National pride: show me the money

How surprising is it that in the Institute of Policy Studies survey (published in the Straits Times and TODAY, Monday 2nd August 2010) it was found that Singaporeans’ sense of pride and national identity are tied to the country’s economic achievement? This is the direct result of using economic motivation as a paradigm for nation building. When all our policies are geared towards the economy, how can we expect that anyone will go beyond this goal, National Education notwithstanding? Economic success is only a means towards building a vibrant and thriving society. It cannot be the sole definition of one.

The survey also reported that there is a desire for more political participation, but there is little follow through. People want to have a say, but don’t actually take steps to get heard. Clearly, this links to the first point. Economic motivation is not a compelling reason for active participation. As long as there is food on the table, our needs are met and we have no desire to explore the philosophy of citizenship. Voting is not an example of active citizenship in a country where most constituencies face walkovers, and the passion for political involvement fades when faced with the rhetoric of need for administrative efficiency.

Eugene Tan of SMU is reported as saying that “ultimately, it is about getting the more educated and affluent Singaporeans to go beyond the ‘me-my-and-mine’ mindset.” I don’t think so. I think it is about giving people a safe place to speak up, because the higher you climb, the more you think you have to lose when you have the fear (however misplaced) that the administrative machinery will come down on you like a ton of bricks if you put a foot wrong. Active citizenship has to be nurtured in a forgiving environment that allows mistakes as long as each mistake pushes the collective consciousness further along on the learning curve.

Loyalty comes with intense involvement not only in the economic success of the country (which- let’s face it- is a vital ingredient) but also in its political process. As long as only the first is seen as a valid goal, people who have other economic options are going to keep them open.

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