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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Heartfelt but naive letter

TODAYonline: Do S'pore teens know they have it much better?

Before I go on, the biggest difficulty that I have with this letter is that it could have been much much more. By simply focusing on economic needs being met and the subsequent tsk-tsk over ungrateful youths, the author fails to make the much larger point that this is then the time and perfect opportunity for self-actualisation to occur according to Maslov's hierarchy of needs.

The answer to his question is not just going to be met with a "so what?". Yes, we should be thankful perhaps, but this is simply a naif and insipid approach.

Letter from Harry Chia

Mr Nick Danziger's selection of the photos, "So, who stole their smiles?" is a poignant reminder of the harsh and stark realities of life.

As I read the narratives of each photo, I wonder how our teenagers, who, hopefully, would have picked up a copy of Today, felt.

Their lives here are a paradise, compared with those in the photos.

Sure, but by comparison, we live in relative poverty compared to the Swiss.
The teens here have everything cut out for them — they are able to go to school regardless of their parents' socio-economic status and given every opportunity to excel. Our environment is clean and most of us have a roof over our heads.

Yes, granted that this is good, it's uber simplistic. Let's take each of the claims and examine them to observe if we should be doing better (and that's what the letter should be advocating instead of some argument from gratefulness)
1. Right to education, article 16. It's great, as long as you don't mind giving up your right to expression (including dress) and freedom of speech within the context of having an education. Same price to pay it may seem, but dangerous in the long run
2. Opportunity to excel. Not a constitutional right perhaps but the notion of meritocracy is highly valued. But for meritocracy not to become a self-perpetuating elitist cycle, there must be equality of opportunity and socio-economic background must not be an advantage nor a disadvantage. Early streaming and the misallocation of resources towards the 'smart' starts the cycle early and entrenches it.
3. Our environment is clean. Very true.
4. Most of us have a roof over our heads. *Cough* No right to property people. There are very sound economic reasons for it. And the legal intricacies of Eminent Domain would make most law students cry even more during Public Law and Property Law anyway.
The kids here are relatively safe from abduction and child prostitution.

I'm not sure why this is here but I presume it is in contrast to the rest of SEA.

The fact is, it's got to do with economic poverty. Children don't choose to become prostitutes but are often forced to do so due to economic destitution or organised crime rings which can only flourish in such destitution. I'm all for fighting to end the prostitution but just make sure there are jobs waiting for them ya?
Life in Singapore is more than good.

So let's make it better. Now that we have achieved a great measure of economic prosperity, it's time to consider society and self-actualisation. Poverty in the midst of plenty is a blight upon the conscience of society and welfare is simply the recognition of the basis of Humanity (and equality of dignity of all persons. There are economic arguments to be made but it would be kinda crass here).

It's also about putting all those educated people to use and spur the notion of civil and civic society, rights and freedoms and the ultimate notion that the person herself is a person and that no other person or organisation should be able to strip that away from her.

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