Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hope, Love, Pragmatism and Barack Obama

I've been thinking a lot on hope recently, especially Barack Obama's message of hope, of unifying a deeply divided nation, of not doing things the same way with the same mindset.

I've begin to wonder if Singapore had gotten it all wrong.

I've been thinking of the 27 girls and the principal that has asked for them to leave the school in hopes of not pulling down the overall grade of the school. What a blow it must be to the girls! I do not wish to rehash the opinions of other bloggers on this issue. What I do wish to do is to abstract this a bit further.

We are familiar with the Singapore Mindset: Practicality above all, survival as the primary consideration. Survival requires us to make hard decisions. Practicality drives these decisions. There is no room for dreams, compromise, or hope. Winning the game must dominate all.

Is this correct?

I look back on Singapore's history, often cited as an economic miracle of proper governance, and of making hard decisions to survive. We did what we had to, and we did it well. We adopted a hard-nosed pragmatic mindset to survive, and we've done well. We've kept to it till this day.

Why is it, then, that while keeping this pragmatic mindset, we as Singaporeans have become increasingly dissatisfied with pragmatism? What has actually changed? I suspect it may be that we've forgotten that hope and pragmatism aren't always enemies.

We have forgotten that what drove Singapore during its early independence was not just the goal of feeding mouths and putting roofs over our heads. It was also the hope that there would be better days ahead, that what we would suffer for now would ultimately be repaid to us tenfold.

That was the difference. That was all the difference.

Yesterday, I read the Barack Obama has gotten the Kennedy family's endorsement, not because he had the best policies, or the greatest chance of putting them into action. He obtained it because he is slowly teaching a nation how to hope again.


In the recent past, I spoke to a friend of mine, troubled with love problems. Her problem was simply this: she did not want to enter into love again without some assurance that it would work out. I found this an entirely rational response and completely unwise.

My response is simply this - if both sides do what is rational, love will never happen because each side is treating each other at arm's length waiting for something to happen. The only way for something to happen is to break the deadlock, do the irrational, take the leap of faith.

In that sense, is it ultimately pragmatic to lose love or to gain love? I don't know, but I do know that equal parts of pragmatism and hope ultimately worked better than mere pragmatism.

As far as I know, my friend and her current beau are still happy together.


The Singapore Mindset has permeated all aspects of our culture. Pragmatism above all. In truth, I have nothing against pragmatism. It is the exclusion of hope that I fear.

We need hope. We must have hope. History has shown time and time again what men without hope do. Hope curdles easily into desperation. The lack of hope turns easily into despair. Yet, for such a fragile thing, hope remains eminently persistent, for no one can give or take away hope, only displayed as an fine light in hope that others will follow.

I hope. Do you?


SM said...

This is a great post. I enjoy your writing. Somehow, you are always able to make us see the ray of light in the dark tunnel.

Khayce said...

Thank you.

Yu Sarn said...

The difference between the Singapore of today and the Singapore of yesterday is this:

How much do you think you have to lose?

If you think have nothing to lose, you give your all and hope for the best. This is Singapore of yesterday. We kicked out the British (the status quo then) and charted a new destiny for the nation.

If you think you have everything to lose, then you become afraid to lose, afraid to change and depart from the "tried and tested". After a while, paralysis sets in. This is the Singapore of today. We are afraid of change and swallow all kinds of nonsense thrown at us.

You can be a pragmatist in either case (or neither). The difference is Hope vs Fear. If hope wins out over fear, change can occur, for better or worse. If fear wins out over hope, then we cling to the status quo, for better or worse.

Khayce said...

I don't think it's quite that simple Yu Sarn.

Hope can be a force for maintaining status quo just as well as fear can be used to bring about change. The War on Terrorism, for example, was a result of this change.

I'm unable to define a paradigm where hope ceases to exist, but merely ceases to operate.

Yu Sarn said...

I understand what you are saying. I agree to an extent with the concept that hope can be a conservative force.

However, in the particular example, I think that the War on Terror represents the status quo rather than a change in the way America deals with the world. It is a natural extension of the knee-jerk militaristic response America has always made towards what it considers its enemies.

In fact, it is an example of how fear can lock you into a mode of thinking which is so difficult to escape from, the result of which is strategically disastrous. The Singapore "siege mentality" is another example of fear operating in that way.

On your paradigmatic question :P it really depends on how you define "hope". If hope is defined as a feeling you have, then it cannot exist where it ceases to operate.

However, if hope is defined to include the source or the reason for hope, then hope ceases to operate when we forget it exists. But it always exists.