Thursday, August 15, 2013

Beloved Mr Lee?

It does not take long for a blog writer to know what people online absolutely detest.  A simple praise of Singapore's government will usually attract a lot of negative comments, some of which are downright abusive.  The same goes with praising meritocracy and all the great values that Singapore is well known for.  Lee Kuan Yew is another target for some netizens and any post defending him or praising him or attacking his detractors is bound to unleash the indignation of online viewers.

But this is my blog and I will say what I like.  The truth is there are the irritating sycophants who praise everything connected to the ruling party.  I remember once a PAP MP posted on her Facebook page a link to a video that immediately garnered scores of "likes".  Subsequently, the MP re-posted the link to the video and apologised because the earlier link was an error.   Obviously, the "likes" came from her supporters who would blindly like anything she wrote.  But not everyone who praises the Singapore government or Lee Kuan Yew himself does so for such ignoble reasons.   If we are to be perfectly honest and objective, there is a lot to be praised in Singapore.  But all you have to do is to look around you on the internet and particularly in the various blogs and you are sure to see Lee Kuan Yew's detractors hard at work.

If you sit down and analyse carefully what each of them has to say, and you ask yourself what it is specifically that he is complaining about Mr Lee, you will find it hard to crystalize the vague negative comments into something concrete.

For an example, I will pick an article I just read.  The writer compares Mr Lee to Stevens, the butler in Ishiguro's novel, The Remains of the Day and suggests that Mr Lee, having "devoted his life to the concept of duty and responsibility", may have missed "the key to human warmth."  I take strong objection to the comparison of Mr Lee to Stevens the butler because Mr Lee is without doubt the opposite of Stevens in character and essence.  I recall the scene in which Lord Darlington dismisses two Jewish servants because they are Jews and Stevens, despite feeling the injustice of the action, complies with his employer's demand with unquestioning servility.  Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with Mr Lee's strength of character (especially when we cast our mind to the way he went about in his dealings with the late Tunku Abdul Rahman) will know immediately that Mr Lee will never behave the way Stevens does.  In such a circumstance, Mr Lee would have demanded the reinstatement of the servants or he would have left the service of Lord Darlington.

I have tried very hard to see if there might be in Mr Lee even a modicum of resemblance to Stevens but I can't for the world of me find any.  Why then did the writer choose a character from this novel to draw an analogy to Mr Lee?  My guess is he has probably just re-read the novel and was moved by it, as anyone would be (for it is an excellent novel and one that won Ishiguro the Booker Prize) and he thought the term "the key to human warmth" was just right to illustrate what he felt Mr Lee lacked and so, he ignored the huge differences between Stevens the butler and Mr Lee and lumped the two of them together in a comparison which is both invidious and laughable.

What is this "key to human warmth" that the writer thinks Mr Lee lacks so much so that although he "would dearly love to love Mr Lee", he finds it "so difficult - almost impossible even - to connect 'beloved' with Mr Lee"?

I should say at the outset that the rest of the world does not seem to find it difficult to love Mr Lee and to honour him.  Even a careful biographer must have lost count of the many awards of distinction and honours that have been bestowed on Mr Lee from schools and universities to Heads of State. 

The writer then turns to Mr Lee's latest book, One Man's View of the World and he says this:

The writer says very clearly that he wants to see "some inkling of [Mr Lee's] sentiments and frailties".  In the segment quoted by the writer himself, is there not enough humanity in it?  Mr Lee craves to see his wife in the hereafter but he realistically declares it probably won't happen.  But observe his humility.  He doesn't dismiss the idea of life after death as nonsense and pathetic (as some vociferous atheist writers do) or as childish wishful thinking (as Einstein did).  He merely says "I don't think I will".  He qualifies his statement with a modest assertion that it is only his thought.  He is not stating it as a definite fact as we Christians tend to do with an overconfidence that is sometimes ludicrous especially since it doesn't have the support of any evidence.  All Mr Lee does in the passage is to express his thoughts.  Mr Lee then goes on, quite legitimately, to expand on why he thinks that way and it is obvious to any reader that here is a man whose thoughts are perfectly rational.

After quoting that passage from Mr Lee's book, the writer of the article concludes disapprovingly that "logic is all or nothing to Mr Lee, even in the twilight of his years." 

What does the writer expect?  That Mr Lee in the twilight of his years should lose some of that wonderful logic of his?  That logic of Mr Lee's is the logic that brought us to where we are today in Singapore.  Thank God Mr Lee still has his logic in heaps!  Logic may not be an important commodity to the writer of the article and his own writing discloses his scant respect for it but I'm sure glad the former leader of this nation and the maker of policies that affect all of us is perfectly logical even at 90.

Some people want to see frailty in a man of 90.  To these people, an old man is more human if he displays some clear weakness so they can weep with him and offer him their sympathy.  A bit of dithering, a bit of doubt, some regrets for his past and a frantic search for an afterlife would, to these people, be clearer signs that he is indeed in possession of the "key to human warmth".

But Mr Lee is not one whom we can love the way we love a squishy teddy bear and neither is he a child we can smother with kisses.  Mr Lee is a pragmatic doer and he makes things work.  You can only love and respect him for the things he has done.  And as it is, there's a lot to love and respect him for without bothering about some fuzzy notion such as human warmth.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the better blogs/articles you have written to date.

    I read an article from another netizen comparing LKY to Franklin Roosevelt & couldn't comprehend what the writer's motive was. There are tons of attack on LKY from the various social media forums after the launch of his new book.

    While I don't totally agree to what LKY has done, I've often asked myself, who would we be, the present generation of Singapore if not for him?

    My compliments to you for expressing your views.