Monday, July 03, 2017

Oxley Road Saga : Lee Kuan Yew as an intersubjective phenomenon.

I did not follow closely what was said in Parliament today. The reason is because Singaporean should not be distracted by what is essentially an internal family dispute. However, the dispute is interesting because it raises a very interesting philosophical problem which goes beyond the agendas of Team Preserve and Team Demolish. After some consideration, I think that I now belong to the Team Preserve faction but it is a lot more interesting to look to at the issue from Team Demolish's point of view.

If this issue is merely a family dispute, then 30% of Singaporeans belonging to the anti-PAP would possibly spend a lot more time eating popcorn than throwing their lot for Team Demolish. Why would the folks who hate the PAP want to fulfill the wishes of LKY so much?

Personally, the answer lies in the concept of an intersubjective phenomenon narrated in the books by Yuval Harari. To get under the hood and understand why the factions are split, we have to see the difference between Lee Kuan Yew as a man and Lee Kuan Yew as an intersubjective phenomenon.

As a man, Lee Kuan Yew is mortal. He has his failings as a human being.

As I am a dad myself, I know that my kids will run away from me when I release a nice wet fart when I was out on staycation with them for the past two days. I can imagine what PM Lee's personal relationship with his dad is like. Lee Kuan Yew is a demigod to most of us but, very likely, he farts just like me.  To all of us, LKY was Singapore's first PM. But to PM Lee and his brother, his dad farts like most other dads. Hence the idea that there is nothing "magical" about Oxley Road.

In this case, PM Lee cannot be more wrong about how magical Oxley Road is. I agree with PM Lee that Singaporeans do not currently need 38 Oxley Road and will not make political decisions based on the preservation of one historical monument.

But belief is powerful. And people need a symbol in times of crisis and instability.

A belief in an intersubjective phenomenon like Christianity can launch a crusade to take back Jerusalem in the middle ages and result in the destruction of millions of lives. Bitcoin and Ethereum are also intersubjective phenomenons which made quite a few people rich over the past few months.

Thus, I think that Lee Kuan Yew as an ideal is millions of times more powerful than Lee Kuan Yew as a mortal, and 38 Oxley Road is the physical manifestation of Lee Kuan Yew as an ideal. While it can be argued that Singapore itself is such a symbol, 38 Oxley Road can at least be identified while you are within the country.

Why do we need ideals ? The reason we need ideals is that science and economics is not enough to galvanise millions of people into one nation. To do really big, astronomical things, we need an ideology.

Not everything can be explained or proven by science or social science.

Take for instance the statement by Lee Kuan Yew that "Poetry is a luxury that we cannot afford". Economists cannot prove that, if we emphasise English Literature and Poetry as a nation, it would definitely bring ruin to our island economy. The statement is, thus, an ideological one which positions the study of poems as being "unethical" and antithetical to a practical Confucianist society like ours. The truth is that a lot of things in life which make societies work require a conflation of morality and facts. The political process determines which facts/morality wins.

Keeping 38 Oxley Road preserves a part of Lee Kuan Yew as an ideology. Depending on where you fall on the political spectrum, you might want to preserve it if in the future you see a faction which may try to resurrect Republican and right wings values based on some of the things Lee Kuan Yew did. A rising political left in the far future might wish to emphasise the other side of Lee Kuan Yew who fought hard for labour unions. This may happen hundreds of years down the road and independent of the wishes of the Lee family or the PAP.

(Would Chairman Mao be happy to have his face printed on every dollar note in China ?)

The faction that wants to see 38 Oxley Road destroyed probably believe whole-heartedly that any ideology brought forth by Lee Kuan Yew as a concept is repugnant to their sensitivities. As such, my personal bet is that the literati forms the vanguard of the Team Demolish faction.

Like it or not, Lee Kuan Yew is now an intersubjective phenomenon, which is why our government will need to perform some sort of calculus before deciding to preserve or demolish 38 Oxley Road.

IMHO, it's already out of the Lee family's hands.

This is not an easy task, because there are many ways to wield and weaponise an ideology.

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