Friday, April 28, 2006

TV forum with MM Lee shows English-educated S'poreans are westernised, lack Asian values. Fix the school curriculum

Bah, I lost my first post so I'm going to retype it without your usual snarky comments. Logic enforcement will still be practiced though.

I refer to the recent televised forum with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. Why should anyone be surprised about what happened? It is not a question of who's right or wrong.

When you remove all OB (out-of-bounds) markers, you expect nothing less than a free-for-all discussion. Blaming the young participants in the forum is counter-productive and unfair. They genuinely believed they were doing their best in such a one-off opportunity with MM Lee in a televised dialogue.

Okay, first things first. What is an OB marker in our particular political venecular lexicon? Best as I can determine, it refers to an issue that cannot be discussed politically (an oddity of our freedom of expression is that academic freedom is pretty wide-ranging, just don't publish them outside of your obscure academic journals as an ex-NUS Mr Christopher Bridge found out when he published an article in IHT accusing nameless Asian governments of using the judiciary to silence political opposition.)

Note that OB issues are not necessary pertaining to politics, so it's perfectly fine to publish an article in Today defending high ministerial salaries. But when the same foreign journalist published another article asking the government to lighten up and loosen restrains on expression and speech, he was accused of interferring in the domestic politics of Singapore (which by the way is defined judically so broadly as to emcompass any commentary on the policies of the government. Only applies to all your awful foreign press though who go around trying to set our domestic agenda. Tsk tsk.)

There are several conclusions we can draw from this forum.

Unfortunately none of them his.

Firstly, some of our young, especially the English-educated, are not just modernised but also westernised. They lack knowledge of Asian values which older people acquire as they get older and wiser.

Like our children, most of them do not understand their parents, take everything for granted and rebel when they get nagged. Most of them get over this phase when they grow up and settle down with children of their own.

Well, there's the obvious false dualism/dichotomy between "English-educated", modernisation and westernisation on the one hand and Asian values, age and wisdom on the other. In other words, ageism and generation gap and self-orientalisation in one neat assertion and unsubstantiated opinion.

Don't worry, the definitions and explaination come in a later paragraph.

Secondly, no matter how mature a society is, especially a diverse one like Singapore, you need OB markers. Remove them totally and chaos will prevail. Just look at the other societies around us. Personal or group freedom prevails over national interest. The result is perpetual disruption to economic growth and social instability.

Oh bother. Your classic strawman argument that freedom of speech leads to doom and gloom. Seriously though, no liberal has ever argued that any right or freedom is absolute. The right to move my fist ends at your nose, I have no right to shout fire in a crowded theatre yada yada. The only real issue is how, where and why we restrict and go about doing so because at the end of the day we are looking for a free-marketplace of ideas, not a fish market to be sure.

Nevertheless, to use a reductio ad absurdum, by extrapolating his logic, one should not discuss any contentious issue because of the economic fall-out. Obviously no one takes that line and the real question then becomes whether the simple discussion of an issue will lead to the sort of detrimental effects that he proclaims.

The problem with his line of argument is that it doesn't establish causation. Simply put there isn't a duality here where disproving one means proving the other. By way of illustration just remember that one can just as well be efficiently good as one can be efficiently bad. A good contrast would be Africa and Asia at the start of the 1960s, the similar nationalist authoritarian government but differences in economic policy leading to a massive discrepancy in economic growth. So the question must be which system of government better supports the notion of the freedom of speech and expression and can act as a check on the corrupting influences of power.
I think the present government's policies are already in place insofar as the OB markers are concerned. What needs to be improved are Asian values studies in the English education curriculum.

Without going too much into detail the history of the rise of Asian Values, it may seem that all it is is an opposition to a reverse orientalisation and gross generalisation of the West and its values. But there is a positive statement of Asian Values in our 5 Shared Values.
* Nation before community and society before self
* Family as the basic unit of society
* Community support and respect for the individual
* Consensus, not conflict
* Racial and religious harmony
NE and Social Studies not enough is it? Bah.
Chinese culture with strong Asian values are inherent in the Chinese language itself. In my opinion, most of the Chinese-educated are more likely to have a stronger feel of Asian values.

What's with the sinocentricism here? What about the other non-Chinese races and culture?

As a parting shot, consider that he hasn't established the superiority of "Asian Values" but simply uses it as a categorisation for the stuff he likes. But maybe one should plot the average education of the so-called "Chinese-educated" (considering his emphasis on age here) and the average education of your post 65ers and maybe one can come to the conclusion that "we" are simply better educated and have more critical and analytical skills.

And with that, I'm back!


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