Thursday, 3 April 2014

Response to meritocracy in Singapore

'Meritocracy' is one word that I would immediately link Singapore to, right behind 'sunny', 'merlion' and 'safe'. Do I believe in it? Yes, when i am being optimistic and no, if I were to be practical. I do support it though. I mean, it's really one of the fairest approaches around. I just don't agree that we are a full-fledged meritocratic country. In fact, it's an issue pertaining to the whole world.

First, let's take a look at meritocracy on a global scale and imagine each country as a single individual. Some may be related; depending on how you it, some examples can be like China-North Korea, ASEAN... Anyway, the main point is that each country has its own unique traits - naturally equating to unequal distribution of resources. Which is exactly why we have developed vs developing countries. Some countries are more developed perhaps because they have an abundance of natural resources, for e.g., Norway. Just to keep things short and simple, I'll make this a shallow comparison to maybe, a rich kid with abundant material possessions - student A. And then we have countries like Singapore, with close to zero natural resources(compared to other countries), a country that basically had to start with nothing after WWII save for a good geographic location. And a shallow comparison will probably be a poor kid placed in a good school cos he lives near it(Singaporeans will understand this) - student B.

Given our history, I totally understand why our government advocates meritocracy because we were a country with HDI lower than that of some African countries and now we're like in the top 20? We had as much chances as other countries to succeed(I say this because we weren't really affected by war or natural disasters ever since WWII) and we did, despite our condition after the war and everyday I am thankful for being born into this country. But I believe that we can do so much better. So, let's say student B does well in school without tuition or whatsoever, doing well based on his own hard work. Classic example of meritocracy. But could he have done better if he had student A's family background? Almost definitely. What about students who may not be as lucky as student B to get into a good school? Will his hard work be enough?

Connections helps. I have known a few cases whereby students use connections to get into my school. This is just one example. Money helps. This is a pretty straightforward one. Let's say a student who has done badly for A levels cannot get into any local universities, cannot afford to go any private/overseas universities even though his/her score makes the cut. Where is our 'equal chances'? Money helps. Indefinitely. Which is exactly why one should never let money rule over oneself.

"What gave money its true meaning was its dark-night namelessness, its breathtaking interchangeability." - Haruki Murakami.

Get it right, kid!

In my opinion, there's never gonna be "real meritocracy" because there's always gonna be "invisible classes" in a society. Like, even if there is a total redistribution of resources, to put to a extremity, everyone starting at point zero, there is never going to be a 100% meritocratic society. The state of total equality is bound to diverge at a certain point. For example, setting English as the first language was probably one of the best decisions ever made by our government. I really admire Lee for having such hindsight. Everyone starting on the same foot(well, almost everyone) but yes, we still have high income equality. But the thing is, every country has a certain level of income inequality(duh) so it's really about balance.

And I believe that this balance can only be achieved by a more humanistic Singapore. Yes, that's right, supporter of Mr. Robin Hood here. I can talk all day about the Robin Hood approach and I'm really more of a supporter of the upgraded Robin Hood approach(i.e. Not just monetary transfers + poor giving back to the rich as well. In what ways I haven't thought of, this will be for a later discussion). Sure, you can be super extreme and say that this would mean that the rich does all the work and the poor gains because of their charity and that is oh-so-unfair but come on, nothing is fair in this world. Which is why meritocracy only works to a certain extent since there will never be "real equal chances"[might not even work well; I mean, classless-ness certainly didn't work well for China] but the basis of it is really for people to think about what they can do for the rest of the society. 

So, what are you willing and able to do for our society?

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