Saturday, December 19, 2009

National Geographic explains how Singapore works: does authoritarianism "work"?


I’d recommend the January 2010 issue of National Geographic for its end story by Mark Jacobson, “The Sinagpore Solution: How did a sleepy little island transform into a high tech powerhouse in one generation? It was all in the plan ,” photographs (many) by David McLain, link here.

It didn’t become independent from Britain until 1963, and this little city-state, almost on the Equator, is sometimes compared to Switzerland, having a higher standard of living than much of Europe.

But the culture is somewhat authoritarian, well known for the strict rules about cleanliness in public places, caning, and censorship. Lee Kuan Yew has a somewhat Calvinist moral philosophy and believes that people need rules, even if they are secular and not as inflexible as in most fundamentalist religion of any kind.

There is in Singaporean culture a certain competitive attitude called kiasu, of “afraid to lose”, which can lead to existential moral dilemmas familiar to me, at least. Perhaps the culture has a slight bite of fascism.

Partly as a result of kiasu, Singapore has a low birthrate, despite pro-natalist initiatives by Yew's government.

Back in the 1980s, the Sinagpore Symphony Orchestra was quite helpful in bringing a lot of obscure romantic works to compact disc on the Marco Polo label.

Attribution link for Wikipedia map of Singapore.

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