Thursday, 1 August 2013

Meritocracy Works but Beware of Elitism

Threat of elitism can divide the inclusive society: ESM Goh

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (centre) speaks to Raffles Institution students at the Raffles Homecoming Dinner for alumni on Saturday, July 27, 2013. Mr Goh on Saturday evening warned of the threat of elitism, saying it can divide the inclusive society that Singapore is striving to build. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (centre) speaks to Raffles Institution students at the Raffles Homecoming Dinner for alumni on Saturday, July 27, 2013. Mr Goh on Saturday evening warned of the threat of elitism, saying it can divide the inclusive society that Singapore is striving to build. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Saturday evening warned of the threat of elitism, saying it can divide the inclusive society that Singapore is striving to build.

The way to guard against it is to adapt and strengthen the practice of meritocracy that has served Singapore well.

"What we need is to get the successful to understand that they have a responsibility to help the less fortunate and less able with compassion, to give back to society through financial donations, sharing of their skills and knowledge and spending time to help others do better, and to serve the country," he said.

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ESM Goh Chok Tong warning against elitism

In 1977, the same Goh Chok Tong was not afraid to use the ‘E-word’. He called for the need to PROMOTE intellectual Elitism because we needed the ‘best brains’ to raise the standard of living and enrich our existence in what would otherwise be a mediocre, ‘second-rate’ country. Today, he seems to be against ANY kind of elitism whatsoever, maybe upon realising that elitism is elitism however you frame it, like rape is rape.

Fears of breeding this cancer that is elitism were also raised by Inderjit Singh in 2004, in response to the primary school streaming system which typecast students according to their abilities (EM1, EM2 and EM3). In 2006, the country raged against the daughter of an MP, Wee Shu Min, for telling a fellow blogger to ‘get out of her elite uncaring face’. MP Sin Boon Ann responded to the incident by commenting on the social divide that splits the HDB dwellers vs private property owners, the gifted vs the normal streams, the rich vs poor, the ones who Instagram expensive caviar vs those who post humble pics of wanton mee.

Snobbery and a sense of entitlement and superiority exist however you try to get everyone on an even footing, which is what meritocracy aims to do. The cure for elitism is compassion and humility, not meritocracy. In fact, some have even blamed meritocracy for breeding elitism in the first place, not least ST political editor Chua Mui Hoong, because those who worked hard to achieve their success feel that they deserved it, compared to those who didn’t strive as much

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Here’s to old school ties that do NOT bind

Many years ago, I was at a journalism workshop in Florida held by the Poynter Institute. Besides one Canadian, I was the only foreigner among the class of about 20 American journalists. One of the topics, conducted by a black American, was on “diversity sensitivity’’.

I had no clue what this was about. Then the lecturer said it was about having a media that is sensitive to people of different races and communities. Most of the American media is dominated by Caucasians, he pointed out, who might not empathise with views of minorities. So news on them tend to be under-covered.

The lecturer had been to Singapore’s newsrooms and said he was gratified that there was a “rainbow’’ coalition in the top ranks of the journalistic leadership here. I agreed – proudly. I ventured to say that if there was one problem, it was about how journalists tend to mix with people of their own “class’’ so to speak, English-speaking literates, university-educated and upwardly mobile.

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Beware of Elitism — Bitch, Please

Image credit: TheStraitsTimes

Of course, I mean the word “bitch” in no disparaging way whatsoever when it comes to Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. I have long harboured a fondness in my breast for ESM Goh, as he has been my MP for many years. Or at least as and when my street finds itself in his GRC, and because I have always thought he looked like a kindly old turtle. But when it comes to the subject of elitism in our fair nation, I respectfully disagree with Mr. Goh’s suggestion that it is a risk and not a reality.

Speaking at the Raffles Institution’s 190th anniversary dinner on Saturday, Mr. Goh expressed his concerns about the dangers of elitism in our meritocratic society. Meritocracy, as we all know, is a formula that works, but it is not without flaws (which, do note, the Government anticipated from the outset). Namely, these are inequality and elitism, which may have buoyed up a class of clever, over-entitled young people. To make matters worse, a system like ours tends to widen the distance between what Mr. Goh accurately calls the winners of meritocracy and the masses.

The so-called elite, then, do not just perceive themselves to occupy relative positions of superiority, but tend to be equipped with the resources to cement them.

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ESM Goh tells schools not to let elitism & sense of entitlement creep into students’ minds but ministers excepted?

Speaking at the 190th anniversary dinner of his alma mater Raffles Institution’s (RI) Homecoming event yesterday (27 Jul), where he was awarded the Gryphon Award for distinguished alumni, ESM Goh Chok Tong said that top schools like RI must play a key role in ensuring elitism and a sense of entitlement do not creep into the minds of their students.

He said there is a need to guard against elitism because it threatens to divide the inclusive society Singapore is seeking to build.

He said his generation experienced an open meritocracy that meant equity and upward social mobility for most people. However, as society matured, some stratification is inevitable and income inequality has grown over the years.

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Runaway Elitism

It was only a few weeks ago that Vivian lectured the young doctors not to overcharge their patients, in other words not to be too greedy and raise the cost of living of the people. Chok Tong has followed up with a similar call on Saturday night when he spoke to his famous alumni, the Rafflesians, in a dinner to honour him with the honourable Gryphon Award. His main theme is about meritocracy, elitism and the entitlement mentality of the elite. He made a call for the successful luminaries to give back to society, to the less fortunate and the less able.

Elitism without compassion is bad. Sure. An uncaring elite class that has no compassion for others, thinking only of their entitlements and how deserving they are is not a good thing socially and politically. It is good to share a little with those who have little.

Actually elitism is not a bad thing and can be a good thing with a little compassion, generosity and empathy. It is not much difference from a benevolent dictator or a king when he rules with a heart of gold and for the good of the people.


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ESM Goh: Meritocracy works?


He recalled that as far as 30 years ago, Singapore's leaders recognised such downsides of meritocracy

He had listened in as then PM Lee, in a discussion with Dutch economist Albert Winsemius and then labour MP Devan Nair, argued that ideally and philosophically, all wealth should revert to the state on the owner's death so that each successive generation would start on an equal footing, and success would depend on hard work and ability, not inherited wealth

But that idea was impractical, Mr Goh recalled.

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Meritocracy, elitism and primary one registration

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong warned against elitism and called to “strengthen” meritocracy over the weekend at Raffles Institution’s 190th anniversary, according to The Straits Times (“Meritocracy works but beware of elitism: ESM Goh” July 27).

“Those of us who have benefited disproportionately from society’s investment in us owe the most to society, particularly to those who may not have had access to the same opportunities.” He said.

ESM Goh also called on those who are “successful… To give back to society”.

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We need to guard against elitism, warns Goh Chok Tong. Who will take his words seriously?


Yahoo! News Singapore, 28 Jul 2013

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong warned of the dangers of elitism on Saturday evening, saying that it “threatens to divide the inclusive society that we seek to build”.

In order to guard against elitism, ESM Goh said that the practice of meritocracy must not widen the gap between the successful and the rest of society.

Speaking at a Raffles Institution (RI) Homecoming dinner for alumni, ESM Goh talked about adapting and strengthening Singapore’s brand of meritocracy into what he termed “compassionate meritocracy”. Full story

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