Thursday, November 11, 2004

Diversity of views 

In a commentary in The Straits Times today, Alvin Pang argues for a diversity of views. Excerpt:

[S]everal of those [Singaporeans] who were once most fervent about staying and “changing the system” are now eyeing other shores.

One writer framed it thus: “If you know that your views and interests, however valid, are in the minority, is it right that the status quo, with which the majority is satisfied, should be remade for your benefit? Better that you should take yourself out of the equation.”

This is misplaced pragmatism. We are still too young a nation for attitudes, structures and identities to have ossified into conservatism, and such potential rigidity should be vigorously opposed.

Just as biological organisms rely on occasional mutations in order to evolve towards more effective survival, so societies can ill afford to lose their exceptional, if dissenting, cases.

There is a place in any mature community for a spectrum of views...
I endorse Pang’s plug for a diversity of views in society. However, if he is directing his dissatisfaction at individuals who have or are contemplating leaving the country, then I’m not sure if he is exhibiting misplaced idealism.

As a society, we should be tolerant of dissenting views because it is in seeing matters in a variety of perspectives that society maintains the flexibility to adapt to new challenges. In this respect, Pang’s use of the biological mutation metaphor is apt. Mutation allows a species to develop diverse strains, out of which some would fit into their natural environment and enable the species as a whole to evolve and survive.

However, the metaphor is also apt in another sense: strains of an organism that do not fit into their environment die. Translate that into individuals who do not fit into their society and you get the picture.

What’s good for society as a collective entity may not be good for its constituent individuals.

In each society, there will be those who have the ability to transform their environment for the better, either because of their innate characters or because of the positions that they have been placed in. We should look to these people for leadership and action in transforming society.

In each society, there will also be those who do not have the ability to transform their environment. For these people, the alternative must be to transform themselves. A society that takes prides in its diversity should respect that option.


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