The impact of ideology #GE2015

 Ideology is one of the most powerful social forces and beliefs that tend to shape the way people think and ultimately make decisions.  Ideologies tend to rear their head more readily during general elections and Singapore politics is no different from anywhere else when it comes to this point. The worse form of ideology and politics is in the form of political parties that dominate democratic processes and in the process have managed to squeeze out any remnants of independent non-party affiliated thought in the political spectrum.

In Singapore the joke in my mind is that we have a number of political parties, but the essence is largely the same. They are all largely socialist in nature with a leaning towards a market based economy for the simple fact that trade and the notion of commerce is far too engrained into the Singapore psyche that to offer anything else without significantly changing our core would be completely unappealing. However, where ideology kicks in is in “how” socialist a party intends to be. From the nationalisation of private companies that provide public transport to the provision of universal healthcare, all of these parties are offering the same outcome but are unwilling to tell you the cost, often brushed aside.

According to the Oxford dictionary ideology means, “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy”. The rigidity that one sticks to his ideology I assume differentiates a person from being either a participant to being an ideologue. Interestingly enough Singapore has a sort of ideology all on its own, and for the longest time it was largely about not having any particular ideology that we completely committed to. We took the best or what we thought were the best parts of a variety of systems and stitched them together to create what we believed to deliver the most promising outcome. Some people have called it “pragmatism“, “survival-ism” or even being simply ruthless. I think it really is just a form of political common sense that people have some how long forgotten. The need to identify, investigate and implement what works, what has worked, and what can work if changed slightly is in my opinion largely behind the success of the Singapore story.

There is an enduring myth to the exceptionalism that is Singapore, that we were somehow able to do things everybody else couldn’t do because we were uniquely situated to do so and that we had actively unique policies to make the difference. But in my opinion, I would like to believe that the exceptionalism that is Singapore has little to do with the policies in place or the unique happenstance of our history but rather we are unique simply because the people that emigrated to Singapore in the years of British colonial rule and the in the years after our independence were people who were exceptional. They were people that believed that they (and by extensions their families) could be more and do more in this place that was Singapore, a place that was both Western and Asian in equal measures, both straining to be new yet actively holding on to history and heritage. What has this got to do with ideology you might ask? The people that were the unexpected parents of a newly independent country in 1965 choose to believe that collectively they would benefit more rather than by seeking to pursue profit for themselves and only themselves. The spirit of collectivism merged with the ideologies that they all carried with them, created a unique situation where we could actively support policies that in many countries would have brought cries of cognitive dissonance and irony. We should always remember that we are not perfect and that our decisions haven’t always been the wisest, the only saving grace that we’ve had in the past was that once something didn’t seem like it worked, it was quickly replaced (usually once sufficient evidence of failure was collected).

And as we go into yet another election cycle, let us think hard on who will be able to deliver us that level of collectivism married with diverse ideologies so that we may build a better Singapore, not simply for ourselves but for the generations that come after and the ones that came before that they’re spirit will always be remembered.

“It is lack of self-confidence that almost always prevents one from climbing higher on the ladder of success, that chains one to an obscure seat in the back row in the Auditorium of life. For in this age of strife and energetic competition you will not get anywhere unless you whip the world into making a place for you and you cannot do that if you cannot whip your faculties into obeying your will.” – David Marshall, Singapore’s First Chief Minister

It will always be difficult to get people who are more married to their ideologies than the notion of a functioning state, to always agree with each other. We can only hope and elect people that are most likely going to get us there and provide that equilibrium on which we can build our own selves up when we can and where we can also help (and be helped) by others in society.


Inspiration behind the posts:

  1. Hong Kong leader warns protesters as tent city sprouts. Today Online. 13 Oct 2014.

  2. How to get ideological opponents to work with you. Harvard Business Review Blogs. 12 Aug 2014.

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