By Dr Wong Wee Nam
24 April 2013
When Mr Lee Hsien Loong watched the news of the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon, he was inspired by the many stories of people behaving selflessly when faced with fear and danger. In his Facebook, he wrote, “If ever Singapore encounters an incident like this, may we have the courage and the humanity to respond with the same grace and unity as the Bostonians.”
How the people of a society behave depends on the society they grew up in. The cultural, the political and the social environments all play a part in the moulding of a people’s values and their attitudes towards the community.
Boston has generally been socially progressive and politically liberal. It is known for having a passion for politics. There is a great intellectual community and it is a place where progressive ideas are shared. It has a strong, vibrant arts community. There, gays are not frowned upon or criminalised.
What does this mean? It means that the people are free to express themselves without fear. It means people there generally support ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, and private property. These are democratic rights and governments must not violate these rights.
If the Prime Minister wants Singaporeans to have the courage and the humanity to respond with the same grace and unity as the Bostonians, then his government must provide the Bostonian environment conducive enough for us to develop the attitudes and values of the Bostonians.
The change in Singapore is not going to come anytime soon. The Internal Security Act is still retained, instilling fear into the people. And as long as it is around, it could still be used. There is still the lack of political will to remove Section 377A of the penal code, although the government had said that it would not be used.
Bloggers are still asked to take down their postings and apologise with the threat of legal action if they don’t. A video maker has been investigated for making a video of some SMRT bus drivers. Recently, a politician had to pay damages to a minister for alleged defamation. Just few days ago, a satirical cartoonist was arrested for alleged sedition,
At the moment, far from having a passion for politics and a belief in justice, freedom and equality, Singaporeans are still “kiasi, kiasu and kia chenghu” (afraid to die, afraid to lose and afraid of government). In Kohlberg’s Stage of Moral Development, we are only at Stage 1 or Stage 2 – very obedient, punishment-orientated, selfish and me-orientated. Thus in times of crisis, the people will not respond like the Bostonians, but will respond with a kiasi, kiasu and kia chenghu mentality.
When he was a minister, Mr Tony Tan’s vision was to make Singapore the Boston of the East. But there is still a long way to go.
However, there is still hope. Many of our young people are still blogging and speaking their minds. Some have taken up causes and championing them tirelessly. Others have begun to challenge legal and constitutional points in courts. On February 16th 2013, 5000 ordinary citizens converged on Hong Lim Park to register their protest against the Government White Paper on a 6.9 million population.
These are signs that we are slowly moving up Kohlberg’s ladder of moral development. Maybe one day in the future Singaporeans will have the courage and the humanity to respond with the same grace and unity as the Bostonians when disaster strikes.