National Conversation: Singaporeans, Where Do We Go From Here?

I had the following conversation with a friend. The conversation revolved around the need for Singapore to open up in a knowledge economy in an interconnected world, and how the conversation among Singaporeans will evolve. 

Sam: (I have been) following the news. After all their pm conversation and stuff. They seem to just arrive at ‘yes we have organised a conversation. We have heard new views. But the ‘silent majority’…. still feels. …. Then calling for the invisible ‘silent majority’ so speak up. Wad a load of bull

Me: I think they need to learn how to engage more sincerely, yes. And if they don’t, we are only going to do it on our own. One way or another they will learn to do so.

Sam: And they do it in a smart way which actually kinda disgust me. So rather than the pm coming out to make the statements himself. The edu minister the new guys doing all the statement making. So it kinda makes the pm look like the liberal benevolent patriarch open to conversation and debAte hinting at an future of possibilities. To think I actually bought into that guy’s suggestion last election. Makes me just wanna lay back and wait for 2016

Me: I personally think the people he has identified to lead the conversation are people who are sincere about engagement. But it backfired because they didn’t dare to truly consult. The idea is there but they need to be sincere – that’s the key I think. And right now try fear engaging people, so that need to learn to be sincere

Sam: Yeah. It’s just this resistance to change and sudden turn on the opposite voice. “Stand up against …” before u know it they ll start controlling media and initiate a witch hunt. I’ve always followed yahoo news. But now they r publishing a lot less. They used to be critical of the govt. And they came under fire for it.

Me: The government already control the media and already conduct witch hunts. But they have learnt they can’t just keep doing that. The online news is very good at putting out another perspective. So they know they have to try to balance themselves. I think we are reaching an equilibrium in how we are trying to find a way around the issues, for the government to be sincere and the people to voice out their beliefs and thoughts.

Sam: I guess we can always applaud that he hasn’t gone as far as his dad

Me: Actually, his dad had made some right decisions for Singapore. The controlling over people’s speech wasn’t right. But Lee Hsien Loong is only more open because he needs to. The current economic climate where we want to move into a knowledge economy requires that the people are intelligent and able to hold critical discussions. And that is why even as much as the government would want to control the people, it can’t. It needs to open up and allow for discussion – otherwise it will breed a people who are not able to compete effectively in the knowledge economy.

This is also coupled by the opening up of the Internet and people’s ability to make use of it in a way that dramatically overcomes the government’s control. The government has also heavily underestimated the potential of the Internet. At the same time, the knowledge economy necessarily thrives on the Internet, as such, even if the government wants to control, the focus on moving into a knowledge economy and the reliance of the knowledge economy necessarily forces the government to allow for alternative voices, which hopefully will evolve into a conversation which is constructive, as it moves Singapore forward.

Sam: Haha was about to be touched that u typed so much for me. Guess not haha. Hmmm but then u think the govt can’t do wad the Chinese govt does? Block sites and certain word searches?

Me: Well the government won’t do that – block the Internet. Singapore needs the Internet to survive because we need to be interconnected into the global world. And Singaporeans have to thank their lucky stars that Singapore is such a small country and because of necessity, the government cannot control the Internet because it will necessarily compromise on our economic functions and growth. The government is caught in a conundrum by, ironically, nature – that we are so small. If we are as big as China, or even just Malaysia – the government would easily be able to control the Internet because we would have enough natural resources and people to contain the economic fallout (of being a small country which is restricted).

Sam: Well China’s still being connected to the wider world rnt they?

Me: No. You cannot compare Singapore with China. China does not need to be connected to the world. If it closes its economy, it can still operate. Even South Korea can. These countries have enough land i.e. natural resources to produce whatever they want and feed their people with whatever they have, even when their boundaries are closed. And when they do that, they have enough domestic demand – they have enough people to buy whatever they produce. In fact, if they want to control their countries fully, they can be like North Korea. And they can still survive like North Korea. They just need to control the amount of food that the people eat and make sure they work.

Can we do that in singapore? Once you close up our borders – can you make Singaporeans work like North Korea and still have a closed border to survive? You can. Within a month, we would have no food to feed ourselves. We cannot grow the food on this land – there is not enough land for the people. And other countries won’t import their food to us. Where’s the exchange if we close ourselves up? Within two months, people will revolt. And if the government still closes Singapore up, within three months, at least half the population will be decimated because of infighting. The government will be eradicated by the people. By then whoever is around would want to open Singapore up. We do not have enough land to allow ourselves to grow enough to survive or to have enough people to buy enough of whatever we have here to survive.

Sure, if we want to close Singapore up and rely just on ourselves, we can. But Singapore will only be able to support 100,000 or maybe 300,000 people, in the most optimistic scenario, if we want to grow enough for Singaporeans in Singapore. Is this a Singapore that we want? Do we want to live in a primarily rural environment? We are interconnected. We have no choice. And we should actually be quite thankful that the government has no choice too. They have developed Singapore to such an extent that if we close up, many of our industries and sectors would close in a snap.

Singaporeans will lose out. The world can find another oyster. Singapore can’t.

Sam: In sg. I think ppl are econ driven. As long as they have cash. U would see a serious revolt.

Me: Yes, Singaporeans are money-motivated. But this is already starting to change. In fact it can already be seen at the previous elections. As with other elections, the government had thrown money at the people. But did they bite? No. PAP scored the lowest win since independence. Money only works up to a certain extent. Money only works when the people haven’t achieved a standard of living yet. And when have done so, they would naturally want to pursue other things in life and enrich themselves in other areas. They would want a quality of life that respects their mental and social well being.

The people haven’t realise this. We think we are angry with te government. However, it’s bigger than that. What we are unhappy about is how our quality of life doesn’t seem to be improving with the amount of money that’s being thrown to us. But the government has realised this. That’s why they have started talking about values in school, that’s why they have started talking about compassion etc. To the people, this is rubbish because they haven’t understood their unhappiness fully – they blame it on traditional sources of anger without having a deeper understanding of their anger. But the government has. Yet the government doesn’t know what to do with it. So they start telling us that we should be happy, we should be compassionate etc. But they need to go beyond that by removing or amending policies which prevent this. The government hasn’t realised this next step, or perhaps they do and are planning for it.

The reason why they have also created the National Conversation is to also encourage a rethinking. But as we have seen, there is flawed implementation because they are scared that if they open up too much, they won’t be able to handle it – they might not have at least some amount of control. So the government needs to learn to trust the people and be sincere in opening up. They have to learn to trust that at some point, the people can work together with the government, to come out with solutions for the country. The government wants us to learn to trust them. But the government, as well as the people, need to understand that we need to learn to start trusting each other and it’s a mutual process.

Sam: If there’s space for them to make noise. They would. If there isn’t. They won’t wanna endanger themelsves(isd) or their jobs

Me: But Singaporeans have already learnt to make noise – they have taken onto the Internet to very effectively slam the government for everything. But I was speaking to someone on one of my articles – what we are doing now is part of an evolution of our ability to regain free speech.

At this point, Singaporeans are beginning to find their voice, so they are just starting to let it out because of the years of repressed voices. And the government needs to learn how to manage that. The government has to recognise that they had created this very situation where the people’s voices have been constrained and only now have the people learn to express and without knowing how to do so in the past, they have learnt to be uncontrolled about it.

Coupled with the Internet and a sense that they need not be responsible about what they say because of the informality of the Internet, there is thus an unleashing of unrestrained thoughts on the Internet.

But this will change. As people learn to voice their thoughts, they will learn to find a way to speak up in a way that will allow them to be heard better. We are undergoing part of an evolution. We are learning to find a way to better express ourselves to eventually learn to provide solutions, and to then work towards constructively speaking up for Singapore.

Sam: Haha true.

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