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.

“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.

The Day After Polling Day for the Singapore General Elections 2015

If we hadn’t stayed up to hear the results of the Singapore General Elections 2015, we’d have awoken this morning to the news that the People’s Action Party carried 83 of the 89 parliamentary seats. For the first time since Singapore’s independence in 1965, all parliamentary seats had been contested.

(I write this as someone how hasn’t paid much attention to politics until very recently, and am certainly not a supporter of any particular political party.)

SingFirst's Tan Jee Say on Channel NewsAsia SingaporeThere’s been much shock, anger, and bitterness at the results from those who were sure that the opposition parties would win big, based on the strength and volume of anti-PAP views online on social media, the massive crowds at Workers’ Party rallies, the complaints of their golfing buddies, etc. Some are in mourning:

wkNow there could be several reasons why sentiment was not an accurate predictor of the final outcome:

  • sample size issues: confirmation bias, echo-chamber effect of social media and search engine algorithms
  • disparity between speech and actions: perhaps it’s not so much the “silent majority”; they could in fact have been very vocal. But there is a difference between looking at the roadshows and experiencing the atmosphere at rallies, and agreeing with their disgruntled chums at coffeeshops…and making a secret private choice after Cooling-Off Day.
    This should not be too much of a surprise. In a sense, human decision-making is similar whether in relation to purchasing something or casting a vote. Alexander Osterwalder had this advice for entrepreneurs:
    “Once you have an idea of those customer jobs, pains, and gains you don’t want to rest until you’ve tested if what you’ve learned from talking to customers is actually real. Actions speak louder than words. There is a big difference between what people say and what they do. People might tell you they are excited about your new product, but when they are in a buying situation their behaviour might be totally different.”

Singapore General Elections: Polling Station tape in void deckWhat is quite disrespectful of both nation and one’s fellow countrymen are the following accusations:

alleging that the elections are invalid for not being free and fair:

    • that the polls were rigged

      Really highly unlikely since the fortunes of the PAP have gone up and precariously down since independence.

      Also, the procedure for the counting of votes is meticulous in its eagerness to ensure that there is no ballot-stuffing (by having serial numbers, which many mistake for a device for keeping track of people’s votes), no tampering with ballot papers, no inaccurate counting. See the Counting of Votes section of the Candidate’s Handbook for Parliamentary Election 2015, and the testimonies from people from all persuasions and parties who were involved in the process.

In relation to the secrecy of votes:

alleging that the outcome of democratic elections is not democratic:

  • that it is undemocratic to have a dominant party in parliament

    No it is not if that’s exactly what the people chose. And the converse would be true if a certain amount of seats had to be left to a certain party, regardless of what the electorate wanted.

alleging that the opposition was not able to communicate effectively with the public:

    • that the PAP controls the mainstream media, that the electorate is brain-washed
    • that it is because of all the fear-mongering
    • that the people who voted for the PAP believed falsehoods, didn’t do their due diligence

      Hardly, since the victorious opposition were lauding the “democratic” role of social media as a platform for alternative voices to be heard in 2011. Also, anyone on social media could not have hidden from the fact that the opposition was heard loud and clear on Facebook, on Youtube, in blogposts etc. Plus, the crowds at WP rallies?

      Being affected by fear-mongering, believing in falsehoods, and lack of due diligence, I think, are regrettably accusations that would be true of voters of every political party.

claiming that some fellow citizens should not have an equal voice:

  • that, see this confirms my xenophobia, it is the new citizens’ fault
  • that it is because of all the old people voting

    Erm, the democratic process means at least that every citizen gets an equal vote – including the elderly, and the wet-behind-the-ears-only-know-how-to-Candy-Crush, and the annoying neighbour, and your boss, and your subordinates, and your kopi uncle, and your CEO, and the people who don’t agree with you etc.

    Since our votes are secret, there is no evidence that new citizens do in fact vote for the PAP. But, it would not be an illogical assumption. To uproot from one’s homeland and migrate here must mean that Singapore is far better than wherever they’ve come from. Perhaps that should make us look at our country again with new eyes, new gratitude for our fortunate lot – be it security, opportunity, affordability of living, etc.

    I know that when I returned to Singapore after travelling quite a bit, I was absolutely shocked by the whiney-ness of Singaporeans. MRT trains breakdown for a few minutes, or even a few hours, and everyone is up in arms. If you lived in London for a week, a month, your planned journeys (sometimes to the airport!) would be foiled by the underground not working because of: signal failure (probably every day), person under a train (typically at peak hour), engineering works (almost every weekend), it being too hot in the summer, leaves on the track in autumn, it being too cold in winter.

Singapore General Elections: Polling Station tape in void deckAnd some are just too pessimistic. I don’t see why this is the end of the world.

  1. Assume the best of the people who have been given the “strong mandate” to govern. Until proven otherwise, trust that when they say they are humbled by the people’s choice, they do really want to serve the common good.
  2. If this is so, then raise your concerns in a reasonable manner with the party that will form the government, and work with them. If you are truly concerned about social justice (whatever that means for you), for the poor, the outcast, the elderly, the underprivileged, the disadvantaged, then you should not be concerned about political power, or partisanship, but will work with anyone to help your just cause/these people. Understand of course, that ministers and MPs would already have a lot on their plate and that there will be many voices vying for their attention. So make it easier by being persistent, by not throwing a tantrum if they appear not to have heard you the first few times, by presenting evidence for the problem and some constructive suggestions for solving the problem. These solutions should also assess the impact of carrying them out on the rights, responsibility, wants, needs of other interest groups in society.
  3. If you were merely hoping to vote in someone who would do all this work for you, don’t outsource. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Start small initiatives. If you are concerned that people coming out of prison might have difficulty getting jobs, use social media for good instead of complaining: gather a group of businesses who would be willing to help them get back on their feet, find places that will allow them to stay for cheap and enjoy the company of others, collect old office clothes so they have something to wear to interviews etc.

Lee Hsien Loong being carried by supporters after victory in the Singapore General Elections 2015If this sounds at all pro-PAP, it isn’t meant to be. Rather, it is the acknowledgement that this is the political party now in power. Since they have been elected by due process (and even if they haven’t been!), we are obliged to give the authorities due respect. And this should be especially so for those who consider themselves God-fearers. For:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed. (Romans 13:1-7)

and

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Before bemoaning the “oppressive authoritarian regime” Singapore is under as a get-out clause, remember that Paul and Peter were writing to Christians under hostile Roman rule. And this requirement to respect the authorities is not because they are any better than or more superior to anyone else, but because it acknowledges the God who has put them in their high position.

Remember what King Nebuchanezzar and King Belshazzar of Babylon had to learn, even while they had God’s people, the Israelites, in exile, and had their temple destroyed:

the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men (Daniel 4:17)

the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will (Daniel 5:21)

The Myth of the Rational Voter – Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies

Dipping into Facebook this last week has been repulsive. The thinly-veiled vitriol from all sides on so-called hot-potato issues like the AHPETC accounts and CPF.

Most annoying of course, is people button-holing you after church or at lunch to talk politics. But when asked to explain their anger about current policies or hostility towards the incumbent governing party (the People’s Action Party), they repeat rather selfish complaints (eg. I want money and I want it now) without any constructive alternative solution to the stated problem (probable failure to save for housing and retirement).

And just asking for more substantial views then gets you the accusatory finger of “oooohhh, someone’s pro-PAP”.

[In the spirit of “no link lei”, here are some gratuitous photos of food.]

hawker centre, Lorong 8 Toa PayohSo it’s Cooling Off Day. One day to think rationally about the choices we are to make at the ballot boxes for the Singapore General Elections 2015 tomorrow.

Amidst the thick haze, there is a cacophony of noise – and it sounds just like lemmings running at full tilt, blinded by biases:

anti-government, anti-authority bias

  • we are unhappy. Therefore, something, or everything!, about the government is making us unhappy.
  • we don’t have the power the government has. Therefore, they are oppressing us and we are marginalised (or we will find people who look like they are victims – single mothers, singles, self-identified LGBT, minority races, low wage earners). They are arrogant and out-of-touch, we are the people who really know what’s going on.

We find it easy to love those who are worse-off than us; who, conspicuously, have less power or money. For no substantial reason, they seem more authentic.

This is why José Mujica, the last president of Uruguay, acquired some international fame as the “world’s poorest president”. His austerity has been an inspiration to a world so engorged with possessions that “de-cluttering” is one of the newest fads. But governing a country requires more than that. New Republic tried to find out if he actually improved the lives of the Uruguayans, and discovered some disappointment. So Eve Fairbanks reflects, philosophically:

It’s a pattern: We keep creating saviors whom we expect to single- handedly restore lost values. Then we lash out at them when they inevitably fall short…

We’re searching for the one figure who can break the binds. We want someone simply different enough to plot a new direction for a world that often feels full of deadly momentum toward existential decay and harder to steer than the hurtling Titanic.

Because actual experience tends to reveal the limits of candidates’ power, we’re also drawn to heroes with less and less experience, blank slates onto which we can project our fantasies for change.

And what about Aung San Suu Kyi, once the icon for a liberal marketing basket of peaceful demonstrations, democracy, human rights, progressiveness etc? Now that she’s got some political power, the junta smirk as she too has been coming under fire – in the last few years, for her silence about the plight of the Muslim Rohingya in West Burma. Her halo has slipped, tarnished, said some. She’s acting just like a “any other politician: single-mindedly pursuing an agenda, making expedient decisions with one eye on electoral politics, the other on kingmakers in Naypyidaw and the domestic political economy”, say others. Oh and why not just accuse her of bad faith and say she’s “taken advantage of the perception of her as an unerring statesman and humanitarian and chosen to collude with tyranny against the people who need her most”.

Mellben Seafood, Lorong 8 Toa Payoh

In his book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan states four other major biases that affect the electorate’s rationality and critical thinking faculties. Courtesy of The Economist:

  • anti-market bias

People don’t understand that the pursuit of private profits often yields public benefits. There is the tendency to underestimate the benefits of the market economy.

Most people fancy themselves to be victims of the market to be preyed on by corporations (the “greedy monopolists”), rather than as they really are – participants in the market.

When asked why petrol prices have risen, the public mostly blames the greed of oil firms. Yet economists nearly all attribute it to the law of supply and demand. If petrol prices rise because oil firms want higher profits, why would they sometimes fall?

  • anti-foreign bias

People underestimate the benefits of interactions with foreigners. They tend to see foreigners as the enemies.

“Most Americans think the economy is seriously damaged by companies sending jobs overseas. Few economists do. People understand that the local hardware store will sell them a better, cheaper hammer than they can make for themselves. Yet they are squeamish about trade with foreigners, and even more so about foreigners who enter their country to do jobs they spurn. Hence the reluctance of Democratic presidential candidates to defend free trade, even when they know it will make most voters better off, and the reluctance of their Republican counterparts to defend George Bush’s liberal line on immigration.”

black pepper crab, Mellben Seafood, Lorong 8 Toa Payoh

    • make-work bias

People equate prosperity with employment rather than production.

“The make-work bias is best illustrated by a story, perhaps apocryphal, of an economist who visits China under Mao Zedong. He sees hundreds of workers building a dam with shovels. He asks: “Why don’t they use a mechanical digger?” “That would put people out of work,” replies the foreman. “Oh,” says the economist, “I thought you were making a dam. If it’s jobs you want, take away their shovels and give them spoons.” For an individual, the make-work bias makes some sense. He prospers if he has a job, and may lose his health insurance if he is laid off. For the nation as a whole, however, what matters is not whether people have jobs, but how they do them. The more people produce, the greater the general prosperity. It helps, therefore, if people shift from less productive occupations to more productive ones. Economists, recalling that before the industrial revolution 95% of Americans were farmers, worry far less about downsizing than ordinary people do. Politicians, however, follow the lead of ordinary people. Hence, to take a more frivolous example, Oregon’s ban on self-service petrol stations.”

    • bias towards pessimism

People tend to think economic conditions are worse than they are.

“The public’s pessimism is evident in its belief that most new jobs tend to be low-paying, that our children will be worse off than we are and that society is going to hell in a variety of ways. Economists, despite their dismal reputation, tend to be cheerier. Politicians have to strike a balance. They often find it useful to inflame public fears, but they have to sound confident that things will get better if they are elected.”

hawker centre, Lorong 8 Toa PayohAnd what does this all translate to at the ballot boxes on polling day?

Caplan says:

“Since delusional political beliefs are free [ie. cost them nothing], the voter consumes until he reaches his “satiation point,” believing whatever makes him feel best. When a person puts on his voting hat, he does not have to give up practical efficacy in exchange for self-image, because he has no practical efficacy to give up in the first place.”

“The same people who practice intellectual self-discipline when they figure out how to commute to work, repair a car, buy a house, or land a job “let themselves go” when they contemplate the effects of protectionism, gun control, or pharmaceutical regulation.”

Is a democracy (however defined) better than an authoritarian regime? Is living under an elected government better than being ruled by a sovereign?

At the end of the day, one thing is clear – we are all sinful people (voters, politicians, government types, rebels) who must try to regulate our societies the best we can under the circumstances of this fallen world. But even in the midst of the frustration of it all, we look forward to a day when the whole world will be ruled by Jesus who is God himself, who is perfectly just, perfectly loving, and perfectly wise, and to whom we can submit wholeheartedly.

hawker centre, Lorong 8 Toa Payoh

The Myth of Democracy As Perfection?

So it’s time for the Singapore General Elections 2015. Nomination Day was 1 September 2015 and since then, posters, illegal stickers, billboards, Facebook posts have be sprouting like mould on a wet book in the tropical humidity.

Heading home one day, I came upon a sizeable crowd heading to a Hougang field. A Workers’ Party rally was on:

Singapore General Elections 2015: Workers Party Rally in HougangIt doesn’t take long to observe how the concept of “democracy” is thrown around freely, without any attempt to define what it means.

To my shame, I’ve never really thought much about politics, much less democracy, until returning to Singapore. If someone’d asked what form of government I thought to be the best, I would have unequivocally replied “democractic”. Clumpy thinking on my part – democracy = human rights = freedom = civilised = good.

So thought I’d better have a read around to see what it was all about. Going to very messily dump thoughts here:

(1) definition of democracy

(2) use of democratic over the course of human history (akan datang)

(3) touted benefits of democracy as system of government of a people (akan datang)

(4) what is necessary for a successful democratic process

Singapore General Elections 2015: Workers Party Rally in Hougang Singapore General Elections 2015: Workers Party Rally in Hougang

(1) Definition of Democracy

This actually a hard one! Other than the lowest common denominator of voting in the government, Roger Osborne says in Of the People By the People – A New History of Democracy:

  • “when we try to pin down exactly what democracy is, we find ourselves chasing rainbows. The problem is that everytime we get near to a definition, or compile a list of conditions that any democracy must fulfil, we find examples of fully functioning democracies that do not comply, or of societies that are not regarded as democratic but nevertheless fulfil some of the criteria” [Comment: wait, but then by what criteria is a society defined as “fully functioning democracy” and “not regarded as democratic”?]
  • “Our story shows that democracies exist at different times, but democracy does not necessarily improve over time.”
  • “However imperfectly, democracy attempts to solve the great dilemma of human life: how to flourish as an individual while existing as part of a community?”

Singapore General Elections 2015

(4) what is necessary for a successful democratic process
Mortimer Adler in How to Read a Book mentions the need for (i) minds that can read well, that have their analytical and critical powers developed; (ii) people who can communicate and discuss matters intelligently, who aim to persuade by reason rather than by force:
“One of his motives in starting the Honors course was to revive college life as an intellectual community. If a group of students read the same books and met weekly for two years to discuss them, they might find a new sort of fellowship. The great books would not only initiate them into the world of ideas but would provide the frame of reference for further communication among them. They would know how to talk intelligently and intelligibly to one another, not only about the books, but through the books about all the problems which engage men’s thought and action.

In such a community, Erskine said, democracy would be safe, for democracy requires intelligent communication about and common participation in the solution of human problems. That was before anyone thought that democracy would ever again be threatened. As I remember, we did not pay much attention to Erskine’s insight at the time. But he was right. I am sure of it now. I am sure that a liberal education is democracy’s strongest bulwark.”

“The mind which is trained to read well has its analytical and critical powers developed.”

“The mind which is trained to discuss well has them further sharpened. One acquires a tolerance for arguments through dealing with them patiently and sympathetically. The animal impulse to impose our opinions upon others is thus checked. We learn that the only authority is reason itself—the only arbiters in any dispute are the reasons and evidences. We do not try to gain ascendancy by a show of force or by counting the noses of those who agree with us. Genuine issues cannot be decided by the mere weight of opinion. We must appeal to reason, not depend on pressure groups.”

“We all want to learn to think straight. A great book may help us by the examples it affords of penetrating insight and cogent analysis. A good discussion may give further support by catching us when we are thinking crooked. If our friends do not let us get away with it, we may soon learn that sloppy thinking, like murder, will always out. Embarrassment may reduce us to making an effort we had never supposed was within our power. Unless reading and discussion enforce these demands for straight and clear thinking, most of us go through life with an amazingly false confidence in our perceptions and judgments. We think badly most of the time and, what is worse, we do not know it because we are seldom found out.

Those who can read well, listen and talk well, have disciplined minds. Discipline is indispensable for a free use of our powers. The man who has not the knack of doing something gets tied up in knots when he tries to perform. The discipline which comes from skill is necessary for facility. How far can you go in discussing a book with someone who does not know how to read or talk about it? How far can you get in your own reading without a trained ability?

Discipline, as I have said before, is a source of freedom. Only a trained intelligence can think freely. And where there is no freedom in thinking, there can be no freedom of thought. Without free minds, we cannot long remain free men.”

Singapore General Elections 2015: Workers Party Rally in Hougang“They have experienced the pleasure of talking about serious problems intelligently. They do not exchange opinions as they would the time of day. Discussion has become responsible. A man must support what he says. Ideas have connections with one another and with the world of everyday affairs. They have learned to judge propositions and arguments by their intelligibility and relevance.

Where men lack the arts of communication, intelligent discussion must languish. Where there is no mastery of the medium for exchanging ideas, ideas cease to play a part in human life. When that happens, men are little better than the brutes they dominate by force or cunning, and they will soon try to dominate each other in the same way.

The loss of freedom follows. When men cannot live together as friends, when a whole society is not built on a real community of understanding, freedom cannot flourish. We can live freely only with our friends. With all others, we are constantly oppressed by every sort of dread, and checked in every movement by suspicion.

Preserving freedom, for ourselves and our posterity, is one of our major concerns today. A proper respect for liberty is the heart of sound liberalism. But I cannot help wondering whether our liberalism is sound. We do not seem to know the origins of liberty or its ends. We cry out for all sorts of liberty—freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly—but we do not seem to realize that freedom of thought is the basis for all these others. Without it, freedom of speech is an empty privilege, and a free conscience nothing but a private prejudice. Without it, our civil liberties can be exercised only in a pro forma way, and we are unlikely to retain them long if we do not know how to use them well.”

“…in his recent commentary on American democracy, called Of Human Fredom, Jacques Barzun cautions us not to be misled by the boast that we have the most literate population in the world. “Literacy in this sense is not education; it is not even ‘knowing how to read’ in the sense of taking in quickly and correctly the message of the printed page, to say nothing of exercising a critical judgement upon it.”

Techniques of communication, which make for literacy, are our first obligation, and more so in a democracy than in any other kind of society, because it depends on a literate electorate.

Slighting the three R’s in the beginning, and neglecting the liberal arts almost entirely at the end, our present education is essentially illiberal. It indoctrinates rather than disciplines and educates. Our students are indoctrinated with all sorts of local prejudices and predigested pap. They have been fattened and made flabby for the demagogues to prey upon. Their resistance to specious authority, which is nothing but pressure of opinion, has been lowered. They will even swallow the insidious propaganda in the headlines of some local newspapers.

Even when the doctrines they impose are sound democratic ones, the schools fails to cultivate free judgement because they have forsaken discipline. They leave their students open to opposite indoctrination by more powerful orators or, what is worse, to the sway of their own worst passions.

Ours is a demagogic rather than a democratic education. The student who has not learned to think critically, who has not come to respect reason as they only arbiter of truth in human generalizations, who has not been lifted out of the blind alleys of local jargons and shibboleths, will not be saved by the orator of the classroom from later succumbing to the orator of the platform and the press.

To be saved, we must follow the precept of the Book Common Prayer: “Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.”

The Brits are Back to the Ballot Boxes

Today, the Brits go to the polls.

Friends back there have posted some links to useful material on the relationship between Christians and politics. Just bookmarking them here for future reference:

Faith at the Ballot Box, Johnny Monro and Thomas Creedy

“For the Bible Tells Me So” – Evangelical Faith and the Complexities of Secular Political Engagement, Thomas Creedy

Theos – politics

Democracy – What does the Bible have to say about engaging with politics?

 

 

On the Fifth Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

7-day Period of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew:

Last Day of National Mourning for Harry Lee Kuan Yew – State Funeral Procession

On the Sixth day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew, and the Wilful Blindness of Man

On the Fifth Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

On the Fourth Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

Third Day of National Mourning: Long Snaking Queues to Pay Last Respects to Lee Kuan Yew

On the Third Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

On the Second Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

Farewell and Good Night, Harry Lee Kuan Yew – 7 Reasons for Respecting LKY

Friday evening. The last night to join the long queue to pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew, lying in state at Parliament House.

long queues to pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew lying in state at Parliament House, SingaporeAt about 10.45p.m. at City Hall MRT, Exit B was closed off to people coming to the Padang. The Priority Queue (for the elderly, disabled, people with young children) was still starting from the vicinity of the steps of the old City Hall building. The normal queue started at Exit A, just outside Starbucks and McDonalds in Raffles City.

long queues to pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew lying in state at Parliament House, Singapore long queues to pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew lying in state at Parliament House, Singapore long queues to pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew lying in state at Parliament House, Singapore long queues to pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew lying in state at Parliament House, Singapore long queues to pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew lying in state at Parliament House, Singapore long queues to pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew lying in state at Parliament House, SingaporeNever have I seen such sustained crowding – not on any National Day, not when the IT Fairs were on, not at Christmas or New Year or Chinese New Year.

The lady holding the waiting time board, not finding anywhere to stand, was perched on the MRT parapet. “10 hours” it read:

long queues to pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew lying in state at Parliament House, Singapore

At about 11p.m., the queue was temporarily suspended for the safety of the crowd. Fortunately, there wasn’t any pushing that might lead to the horrific stampede that killed many in Shanghai over the New Year.

long queues to pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew lying in state at Parliament House, Singapore“Please do not join the queue. The Padang is full!” yelled this policeman into a megaphone, but the crowds were still arriving.

Check:

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew – Lying in State at Parliament House for up-to-date details

And here in true Singapore form is a live telecast of the room in which LKY is lying in state:

We felt no fear at the crowds; just amazement at the sheer number of people who would wait through the night to demonstrate their gratitude to this man. And somehow, sweating it out in solidarity with fellow Singaporeans and sympathetic visitors seemed a form of catharsis.

Loved how people commemorated Ah Kong (grandfather) in their own way, demonstrating the rarely-seen diversity of Singaporeans: the Singapore Botanic Gardens named a new orchid breed after him (Aranda Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀蜻蜓万代兰)), Teo Ser Luck dedicated a new work out to him, and Christopher Pereira made figurines which he put on display outside Raffles City: Christopher Pereira (Chris Treewizard) and his LKY dolls and figurines,  past the long queues to pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew lying in state at Parliament House, Singapore Christopher Pereira (Chris Treewizard) and his LKY dolls and figurines, past the long queues to pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew lying in state at Parliament House, SingaporeIs all this idolatry? Well, Paul the apostle who spoke out strongly against the worship of anything other than Son of God himself had this to say:

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed. (Romans 13:7)

And as I read more about the man I never bothered to know other than the “authoritarian”, “dictatorial” prime minister, senior minister, minister mentor others said he was, I understood that respect and honour was due to him.

As a “global statesman” he did not try to be the star of the show, instead he had only one interest – the good of Singapore. What a wonderful thing to say about any person, not to say any politician!

First of all, I learnt not to be ashamed to be a patriot. To the young, as I then was, the term carries a vague, undefinable whiff of unfashionable mustiness. But to serve the Republic of Singapore in any capacity is no mean profession because if Singapore does not survive, no other value can be realised in this vale of tears we call the world.

You may think that all diplomats or all statesmen must obviously serve their own countries’ interests. Well, they certainly ought to. But as I grew more experienced in the craft of diplomacy, I observed that this was all too often the exception rather than the rule; that too many leaders and diplomats, from too many countries, too often confuse personal interests with national interests, or convince themselves that these are synonymous. There is no creature more susceptible to self-deception than certain types of diplomats or erstwhile statesmen. The worst types believe that whatever they do is necessarily important simply because they do it – they and no one else, because, of course, they are the centre of the universe. Mr Lee was never like that. He is often described as a global statesman, and so he was. But I doubt Mr Lee ever set much store by that appellation or any of the many formal honours he was given by foreign countries. These were means, not ends. His laser-like focus – his “universe” if you like – was always Singapore. He operated on a global stage, but only for Singapore. He won many friends and was personally greatly admired around the world. But this was always deployed for Singapore. He spoke his mind and never hesitated to do what necessity dictated for Singapore’s interests, even if it put his personal friendships at risk.

Second, I learnt that the pursuit and defence of Singapore’s interests must be grounded in a clinical and clear-eyed, indeed cold-blooded and intellectually ruthless, understanding of the environment in which a small country operates. Small countries cannot afford illusions. Mr Lee never mistook the necessary politesse and hypocrisies of statecraft and diplomacy for reality. He took as the starting point the world as it is; a world as full of promise and opportunity but a world also inevitably flawed and, so, often perilous. Mr Lee invariably cut through all the fluff that usually conceals the hard realities of international relations. He zeroed in on the very core of any issue or situation. His analysis was always holistic, enriched and given depth and breadth by his realistic understanding of history, of different cultures and, ultimately, of human nature in all its rich variety. He pursued what was possible in practice, not what was desirable on principle. He wanted to get things done. He always dared to try – Singapore would not exist otherwise – but was not given to chasing chimeras. This is again rarer than one might expect. Mr Lee never stopped learning and was never too proud to seek information even from the most junior, and certainly never too proud to change his mind whenever the situation warranted.

Third, I learnt no leader, however talented, can achieve much alone. Mr Lee was undoubtedly a great leader, but he was the great leader of a great team and of a great people. Leadership is not a matter of intellect alone. His sense of mission, his dedication to and passion for Singapore inspired an entire generation of Singaporeans from all walks of life to defy the odds and to serve some cause larger than themselves.
(Bilahari Kausikan, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was ‘a complex man who evoked many emotions’, Straits Times, 27 March 2015)

As a prime minister, his government was remarkable not for oppression, but for using democratic institutions to ensure there would be no oppression:

But the Singapore model, as China’s rulers understand it, never existed. To emulate Lee’s model of government – rather than its cartoon caricature – would require allowing a far more democratic system than the CCP would ever tolerate.

The true secret of Lee’s political genius was not his skillful use of repressive practices, such as launching lawsuits against the media or his political opponents; such tactics are common and unremarkable in semi-authoritarian regimes. What Lee did that was truly revolutionary was to use democratic institutions and the rule of law to curb the predatory appetite of his country’s ruling elite.


By holding regular competitive elections, Lee effectively established a mechanism of political self-enforcement and accountability – he gave Singaporean voters the power to decide whether the PAP should stay in power. This enforcement mechanism has maintained discipline within Singapore’s ruling elite and makes its promises credible.

Regrettably, most of the rest of the world has never given Lee proper credit for crafting a hybrid system of authoritarianism and democracy that vastly improved the wellbeing of his country’s citizens, without subjecting them to the brutality and oppression to which many of Singapore’s neighbors have resorted.
(Minxin Pei, The Real Singapore Model, Project Syndicate 26 March 2015)

As an elected member of parliament, he was more interested in what was right for the country, rather than being popular with the people:

We in Government and as MPs on the ground know how difficult it is to carry unpopular policies, even if they are right. Why did Mr Lee and his Government choose to persuade Singaporeans to do, again and again, what was necessary but painful? Mr Lee himself provided us the answer. He said in 1968 in this House ‘If we were a soft community, then the temptation would be to leave things alone and hope for the best. Then, only good fortune can save us from the unpleasantness which reason and logic tell us is ahead of us. But we are not an easy-going people. We cannot help thinking, calculating and planning for tomorrow, for next week, for next month, for next year, for the next generation. And it is because we have restless minds, forever probing and testing, seeking new and better solutions to old and new problems, that we have never been, and I trust never shall be, tried and found wanting.’

“Mr Lee refused to be swayed by ideology that could not work. He dubbed these as ‘highfalutin ideas that misled Singaporeans’. (‘A nation cries out in mourning’: Dr Ng Eng Hen on Lee Kuan Yew, Channel NewsAsia, 26 March 2015)

On the Second Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

7-day Period of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew:

Last Day of National Mourning for Harry Lee Kuan Yew – State Funeral Procession

On the Sixth day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew, and the Wilful Blindness of Man

On the Fifth Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

On the Fourth Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

Third Day of National Mourning: Long Snaking Queues to Pay Last Respects to Lee Kuan Yew

On the Third Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

On the Second Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

Farewell and Good Night, Harry Lee Kuan Yew – 7 Reasons for Respecting LKY

On the second day of national mourning for Lee Kuan Yew, I happened to be the Singapore General Hospital when I looked past the doors near Bengawan Solo at Block 7 and saw a large pile of cards and flowers under white tentage.

balloons, cards, flowers at the Singapore General Hospital after the death of Lee Kuan YewIt was a remarkably sad scene – amidst the expired “Get Well Soon” cards and balloons, there were messages of condolences from Singaporeans and people who identified themselves as coming from many other places around the world. Several older folk were weeping openly in their wheelchairs or were, supported by their children, bowing to images of the man.

I have no political affiliation and, like some families, have relatives who might not have benefitted from the so-called iron-fist rule, but I do respect the guy.

It was interesting to observe the re-emergence of naysayers after a day. These hostile responses all seem to riff on 3 ideas:

  1. woohoo, the human rights-trampling dictator is dead and cowed and fearful Singaporeans are free!
  2. what mourning period? How dare you curb my freedom of speech to say what I want and when I want to!
  3. he’s not as great as you think ok – stop all this myth-making.

Just a few cents to stop all this from rattling around in my head:

Hostile Response 1 (human rights, iron fist, dictator, defamation suits) is a little boring in that while so many wag their heads about it, I have yet to read a single commentary that has anything concrete to say:

  • there are the ones with clumpy thinking – that is, they conflate all sorts of ideas without any necessary logical or causal link between them. “Lee Kuan Yew was powerful, therefore he must be rich, and all rich people obtain their ill-gotten wealth through corruption.” Well, there’s nothing to suggest he was corrupt (in fact, there’s evidence to the contrary). If he was paid well, heck, any country in the world would have cobbled together to double his salary. And if he’s saved up a tidy sum – maybe the lack of home renovation, upgrading of technological equipment, expensive cafe-hopping and restaurant-hopping, purchasing of designer goods might be a factor.
  • there’s a lack of clarity in use of terminology – we young ones have grown up believing that once someone labels anything or anyone as being anti-democratic or in violation of human rights, that person is to be damned. I may not be an expert in this but having written about human rights as my final year thesis and also having helped organise an international conference on the topic, I know that human rights are never absolute and however they may be defined, those rights are always balanced against other rights within a society. A similar question might be asked about the concept of democracy. So there is a spectrum of understanding as to what constitutes human rights, whether human rights are even right, and whether democracy (whatever it is) is the best model for the government of a society.
  • so there are also baseless assumptions – that iron-fisted-ness = dictatorship and dictatorships are always bad. (i) Dictators aren’t always a bad thing for a nation. I think dictators were actually appointed by Roman democracies in instances of emergencies, because have you ever tried getting anything done by committee? Just ask a group of people where they want to go for dinner or what movie they want to watch…(ii) To be ruled absolutely by an intelligent person who cares for the good of his people and is able to plan rightly for the future? Why should any one mind? (iii) According to S Dhanabalan, in the decision-making process, there was consultation and sparring and disagreement amongst the ministers, so it wasn’t an LKY dictatorship.
  • what we want is meaty discussion about possible alternative solutions. LKY himself was perfectly candid about having to lock people up without trial (the Marxist Conspiracy). He explained the dangers he saw and the necessity of doing so. He sued opponents for defamation because he understood that he needed moral authority to rule and could not do so if he did not vigorously dispute what he saw to be lies and impeachments on his character. Assuming this is his thinking, we must then focus not on calling him names but figuring out what he could have done differently. If he did his best, then what can we learn from the mistakes he might have made – what would be a better way to address those concerns then and how might we be able to do so in the future?

flowers, balloons, cards at the Singapore General Hospital after the death of Lee Kuan Yew

Hostile Response 2 (don’t trample on my freedom of speech). Well, do go ahead darling, but you see, there is really a time and place for everything – it’s good manners, and it’s just the way people show their humanity and their empathy. What comes out of the mouth just demonstrates the heart of the speaker. See, for example, ex-Opposition Chiam See Tong’s condolence letter – that is an example of a man of good character.

  • Also, what do you mean by free speech? To have a proper discussion about this, it might be better to understand this concept in relation to other concepts that fall under the nebulous category of human rights. There isn’t a country in the world where you have a complete right to free speech, because it must always be balanced with other people’s right to protect their reputation (from lies, slander – yes, defamation) and people’s right to live in peace (because most violence is incited by the hateful, spiteful words of others).
  • Different countries would also necessarily have different boundary markers for free speech, because the racial, cultural make-up of each country is different, and there are a host of other national concerns that must be considered.
  • The proper use of free speech (just like the proper use of democracy) occurs when those speaking are keen to contribute to the good of society or humanity. In this regard, Hostile Response 2 already suggests otherwise, but in any case, outside the mourning period, it would be much more helpful for everyone if we had something concrete to say when discussing these matters. That is, strawman statements may get you loads of “Likes” on Facebook but doesn’t quite support your demand that complete free speech is a necessity.

flowers, balloons, cards at the Singapore General Hospital after the death of Lee Kuan Yew

Hostile Response 3

Again, I think these are eulogies. You don’t speak ill of the dead out of compassion for the bereaved. So in eulogies, you remember the good things he has done. Yes, it is skewed, but no one is writing a definitive history; they are comforting the mourners.

And don’t worry. I’m sure the Catholic Church isn’t going to canonise him anytime soon. Nor has the “state-controlled press” attributed miracles to him, nor were there reports of thousands of crows swopping down on Singapore General Hospital. (Otherwise, you would have seen it on social media, and someone would have accused the gahmen of slacking on pest control.)

And certainly, no one is saying Lee Kuan Yew did this all on his own. He was well aware of the need for a ruling elite (yes, elite) and also middle managers who could get things done. See Transcript of Speech by the Prime Minister at a Meeting with Principals of Schools at the Victoria Theatre on 29th August 1966. And in his speech on The Search for Talent in 1982, LKY credited Goh Keng Swee and Hon Sui Sen for Singapore’s economic development (and also had things to say about foreign talent!).

Farewell and Goodnight, Harry Lee Kuan Yew – 7 Reasons For Respecting LKY

7-day Period of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew:

Last Day of National Mourning for Harry Lee Kuan Yew – State Funeral Procession

On the Sixth day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew, and the Wilful Blindness of Man

On the Fifth Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

On the Fourth Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

Third Day of National Mourning: Long Snaking Queues to Pay Last Respects to Lee Kuan Yew

On the Third Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

On the Second Day of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew

Farewell and Good Night, Harry Lee Kuan Yew – 7 Reasons for Respecting LKY

I’m not an easy respecter of persons. No crushes on seniors; have never been a fan of any pop group or personality; constantly set the nit-pick on prominent theologians. But in the last few months, death has claimed two of the few people I’ve respected: Teo Soon Hoe (who was known only to a few within his industry) and today, Lee Kuan Yew (known by a nation, and more globally).

flags flying at half-mast at The Fullerton Hotel, Singapore, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan Yew flags flying at half-mast at The Parliament House in Singapore, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan Yew flags flying at half-mast at The Treasury in Singapore, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan YewFlags are flying at half-mast everywhere in Singapore. And there is a certain sad stillness and muffledness to the day. Perhaps I have never observed this before but the piped-in music in shopping centres and supermarkets seems muted as Singapore starts its 7-day period of national mourning.

Walking past Parliament House, I saw condolence messages being written and put up on boards, and bouquets of flowers being laid in front of the compound:

flags flying at half-mast in Singapore and condolence messages at The Parliament House, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan Yew flags flying at half-mast in Singapore and condolence messages at The Parliament House, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan Yew flags flying at half-mast in Singapore and condolence messages at The Parliament House, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan Yew flags flying at half-mast in Singapore and condolence bouquets in front of Parliament House, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan Yew flags flying at half-mast in Singapore and condolence messages at The Parliament House, 23 March 2015, death of Lee Kuan YewHere are at least 7 reasons for respecting LKY and 7 reasons why his family* should be proud of having a father/grandfather like him. The mix is potent – intelligence and power without integrity gives you a very cunning dictator; integrity and incorruptibility is nice but useless for a politician without intelligence:

He was clear-thinking, straight-talking, and astute in international affairs:

“UK Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher said Lee had a way of “penetrating the fog of propaganda and expressing with unique clarity the issues of our time and the way to tackle them”, while US diplomat Henry Kissinger said no world leader had taught him more than Lee Kuan Yew.” (BBC News, Lee Kuan Yew: Life in pictures, 22 March 2015)

from Lee Kuan Yew Collection

“Lady Thatcher once said that there was no Prime Minister she admired more than Mr Lee for ‘the strength of his convictions, the clarity of his views, the directness of his speech and his vision of the way ahead’. His place in history is assured, as a leader and as one of the modern world’s foremost statesmen.” (UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement following the death of Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew)

“He was not at all a charmer. He was not a flatterer. He had developed his point of view. He would present it with great intelligence and eloquence – not in order to get you to do something specific, but to understand the nature of the world in which you were living…Because afterall, Singapore as a country did not represent a major force. It was the intelligence of the leaders and the ability of its population to do standards of performance that exceeded those of its neighbours. Otherwise, it would have been drowned.” (Henry Kissinger, Business Times, 23 March 2015)

He was clear-thinking, straight-talking, and astute in domestic affairs:

““To understand Singapore,” he said, “you’ve got to start off with an improbable story: It should not exist.”

It is a nation with almost no natural resources, without a common culture — a fractured mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians, relying on wits to stay afloat and prosper.

“We have survived so far, 42 years,” he said. “Will we survive for another 42? It depends upon world conditions. It doesn’t depend on us alone.”

This sense of vulnerability is Mr. Lee’s answer to all his critics, to those who say Singapore is too tightly controlled, that it leashes the press, suppresses free speech, curtails democracy, tramples on dissidents and stunts entrepreneurship and creativity in its citizens.

“The answer lies in our genesis,” he said. “To survive, we have to do these things. And although what you see today — the superstructure of a modern city — the base is a very narrow one and could easily disintegrate.”” (The New York Times, Modern Singapore’s Creator Is Alert to Perils, 2 September 2007)

“Younger people worry him, with their demands for more political openness and a free exchange of ideas, secure in their well-being in modern Singapore. “They have come to believe that this is a natural state of affairs, and they can take liberties with it,” he said. “They think you can put it on auto-pilot. I know that is never so.”

The kind of open political combat they demand would inevitably open the door to race-based politics, he said, and “our society will be ripped apart.”” (The New York Times, Days of Reflection for Man Who Defined Singapore, 10 September 2010)

He did not take bribes:

“The Americans should know the character of the men they are dealing, with in Singapore and not get themselves further dragged into calumny… You do not buy and sell this Government.” (as far as we know and at least in this case – see a newspaper article on the Rusk affair)

He had strong feelings for the right people (you don’t need someone wearing his heart on his sleeve):

“People think about him as an austere, logical and cerebral sort of person. I think he has strong feelings about quite a number of things, and also in his personal relationships with my mother, with the kids, he may not show it, but he feels it.” (Lee Hsien Loong, Today, 2012)

by Kwa Kim Li

“He brushed aside the words of a prominent Singaporean writer and social critic, Catherine Lim, who described him as having “an authoritarian, no-nonsense manner that has little use for sentiment.”

“She’s a novelist!” he cried. “Therefore, she simplifies a person’s character,” making what he called a “graphic caricature of me.” “But is anybody that simple or simplistic?”” (The New York Times, Days of Reflection for Man Who Defined Singapore, 10 September 2010)

See also A Love Story (The Sunday Times, Lee Wei Ling, 20 Jun 2010).

And Lee Kuan Yew: The Last Farewell to My Wife (The Star/Asia News Network, 10 October 2010)

And also ‘Without her, I would be a different man’: Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s love affair (Channel News Asia)

And again, The Love of His Life (Today – Special Edition, 23 March 2015)

With the sort of power he had, it was amazing that he was not corrupt and did not line his own pockets:

according to this page, this is what his Oxley Rise living room looks like.

“GROWING up, my family used to bathe using large dragon-motif ham dan gong, or salted egg jars in Cantonese. We would fill them up with water and ladle it out to wash ourselves at our home on Oxley Road.

My parents did this for almost six decades since my father moved into the house in 1945, and my mother, in 1950. It was only after my mother had her first stroke in 2003 that a shower was installed in their tiny bathroom. I think it was in part because they were so set in their ways. But it was also because my father neither cared for material things, nor coveted them.

He lived in a simple spartan way; his preoccupations and priorities lay elsewhere. Some people collect watches, shoes, pens, rare books, antiques or art, but not my father. When people gave him all sorts of gifts, he kept almost none of them. … How would I like my father to be remembered? Well, he never worried about winning any popularity contest. He would speak his mind. He fought for what he believed was best for the country and the people of Singapore. He always had the best interests of the country at heart. And at home, it was always the interests of his children and our mother.” (Lee Hsien Yang, The Straits Times -Special Edition, 23 March 2015)

and this is consistent with him being pragmatic, not for his own power, but for Singapore’s future:

“Singapore’s secret, Mr. Lee said, is that it is “ideology free.” It possesses an unsentimental pragmatism that infuses the workings of the country as if it were in itself an ideology, he said. When considering an approach to an issue, he says, the question is: “Does it work? Let’s try it, and if it does work, fine, let’s continue it. If it doesn’t work, toss it out, try another one.” The yardstick, he said, is: “Is this necessary for survival and progress? If it is, let’s do it.”” (The New York Times, Modern Singapore’s Creator Is Alert to Perils, 2 September 2007)

““I’m not saying that everything I did was right,” he said, “but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial.”” (New York Times, Days of Reflection for Man Who Defined Singapore, 10 September 2010)

“There are those who believe that development was bought at the price of personal freedom and often cite Lee’s penchant for suing media organisations who disagreed with him.

But Mr Lee stood by his record until the end. “I did some sharp and hard things to get things right. Maybe some people disapproved of it… but a lot was at stake and I wanted the place to succeed, that’s all,” he said in a 2011 collection of interviews.

“At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.”” (BBC News, Obituary: Lee Kuan Yew, 22 March 2015)

He was not always thinking about his legacy, which troubles loads of other people, petty actors as they may be on life’s stage:

“Interviewer: How would you want him to be remembered?

PM: He never troubled himself with that question either. But I don’t know what to say. He is a father, he is a father of the nation, and he made this place.” (Lee Hsien Loong, Today, 2012)

Straits Times Special Edition on the Death of Lee Kuan Yew, and ang ku kueh(apparently, ang ku kueh (red tortoise shell cakes) at funerals represent the virtuous life of the ancestors)

Singapore newspapers have put their special features online:

Today Newspaper

The Straits Times: Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Various obituaries and eulogies and opinion pages from all around the world, from friends and critics:

Henry A. Kissinger: The world will miss Lee Kuan Yew (Henry A. Kissinger, The Washington Post, 23 March 2015)

Lee Kuan Yew, Asian statesman – obituary (The Telegraph, 23 March 2015)

How Kuan Yew turned tragedy into a blessing (Zainuddin Maidin, 23 March 2015)

Can-Do Lee Kuan Yew (Roger Cohen for The New York Times, 23 March 2015)

And of course, there are several Facebook groups:

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew (official website)

Thank You Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Founding Father Singapore

PS: Also, he was a cheeky kid. See Top Performer with a Playful Streak from a defunct Raffles Institution magazine, ONE.

*Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Wei Ling, Lee Hsien Yang, Li Xiuqi, Li Yipeng, Li Hongyi, Li Haoyi, Li Shengwu, Li Huanwu, Li Shaowu etc.)