Monday, 30 March 2015


Inevitably, the pushback came.

Yes, while a nation grieves (inappropriately, I think), some have reinforced their anti-LKY positions.


Like his passing.

He was 91. His wife has passed away 4 years ago. He has held on to see SG reach it's 50th year. There is nothing left that would hold him here.

Even as Singaporeans said, "get well soon!"

I was saying, "go, gentle into the good night."
Your race is done, the victory won,
You've earn your right
To go, gentle into the good night.

Not that I wanted him dead!

But Valar Morghulis. All men must die.

It is inevitable.

As with all passing, those left behind feel the need to... do something to mark the significance of this person's life and the impact on theirs.

Good friends eulogised.

People whose lives had been touched or intersected with this Man, shared their stories, their anecdotes, their experience. And said what a great man he was!

And inevitably, the pushback came.

Those who were less enamoured with his uncompromising life, his inflexible principles, and his ruthless objectivity leavened the outpouring of affection and gratitude with... cutting observations?

Not surprisingly, some of his more renowned critics are... prone to emotionality, in touch with their "humanity", and disdainful of objectivity.

And then the pushback against the pushback came.

And then the pushback against the pushback against the pushback.

It is unending.

Inevitable? I hope not.

Is this post going to be the final word on the matter?

No way. Because we are free to say what we want to say. Which brings me to the first issue.

Freedom of Speech

So some people said or wrote less than flattering (or downright insulting) comments or blog articles, and they were told to "shut up" in those words or similar ones.

The critics' response sometimes were along the lines of, "don't tell me to shut up. you can't take away my freedom of speech!"

Well, what about the responders' freedom to tell you to "shut up"?

The fact is, freedom of speech simply means that you cannot be arrested or prosecuted for saying something. But if you told a very large man with a temper that his mother is a bitch, you can be reasonably sure that he is not going to be happy with you and he may express his unhappiness violently. Is he infringing your right to express your opinion about his mother?


He is responding to your insult of his mother, which you expressed through the exercise of your freedom of speech.

Recklessly, I might add.

Freedom of speech does not exempt you from the consequence of your action. It does not mean that anyone has to accept, respect, or tolerate your irresponsible or foolish utterances. It simply means no one can report you to the police and get you arrested.

[Note: The 16-year-old 'tuber (potato?) who put up an anti-LKY rant on Youtube was arrested and charged for "wounding religious feelings" and "causing distress". You can take this as a repudiation of my assertion above. Maybe I will address this another time.]

Or perhaps in the Singapore context, Freedom of speech simply means you don't have to bid for a COE before you can speak or write.

XKCD puts it this way:

There is a hypocrisy in those who would criticise LKY, or castigate those who praise LKY, AND THEN object to being criticised or castigated. They want THEIR Free Speech, but they would not allow others theirs.


Oh, but their criticisms are insightful, based on facts, research, and are closer to the TRUTH. In their not-so-humble opinion.

Which brings me to the second issue.

Facts and Opinions.

One playwright (and a few other critics of LKY) pointed out that Singapore was not a fishing village in 1965. Or even in 1959. The playwright (who shall remain unnamed as he fears for his personal safety) objected to "exaggerated eulogies" that perpetuated the "fishing village myth".

It's a good thing he is fighting for unexaggerated eulogies. I, too, like eulogies to be fact-based. In fact for eulogies of prominent historical figures, the eulogies should read like a history text book so I can get all my history knowledge just by reading the factual eulogy. In fact, "factual eulogy" is redundant.  All eulogies are, necessarily, factual accounts of a persons life.

If you don't believe me, you should look up "eulogy". It has the same meaning as "history", as the unnamed playwright implied.

It's not like eulogies are supposed to be the nice things one says about dead people to show other people that they are missed, and screw the facts!

No, as the playwright so wrightfully pointed out, there were a lot of exaggerated eulogies about LKY. For a man who lived his life unemotionally, unsentimentally (mostly), and is persuaded only by facts and figures, he would be appalled by the blatant disregard for facts by his eulogisers... if he were still alive.

This then, is no fault of the eulogised, only the eulogisers.

If so, did the unnamed playwright criticism target the eulogisers, or the eulogised? If the former, he is wright. If the latter, then he is properly castigated by followers of the eulogised, for identifying an offence, but attributing the offence to an innocent man.

BUT... were the eulogisers, wrong?

If Singapore were not a "fishing village" in the 50s and 60s, what was it and what would have been a more accurate description of Singapore then?

And, more importantly, DOES IT MATTER?

It is telling, that one of the main points of contention was a hyperbole, which, if I may suggest, is used simply as shorthand. As someone might say, "we were so poor, we had nothing!"

And then the unnamed playwright, might sceptically ask, "what do you mean, you had "nothing"? You had no home? You had no food? You had no clothes? You had no shoes? You had no bed? You have some of those things? Oh, so you DID have something! So you were lying when you said you had "nothing"?"

"Small Fishing Village" is somewhat like "Little Red Dot". (Thank you ex-President Habibie). It is a shorthand for describing Singapore. As a playwright, the unnamed one should be familiar with the concept of cultural or semantic shorthand to express an idea as succinctly as possible. Or maybe not. (Who am I to suggest what anyone, let alone a playwright, should know?)

Focusing on just one simple hyperbole in the "exaggerated eulogies" is like all those international commentary that focuses on the Chewing Gum ban in Singapore. As if the chewing gum ban is the sole characterisation of Singapore, her people, and her society. It is to make the molehill the sum total of the mountain. It is a variation of the straw man argument.

The best part is, it is not LKY who claims that he transformed Singapore from a "sleepy fishing village to a modern metropolis". In his own words, Singapore developed from "Third World to First". Now, if you want to disagree, or make him out to be a liar, that is what you should be contending - that Singapore was NOT a third world country in 1965, and even if we were Third world in 1965, we are NOT First world today, or when LKY handed over to GCT (1990). THEN you can claim that LKY was embellishing (or outright lying) about our achievements.

Another beef these critics had was the claim or statement along the lines that "LKY single-handedly made modern Singapore". These critics point out that the making of Singapore was a team effort. In fact,  LKY himself said so:
...he acknowledged the importance of Old Guard comrades such as Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam, Hon Sui Sen, and Toh Chin Chye in his book: “I was fortunate to have had a strong team of ministers who shared a common vision. They were able men determined to pursue our strong goals ... They helped me stay objective and balanced, and saved me from any risk of megalomania which could so easily come with long years in office.”
LKY did not single-handedly transform Singapore? No arguments from LKY.

So what is the problem?

It is again the eulogisers, and the mourners who, in the opinion of the critics, credit LKY with too much, who believe (erroneously) that LKY singlehandedly created modern Singapore.

It is, in the critics' opinion, inaccurate to give LKY credit.


A man at his father's wake says, "without him, I would not be the man I am today." Who has the right to tell this man that he is wrong? Or ask him, "what about your mom? Your siblings? Your teachers?"

So, many Singaporeans (and some non-Singaporeans) are saying that LKY is a great man, or has touched their lives, or has had a positive impact on their lives.

Who has the right to tell them that they are wrong? That they are misattributing the impact to LKY? That he is not as great as they believe him to be?

Aren't these all simply differences of opinions?

Not according to the critics. They want to apply an objective standard to determine the facts. Like the "Singapore was not a sleepy fishing village" myth.

The problem is that they take the figurative as the literal and the literal as figurative as it suits their purpose.

One critic's response to the mourner's pushback against his comment was:
You say "let history judge the man" as if we don't breathe history, as if we're not living in a world stained by history, as if we don't wade through history every day. 
Yes. We do. We create history. Almost half a million people paying their last respect to LKY last week as he lay in state, created history, are passing judgement on the Man's impact on history. And what is your response? History is wrong? You guys are making the WRONG history?

What is correct? 

Your rendition of history?

Isn't that... megalomaniacal?

So History will judge the man, and you will judge history? And rule that it is Wrong? Because it does not fit with your interpretation of the facts? Such... arrogance.

But it brings me to the third issue.

Interpreting the facts

I have read some of the comments or critiques of LKY. 

I am not impressed. 

It is the same-old same-old critiques. Nothing new. No new insights. Old wine in cheap new wineskins at best. Or old wine that has turned into vinegar at worst. 

The critiques of LKY and his policies are many and often stupid. If you hear or read the critiques, these are the possible responses you might have

a) "I have never thought of that before! Hmmmm.... I must find out more!"
b) "That is the biggest pile of steaming horse manure I have ever heard/read!"
c) "Yes! Finally! Someone who shares my point of view!"

There are too many stupid critiques of policies, which are often 1) taken out of context, 2) simply opinions not based on any facts, 3) or if based on facts, are based on an interpretation that attributes motives and intents without basis or a foundation.

If your response to a critique of LKY or the PAP is b) - biggest pile of steaming horse manure  - there are 3 ways you may follow-up on your reactions.

Firstly, most people ignore it. It is like passing a mad person on the street who insists that there is a conspiracy to kill people with peanut butter as peanut butter is too sticky and could choke a person to death. There are some "facts" in that conspiracy theory - peanut butter is rather viscous. The rest of the theory however is pure insanity. Life is too short to debate with the insane.

Secondly, you may respond with a quick retort, like "shut up, you crazy cow". This usually happens if you recognise an implied insult in the critique. For example, criticism of the "fishing village" myth or the "LKY single-handedly transform SG" myth, is a criticism not of LKY per se, but those attempting to beatify or deify him. The implied insult is that those who are perpetuating these myths are unthinking "sheeple". Is it any wonder that the respond is along the lines of "shut up, stupid!"

Thirdly, while you recognise the steaming pile of horse manure when you see/read it, you decide that it would make a GREAT blog post.

So here you are. And here I am.

Like all conspiracy theories, critiques of LKY will usually have sufficient facts (or at least a "hook") to make the theory plausible, and sufficient innuendo to create a scandal if true, and subjective interpretation to create doubt, complexity and amorphousness to allow for a lot of wriggle room to bolster the theory as necessary, and an element of implied threat to create a sense of urgency or moral outrage.

There are too many conspiracy theories about LKY to debunk in one already long blogpost, so let's just focus on one example, and you can do the rest as a mental exercise.

Let's take the "Stop at Two" campaign.

The gist of this critique is that in implementing this campaign, LKY and/or the PAP curtailed our right to reproduce as much as we want, and was so effective, it irreversibly reduce our Total Fertility Rate (TFR) to below 2.1. This subsequently led to the reversal of this policy and is a screaming indictment of LKY (and PAP's) arrogance, lack of foresight, stupidity, and insane attempt to social engineer Singapore, because despite the new pro-reproductive policies, TFR has remained at about 1.2.

I'm paraphrasing here.

Here are my immediate (but edited) response:

1) Why are Japan, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the US which never had a stop at two policy having TFR lower than 2.1, as well? LKY and the PAP very powerful?

2) What are the real reasons for lower TFR? Really. The Real reasons that anyone with an open mind who search Google for the unbiased, unpoliticised answer will find. Oh yes, government policies do have an effect, but there are other more significant reasons.

3) From the above, if there had not been a Stop at Two policy in the 70s, would there still be a drop in TFR because of rising educational level of women, urbanisation, etc.?

The policy has been reversed for years, TFR has not risen, and still the policy gets blamed for SCs not reproducing themselves?

The critics of the Stop at Two campaign are like feminists who criticise Dead White Men of the 1800s for not speaking out against gender discrimination in their lifetime.

Context is everything.

In the 60s and 70s and with regular frequency, the ideological descendents of Thomas Malthus will rise up to scare us all with stories of over-population.
In 1971 there were approximately 3.6billion human beings on the planet Earth. And at that time Paul Ehrlich, a patron of the Optimum Population Trust and author of a book called The Population Bomb, wrote about his ‘shocking’ visit to New Delhi in India. He said: ‘The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people. As we moved slowly through the mob, [we wondered] would we ever get to our hotel…?’
Sure, Ehrlich was proven wrong, just as all the variants of Malthusians have been over the centuries. But it is nevertheless true that large families and poverty are a bad combination, particularly in an urban environment.

In other words, any government should make decisions based on what is known at the time. Critics of the Stop at Two policy have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight.

Someone shared this comment regarding LKY:
"our beliefs should accord with the evidence, and not the other way around."
Well, if we adopt this credo, this philosophy, we should abolish all religions. Or at least banned them in Singapore.

As a philosophising agnostic/atheist, I COMPLETELY agree that a logical, rational, fact-based approach is the ONLY way to live one's life - that what we choose to believe should accord with the available evidence.

That comment, summed up the critique of the hero-worshipping, or even idolatry of LKY.

I completely understand why the logical, rational critics think that way.

But I also think they are arrogant and wrong. That is what differentiates them from me.

We have religion, faith, and heroes because we need them; because we need to believe in a supreme creator so that there is hope in this world, in this life; because sometimes we need heroes to believe in, before we can learn to believe in ourselves.

Yes, for some of us, we can do without religion, without faith, without heroes. Or we can see "heroes" for who they really are, and are moved by their frailty, their humanity, and see that their achievements are even more remarkable for they are no more sons of gods or gods themselves, than us. And be inspired.

And then there are those who would seek to divest others of their faith, of their religion, of their God, and of their heroes. The Bible suggests that they wear a millstone necktie... and go swimming.

The critics purpose ultimately is first, to point out that LKY is not perfect, that he is not god, that he does not deserve beatification or deification. The first two points are factual. The last two points are opinions.

The second purpose is to disparage the hero-worshippers/mourners/the grateful. Implied in their critique is that these mourners are foolish sheep, unable to discern facts from myths, truth from legends, the man from the god they are putting on a pedestal.

And in that, they suffer from arrogantia intellectualitis.

Because they see only with their eyes, and believe only what they can prove. 

Almost 500,000 mourners who paid their last respects, and the hundreds of thousands (if not million) of people who lined the streets for the Man, set aside their doubts, their differences, their jaundiced eye, and jaded hearts, and simply believed... as the Man did... in Singapore.

Photo of old woman kneeling in the rain paying respects to LKY as his cortege pass.
(Intended as an emotional appeal to support the assertions of this post.)

Picture by CHONG KWAN KUNG (New Paper Big Picture Winner for the above photograph)
It was raining heavily while I waited for the cort├Ęge of our late founding prime minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew to pass by Cantonment Road. I was touched by this 90-year-old lady kneeling down and praying on the roadside. Two kind volunteers sheltered her with an umbrella. Our pioneer generation can appreciate how Mr Lee made Singapore progressed from then to now.

No comments: