hasn’t been given the opportunity to make use of that training (because, eg. the pastors-in-power are wary of their better skills in bible-handling, because they don’t show enough loyalty to the pastor to be given a higher profile)? Most preaching/teaching gigs happen now along the lines of old boys’ networks, strengthening existing monopolies, widening inefficiencies that could be used better for the kingdom.

Of course, sovereignty of God…to which one says, ah but human responsibility.

Still, this might be useful in a limited sense: one-off talks or a short training season; it can’t quite replace a long-term pastor/teacher who is committed to loving and caring for his flock, and who is responsible under God for them.

Paddy Hills, 38 South Buona Vista Road

*the cafe in this post is Paddy Hills (38 South Buona Vista Road). They use Tiong Hoe coffee. This flat white was very dark – it tasted like ash on the roof of my mouth. Perhaps an off-day? The berry hotcakes idea was decent (crispy on the edges, fluffy inside), though the original Kettle Black one in Melbourne had the advantage of cream, which, everyone knows, makes everything better.

**update: see also Robert J. Shiller’s article, Faith in an Unregulated Free Market? Don’t Fall For It.