Friday, September 10, 2010

Of Singapore and Freedom

One thing I like about going home is having a collection of National Geographic’s at my fingertips. With every issue since the 70’s kept on a bookshelf, I can always keep myself occupied. I was reading “The Singapore Solution” by Mark Jacobson from the January 2010 issue (read the entire article here). Singapore is a highly technological nation, and it only has 3.7 million people on its tiny (but expanding) island. Singapore also has very restrictive laws (some include no littering or spitting on sidewalks, failing to flush toilets and no chewing gum) and harsh punishments for violating them, although they have let up in recent years.

The overview of the country is told alongside the story of the Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew. He is credited by history and the people as being the mastermind behind all that Singapore is today. He attracted foreign investment, made English the official language, made a very efficient government by boosting salaries, and has virtually extinguished corruption. He was the first prime minister after independence from Britain, and is now the “Minister Mentor” to his son, the current prime minister. He says that he has had a plan all along for his country, and it looks as if it has been successful.

Singapore is the definition of success to the world: a great education and health system, corruption free government, 90% of households own their own home, taxes are low, 3% unemployment, and everyone has a savings plan (as enforced by the government). In the article, it says the word that sums up the “Singaporean existential condition” is kiasu (meaning “afraid to lose”). “Singaporeans are big on being number one in everything, but in a kiasu world, winning is never completely sweet, carrying with it the dread of ceasing to win.” The government is of one mind, and when members of parliament disagree with the majority (such as voting no to reduce the number of people allowed to assemble to protest), they simply will not serve another term.

Another interesting aspect is the campaigns relating to the family. “Assortative mating”, where college graduates should only marry other college graduates, is encouraged by the MM (Minister Mentor).

There is also the modern problem of depopulation, which the article traces back to the 1970’s population control program “Two Is Enough”. The fertility rate is now 1.29, which the MM calls a “worrying factor”. (The solution offered by the author is that “Singaporeans start having more sex”.) This has lead to the huge Chinese immigrant influx (25% of the island’s population is foreign born). Ironically, the MM isn’t to concerned about this. He welcomes hard-working people whose parents pushed them “very hard”. He said it’s the Singaporeans problem to catch up with them.

What is most troubling about all of this, however, is the ideology of Lee (the MM) behind his realized vision of Singapore. In his own words:
One must understand human nature. I have always thought that humanity was animal-like. The Confucian theory was man could be improved, but I’m not sure he can be. He can be trained, he can be disciplined.
He disagrees with America’s thinking saying, the rights of individuals to do their own thing allow them to misbehave at the expense of an orderly society.

And to that I have a reply:
Singapore is what the world is striving for and, as evidenced by reality, the way of achieving that is ridding one’s freedom. As I read the article, I wondered what the Singaporeans thought about all this. Were they really happy? Do they think a safe, comfortable life has been a good trade off for a less uncontrolled one? Singapore isn't as extreme as some other countries in how they do things, but I wonder, where should the line be drawn?

In order to have an “orderly society” freedom must be cashed in. It is true, people abuse freedom. The MM’s conclusion from this is to limit that freedom, and by doing so, you can create any kind of society you want.

But this points to a severe mistake. The mistake is thinking it is possible to take a person’s freedom away, that laws can be written against it, and punishments enforcing it. It is true people abuse freedom, but it is also true that people must have their freedom.

And that is why I have a new appreciation for America this year. For all it’s problems, hypocrisy and sins against everything (especially God), we have at least one thing right: freedom is really important.
Without freedom, “success” means nothing (see what kiasu means above). Sure you can feel safe in your bed at night, but will you ever be fulfilled in your soul? Without freedom, people cannot choose right, and therefore cannot sustain it being forced upon them (if what was forced was even right to be begin with).

America will ruin itself. Any honest person admits this. But it will go to ruin because of freedom, because people themselves brought it there, and because of another mistake about freedom: that you don't need Truth along with it.

God gave us the ultimate freedom (free will), and will respect it for eternity. Our free will is so important to God that He will never violate it, even to save us. And this is why we must protect it. Although it can very easily lead to ruin, pain, and yes, a disorderly society, we must never seek to limit it. Only in using our freedom can we ever be saved.

God has to be the strongest, and most loving entity, for He sees us in all our confused misery, and reaches down to save us. However, He will never force us to take His hand. He knows what is best for us, and yet will still let us make the ultimate decision. Wow, God is terrifyingly amazing.


  1. I am a Singaporean. I think your views are naive. I appreciate the freedom that Singapore gave us and as much as possible prevent the tyranny of selfish people.

  2. You're right, I am naive. I've never been to Singapore, and know nothing else about it except what I read from the article. These are my thoughts from it.
    You can read the article here: Do you think the author got it wrong? I am curious, and you definitely know more about it than I do. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I am a Singaporean and am proud of what our country achieved from 1819 to 1959 through the hard work of our grandparents.

    Since then, the country has been "growing" through a massive infusion of our retirement funds - the CPF so that today, people in Singapore cannot afford to retire and the elderly are forced to clean toilets or sell packets of tissue paper by the road