Go with a smile!

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Boy in the Bubble

Not for the first time, will our prime minister Lee be known as a prince. In a way, he has always been a prince. Yes, there have been satirical essays written about him, “the Diary of the Dragon Prince”. But I say that he is a prince because it is a term which describes his situation very well.

Since he was young, he would have been earmarked for great things. He was after all the son of the Emperor of the city. There was that famous photo of him playing chess with his father. He would have been surrounded by bodyguards wherever he went. Most other people would have opportunities to develop friendships with people, but these would be denied to him.

After this, I’m going to repeat a few rumours that I heard about him. These are only rumours so I definitely can’t prove that they’re true, and therefore if you want to sue me over them, you shouldn’t because I’m not here to mislead the general public. I heard a few stories about him: LKY sent him to Catholic High school so that he could have an education surrounded by the Chinese speaking people. I don’t know how well he fared. I know that my mother sent me to a SAP school for approximately the same reason, but I wasn’t happy there.

I heard some other story about him, a bizarre episode where a schoolmate in Cambridge came across him reading “Mein Kampf”. Of course anybody has the right to read that book, and I can’t remember much else about that story, except what I took away from it is that he didn’t have a lot of friends.

I personally once saw him running around in a park for exercise. He was surrounded by bodyguards running with him. He wasn’t really speaking to people. OK, we expect him to have some private time to himself, but there were literally 5 or 6 guards around him. That was totally bizarre.

When reading Michael Jackson’s biography, “the Magic and the Madness”, one of the deepest impressions I had was that of a guy who was always kept in a bubble since he was little, and not able to grow up. Michael Jackson had been one of the Jackson Five ever since he was maybe 6, and literally his whole life had been centered around him performing for people. He had a domineering father (in this respect he’s similar to LHL) who controlled much of his environment.

I can also think of another such person who’s like that – Brian Wilson, who never really had a real childhood, and never grew up. Or Sufiah Yusof, who, after becoming one of the youngest graduates of Oxford, turned to prostitution for a short period of time. In fact I think that Stevie Wonder is an extremely remarkable person because in spite of his being a child star, he grew up to be a person who not only does not lack for maturity, but is probably more mature than 99% of the people out there. In fact there is something really uncanny about how visual his lyrics are, considering that he’s been blind since birth.

We know more about Brian Wilson and Michael Jackson because they are artists, and inevitably they reveal a lot about themselves through their art. Brian Wilson is always dreaming away: he’s dreaming of surfing, of beautiful Californian scenery, or falling in love. No matter how great they are as artists and visionaries, there is something awkward about their art. Michael Jackson has never been able to write a song about the common man. His lyrics for “We are the World” or “Heal the World” are notorious for their bland platitudes about “making the world a better place”. It is very difficult for them to understand the experiences of people who have lived outside their little bubble, and it really shows.

Michael Jackson would end up dressing in military garb of third world dictators and wave his gloved hand from inside gilded limos.

Brian Wilson’s descent into madness and drug addiction is a sad story that doesn’t need to be repeated here. One of his greatest albums, “Smile”, is a look at America as though it were a series of museum dioramas, or as though it were a quirkier version of Disneyland. People often comment that there is something sad, weird and childlike about his work, even though, at his best, he has given us some of the most touching and heartfelt music to be found in the pop music canon. That’s the thing about these guys – when they write about the emotions of their own heart, they can be pretty convincing. But when they try to step out and write about the world at large, you can immediately see the disconnect with reality.

In the years since PM Lee has become prime minister of Singapore, we haven’t heard very much from him. All of our prime ministers have been introverts, even the domineering Lee Kuan Yew. Even though Goh Chok Tong is a more submissive and awkward figure, he does have a public persona. We get a sense of who he is as a human being. Lee Hsien Loong, not so. The first, and most infamous example of how he was out of touch with reality was his reference in a speech to “mee siam mai hum”. Anybody familiar with hawker centre food (90% of Singaporeans, I estimate) would know that mee siam is never served with cockles (hum). It’s like saying that you don’t want your French fries with yogurt – well nobody eats their French fries with yogurt anyway.

There were other rumours that maybe he wasn’t blessed with the best temperament. The most infamous one was that during a cabinet meeting, he slapped somebody. (some said it was Dhanabalan). The rumours were not confirmed, and there was this ham-fisted attempt by Goh Chok Tong to deny that rumour. In fact, some people judged the ineptitude of the denial as a confirmation that that incident did actually take place. Now there are very few people who have never had an argument with a colleague during a tough day at work. And we know that life is extremely stressful at the ministerial level of government. What is pretty unusual is that these shenanigans take place at the cabinet.

Then there was this incredibly revelation in the interview given by Ong Teng Cheong shortly before his death. “Well, among the four of us, he was the youngest. Tony Tan said no. I said no. And he sort of accepted being pushed into the position, on condition that we stay on to assist him.” The person who became the second prime minister of Singapore was the person who drew the shortest straw! This is an absolutely shocking revelation. Why would being the prime minister of Singapore be something to be avoided? You can’t avoid the conclusion that the undesirability of the job had something to do with Lee Hsien Loong. Either it was about knowing that you would be asked to move aside once he had decided it would be time for him to take over, or it was simply that it was difficult to work with him.

It didn’t help that Lee Hsien Loong’s army buddies were – so to speak – drafted in so that you had a cabinet who – even if they weren’t totally obedient to LHL, would at least take a friendship into account before acting at cross purposes with the PM. Compare this with his father, Lee Kuan Yew. LKY was a member of the upper class, no doubt, and he went to Cambridge when the typical person didn’t even go to the university. But he experienced the hardships of war first hand, and he was at least driven and idealistic enough to want to take charge of Singapore from the British. He always talked about forging Singapore into something. He started his political career as a lawyer for trade unionists. He had plenty of interaction with people, he was never ever anything other than his own man. Lee Hsien Loong on the other hand was somebody who had his whole life planned out for him – and that is the fate of a prince. His life has been one big wayang, he's always been surrounded by people who are putting on a show for his benefit. In a way, he's like the guy from the "Truman Show".

Somehow I think that it is better when you don’t have that burden placed on your head from such a young age. Think about Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne, and his brother, George VI had to take over instead. George VI’s daughter only realised that she would be queen when she was maybe 10 years old. Maybe that was old enough. Prince Charles was another person who has to spend 60 years of his life as a king in waiting. I don’t envy him. If uneasy is the head who wears the crown, think about how damaging it is to the psyche to be the second in line all the time!

What I do see are some similarities with Kim Jong Il. You have somebody who has never experienced life outside his bubble. Kim Jong Il is a movie fanatic. He’s also somebody who’s totally not ashamed to live the high life. He has an entire army of prostitutes cultivated for his benefit. He has the best cooks in the world preparing the finest cuisine for him while all around him his people are starving. In comparison, LHL lives a much more Spartan existence. But if the integrated resorts and the plethora of new-fangled fancy projects are turning Singapore into a futuristic “hub” are any indication, he’s a guy who likes expensive fancy toys. There is this vanity about him if he wants Singapore to be an education hub, biotech hub, F1 racing location.

But at the same time, it’s not so directly straightforward to portray his ascension to the throne as a case of nepotism. This is because Lee Hsien Loong does have credentials. He is a president’s scholar (and you do need to have the best grades to come anywhere near contention). He earned first class at Cambridge. He is a bright person. But in many ways he is a product of this heinous “meritocratic” system that has overtaken many anglo-american countries, and a manifestation of what people would call the "corporatist mentality". One that is apt to treat people like digits and figures on a piece of paper to be manipulated in order to achieve a certain key performance indicator.

Lee Hsien Loong might in time come to embody the worst excesses among the elite of his nation. Kim Jong Il became the patron saint for the elites of North Korea who cling on to their power and the normality of their middle class lives which form a ridiculous contrast with the near starvation conditions of their countrymen in the countryside. Lee Hsien Loong is likewise a patron saint for our bureaucrats who just look at the numbers and conclude that all is well with Singapore. It’s been said that the cosmopolitan class is paradoxically the most parochial of all people. LHL’s place is among that of that well heeled elite who forms an echo chamber unto itself, fairly confident that – even without looking at the situation on the ground, outside of its bubble, they have access to numbers and statistics that tell the story better than the superficial analysis of the man on the street. Ultimately the tragedy of putting somebody like that in a driver's seat is this: you can't have a selection process for the prime minister whereby it is a list of qualities where Lee Hsien Loong is obviously found wanting. So what do you do? You look at what kind of a guy he is, and then you tailor the selection process around a guy like him. But in the end, what happens? Not only are you going to get a guy like him at the helm, but because you have centered the talent system around him, you're also going to get a lot of his lieutenants to be people almost exactly like him. That is the real tragedy of wanting too much for him to be put in charge.

Obviously, Singapore needs to get a lot more fucked up before it reaches the level of a North Korea, but it’s pretty clear that it’s going downhill.

I once believed that we hadn’t seen that much of the real Lee Hsien Loong. I believed that we would learn a lot about Lee Hsien Loong after the general elections of 2011, when the old timers who had been around during the Goh Chok Tong days left the cabinet, when his father and Goh Chok Tong left the cabinet, and it was all up to him. And to be sure, he has a tough job on his hands. PAP’s approval ratings are probably lower than at any point since they won their first election in 1959. He is no longer capable of taking the knuckleduster approach, which LKY used. And to be fair, there have been quite a few changes made to the government since the 2011 elections. But the population paper does underline that a lot of things are not going to change.

Lee Hsien Loong has stated his skepticism about wage controls. He doesn’t believe in reconsidering that GDP is king. And as long as GDP is king, everything else can go to hell. You can make this place as unliveable as you want, as crowded as you want, as unequal as you want. You’re a softie if you want the best for your people. A real king shouldn’t want the best for his people. He should make the people serve unto the glory of the nation, and if they aren’t trying hard enough, he should squeeze more blood out of them.

Other articles will be written about the population white paper in the coming weeks. It is an extremely bleak document. We still want our 3-4% economic growth, damn the consequences. It’s almost as though this obsession with size has become the overriding concern, and all other concerns – such as the well-being of the people have been shunted aside.

This guy has been our prime minister for almost 10 years, and during these 10 years, our standard of living has generally gone down. Yes, Singapore may be a more exciting place, but it is only exciting in the sense that racing in public roads is exciting. The Ma Chi car crash has come to embody what a lot of people think about Singapore – a more dangerous, recklessly governed place. A place marked by people who believe they’re above the law. A Ferrari symbolizing the gilded existence of a few elites, the prostitute on his passenger seat suggesting something seamy and sordid. The eulogies in the press for “a person of distinction and excellence” after Ma Chi’s death symbolizing the inability of the well heeled to comprehend the sentiment of the masses.

No matter how much LKY ruled over Singapore with an iron fist, he still did his best for the people of Singapore, and many people appreciated that. That would explain the ambivalence that people have over his legacy. They will cut any amount of slack to a dictator who still somehow manages to engineer a general rise in living standards for most of the people of Singapore. Now the tragedy is that – before this I always assumed that LKY’s biggest mistake was to foster a repressive political environment in Singapore. In a way this is also very dubious – Singaporeans in general are well-educated, and this would explain how, in spite of our political environment, Singaporeans can be as outspoken as anybody else when it comes to talking about politics. Singapore has the potential to become a mature democracy just like anybody else, although the concern is that by the time that happens, it would have turned into a Malthusian nightmare, an overcrowded island in the sea just like another Haiti or another Java.

No, LKY’s biggest mistake was not the political repression. It was the decision, made a long time ago, to hand the premiership over to his son. It poisoned and corrupted the way that Singapore was run in the late phase of his own premiership, and more tragically, it handed power to somebody who is capable, but not capable enough to be our prime minister.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously you may have not heard of rumors of him being gay while he was still a student. Maybe this can explain there is some kind of insecurity that he may have to give up everything if this is indeed true.

There is a kind of similarity that we gays have the "gaydar " to detect in similar kind of persons. For a fact we know that many happily married husbands live a life of deceit cheating their wives by having sexual trysts with other men.

In realit this is the mad, mad world we all live in. Everything is just possible.

2:10 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Before I begin, one general comment about this post. A lot of this stuff is potentially libelous if presented as non-fiction, so assume that it is fiction, although it is fiction that's designed to raise questions and make people think - it could be a form of invasion of privacy if we want to know everything about him, although in general, we should understand our heads of state and know the person who's leading us, what kind of person he is. That's just something that comes with the job of prime minister.

There are a few things that I haven't mentioned. First of them is the suicide of the first wife. A lot of unkind comments have been floating around, to the extent that it was the Lee family that drove her to suicide. There isn't very much that we will know for sure. I saw on wikipedia that she committed suicide 3 weeks after giving birth to their first son. What's the most plausible explanation? Post natal depression. It's probably that simple. Although if LHL was really gay, it is really something to get upset about.

No, I have not heard the rumours that LHL is gay. However I have had my suspicions.

1. His nickname is Pinky. Maybe he's pinky and his father is the brain? Haha.
2. LKY, a person whose political instincts are so conservative, has come out and said that there is absolutely nothing wrong with people being gay.
3. People have remarked that no straight man would want to marry Ho Ching.
4. He went to Cambridge which is a place that's famous for being tolerant of gays.
5. He doesn't want to stick his neck out for 377A in case people point at him and say, "he's one too!".
6. Pastor Khong inviting Goh Chok Tong to a sermon where he denounced homosexuality - a lot of things that GCT say these days are very very suspicious. You have to assume that he does have an axe to grind against the Lees. Do you think that Pastor Khong would have invited LHL instead? Something is not right here.

Anyway I'm also wondering why he's stupid enough to go around wearing a pink shirt.

But since you're gay, you'd probably understand that we are talking about his abilities as a leader of our nation: this is an irrelevant issue.

Still, the fact that he was made PM in spite of his sexual orientation - or maybe LKY didn't know, didn't understand until it was too late to turn back. This is a guy who I don't think is a bad person, who I think would have led a good and fulfilling life in any case, but who nevertheless should not have been our third prime minister.

2:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

LHL also attended National Junior College and was the first President's Scholar (surprise surprise).

While in NJC, he was also very isolated - surrounded by bodyguards, he attended private lessons and not in a class of students like everyone else. He was literally zipped into NJC to attend those lessons and zipped back home - there was little social interaction involved.

LHL's public demeanor can be seen to be socially awkward - he is uncomfortable socially and being in the limelight though I guess being selected by his father to be successor leaves him little choice in being a leader in Singapore politics.

As for being gay or not, well, that is anyone's guess.

5:24 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Yes, there is no proof that he is gay, but it is not a possibility that is easy to dismiss.

There is a big difference between the Westminister electoral system and the American Presidential election system. In the Westminister system, a person only needs to be the leader of a party and win an election seat. If his party wins the election, he can be the head of government.

In the American system, the Presidential election has just concluded. You can see for yourself how difficult it is for somebody to be made president.

A person like Lee Hsien Loong can be a head of government under the westminister system, but under the US system? I have my doubts. Note that it can produce people like John Major or David Cameron who probably have problems relating to the common man, or projecting their personality strongly enough to win a popular election.

Like I said in the main article, it's a shame if the president's scholarship was created to help his ascent to power. Just because you want LHL to be in a leadership position, you will change the whole system, the whole leadership selection process to be in favour of a guy like him. Is that good for the system?

5:50 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Putting aside all the gay rumors (in my opinion, thoroughly unwarranted in this article in that it detracts from, rather than add any benefit to it) -- your analysis is EXCELLENT. At the end of the day, why did PAP screw up in GE2011? Or Punggol BE? Or in this White Paper fiasco? Ultimately, its about leadership. And you piece something together about the person behind the throne.

PS : You may want to remain anonymous for the rest of your life!

10:46 AM

Blogger 7-8 said...

On one hand: yes, thank you. But then again, I'm only asking a very basic question that every citizen in a democratic country asks himself: who is this leader of mine? And just trying my best to answer that question. This is nothing special, just something everybody should also do.

6:48 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alex (Au), have you got your gaydar up and tuned? What's the reading you're getting on your gaydar screen, man?

11:20 PM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Yeh yeh I said that I was going to not reveal my identity, but I will give you one small hint: I am not Alex Au. Although if my postings have enough substance for me to be mistaken for him, that is not unflattering.

I have blogged about homosexuality elsewhere. Read the first sentence from that post.

I think you are not the same anonymous as the one who earlier on said that whether or not PM Lee is gay it does not have very much impact on most things. However, a lot of gay haters turn out to be borderline gay people and historians are still speculating over whether Adolf Hitler who sentenced all the gay people to die in the death camps - had gay tendencies.

You can see for yourself in that earlier article that my gaydar is not very good - a lot of childhood friends that I knew and who turned out to be gay when grown up, I could not tell that they were gay. Some of them were pretty angsty teenagers, and others were pretty laid back and relaxed and confident. My gaydar can only classify people into "maybe gay" and "definitely not gay". My opinion is that PM Lee falls into the "maybe gay" category. Thing is - he's a weirdo, and there are many things that make people into weirdos, not just being gay.

7:52 AM


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