Sent to me by a good friend of mine. Decided to put down my email reply below in case anyone is interested in kopikia's political views.
First off, this 17 yr old's writing puts me into eternal shame. That is closely followed by his worldliness and precocious sense of morality.
Just some thoughts about this and response to your earlier email. What he mentioned is not new to me. During the time of my masters, one thing that struck me was the pragmatism of our govt. At that time, it was the MFA, but now as i am in the civil service myself, pragmatism is indeed a trademark.
Pragmatism vs idealism is the age old debate. I would guess that like me, you too faced similar struggles trying to decide on a stand. I still remember when i did my intro to international relations class. The only thing that it really taught me was that i am a realist at heart. Foreign policy IS truly about the convergence of interest. Examples of such abound. Hence, i'd take his comments about Singapore's pragmatism or ruthlessness with a pinch of salt.
In a way, we can see it as the tragedy of the commons. If every nation out there were to stick to the universal ideals, the world would indeed be a much better place. But reality is such that he who exercises his ideals will be the first to be seen and treated as the sucker. The collective set up is such that everyone ends up protecting their own interest. Singapore is no exception, and if anything, our vulnerability only amplifies the need to be pragmatic. I can agree what he says about the long term implications of our selfishness vis-a-vis our neighbours, but I am sceptical if such goodwill will indeed be reciprocated.
Put it this way. Human systems and institutions are forged upon certainty and predicatability. Just as the entire traffic system is built upon the fundamental tenet that everyone stops at red, the attractiveness of acting on interest is that it is predictable. One can safely assume that the other parties will act in the same way, just as one can safely assume that that other car will stop at the red to let one pass. Ideals on the other hand, are too nebulous and varied to yield any sustainibilty.
Having said all this, I agree with the author's comments about this pragmatism being exercised on our own nation buidling efforts. People are one people not because they happen to reside on the piece of land. A nation is built both upon physical land and within the hearts of its people. The government has done an exemplary job on the former and apparently, the reason that got us there - calculative and precise pragmatism, is compromising efforts on buidling the latter.
And this reminds me of a thought i had while watching the election results. Just before the election results were out, i was contemplating going down to a potong pasir or hougang coffee shop. I can only regret that i did not make the effort to do it. According to my friend who was there, when Chiam was announced the winner, the entire potong pasir was in a rapturous uproar. In his words, it was as if Potong Pasir won the World Cup. Having heard this, i cannot help feeling quietly envious. My estate, Bishan, is a great place to live in. But, it will always remain an estate - it is a place where i happen stay in. Relocate me somewhere else and give me the same physical facilities, i would not have noticed the difference. But i am sure when potong pasir residents move out, it will be different. When Chiam won, it was as if Potong Pasir won. There was the common cause that united. There was the common "adversary" (quotes because I really think it is improper to label the PAP as an adversary). Another good example was the christmas 2 years ago. I wasn't there but based on my other friend, Hougang had its own festive lights and decoration, a strong contrast to the PAP wards around. Fortunately, hearts can be won this way. Unfortunately, hearts can be won this way.
The question that the current administration has been tackling, and will still be tackling, is how to win the hearts of the people. Feeding us, they have done a spectacular job. But affairs of the heart are always more complex. While many may despise the Progress Package to be a blatant bribe, i suspect many are happy and have willingly voted in favor of more progress packages to come.
To frame the situation in another way, the govt has been running itself so well that it can afford to give out progress packages. It can be seen as a more direct way of reminding people the good work it has done. People will always find it hard to appreiciate the comfortable and cheap public transport, the security to be out at night, the equal educational opportunities for everyone. The progress package is but a timely reminder.
I apologize if at this point, i am merely babbling and regurgitating cliched statements. In a way, it shows the cul-de-sac that i have run into. I too crave for a more pluralistic society. But at the same time, i like the current stability and efficiency. To me, the first thing a good government must do is to create an environment in which its people's efforts and enterprise are duly rewarded. Pragmatism and its better sounding cousin, meritocracy has ensured that. The next step of having a civil society -- i look forward to that too. Looking at the way things are going, it is forthcoming. We need only be patient and continue to stay vigilant and inquiring. The fruits of the govt's education policy will be evident soon as the voters become more discerning. Hopefully, by then, we have new leaders amongst our midst who understand the need to buidl the nation on land and in the hearts of the people.
On a side note, i thank you for your cautionary advice on Gomez. I just read an article the other day which raised the example of Philippines -- that Arroyo's recent vote rigging debacle only weakened the electoral system and directly attacked the roots of democratic ideal in the country. I shudder at the thought of what if the electoral office didn't have that cctv video.