24 February 2007

A Zeroth World Singapore

Splashed over headlines of today's newspapers is a story about Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's speech at the Tanjong Pagar Chinese New Year dinner, envisioning Singapore in "the upper half of the First World" in "10 to 20 years". A very bold prediction, but how likely is it to happen?

The whole article highlights, building on MM Lee's speech, the economical and infrastructural developments Singapore has achieved to move towards this direction, which I must admit is pretty impressive. There's the Esplanade to drive the arts scene in Singapore, to the residences inside the city area to diversify the character of the CBD, there is little doubt that, in these aspects, Singapore can reach the standards of New York, London or Paris - cities MM Lee cited as Singapore's goals.

But I think the greatest barrier to this dream comes not in the economic aspect but in the social part. Becoming New York or Paris means embracing diversity and allow nonconformities, celebrate mavericks and encouraging differences. Are we ready to let go of our "conservativeness", the oft cited reason for the presence of anti-gay sex laws? Note that it does not mean that people should not be conservative; it means that society as a whole should have space for both people with conservative thoughts as well as people with liberal ideas.

Are we ready to not look down on people who chooses a different path in life? That is, not the typical "study study study and get a degree" path, but one which sees people dropping their studies for their dreams, such as - or in fact, especially - in the performing arts, where it has been traditionally viewed as a dead end.

Are we ready to recognise people who does not have a degree? Are we ready to commend not just "degree-less" people who are successful, but also anyone else who tries to be? Are we ready to see failures as just another facet of life, something that everyone should have no qualms about making?

Are we ready to not just tolerate but welcome other religions - not just state-sanctioned ones - and beliefs? Are we ready to accept gays, lesbians and bisexuals? Are we ready not to laugh or make jokes about effeminate men or tomboyish girls? Are we ready for people kissing (heterosexual and homosexual) in the public without others getting offended and write to the newspapers to complain?

The answer to these questions, I believe, parallels that of the acceptance of revolutionary ideas in science. Max Planck has a quote which describes this very well.

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." - Max Planck

Is Singapore ready? I think not in 10 or 20 years' time.

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