Friday, November 19, 2004

Pragmatic ideology to decide on casino 

The proposal to have a casino in Singapore has raised the concerns of many people in the country. Today, The Straits Times published six letters on this issue. Four of the letters opposed having a casino in the country, while two supported it more or less.

One of the letters went as follows:

I am deeply saddened that Dr Vivian Balakrishnan is asking for a “sensible, pragmatic approach”, rather than an “ideological approach” to the question of whether or not to build a casino. While the man in the street often has to take a pragmatic view of things, we should not ever lose sight of the fact that it is ideology that make an organisation great.
The dichotomy between the “pragmatic approach” and the “ideological approach” may be more apparent than real. First of all, for the Singapore government, pragmatism is its ideology.

Secondly, with regards to great organisations, most of such organisations actually use “ideology” — whether it be environmental preservation or family values — to serve pragmatic ends. Community related programmes — for example, environmental preservation, which the letter-writer mentioned — are usually developed to build the organisation’s image as a responsible corporate citizen. It is public relations designed ultimately to boost corporate profitability. Family values and other human resource-related programmes help retain good staff and hence again improve corporate profitability.

It’s all very Machiavellian. But that’s the real world.

Anyway, returning to the casino issue, it is probably only fair to state that Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the senior minister of state for Trade and Industry, actually mentioned ideology in the context of not being “trapped by ideology”. That seems reasonable. If everybody were to insist on his own ideology holding sway, we’ll never be able to resolve the differences.

On the other hand, for those determined to kill off the casino proposal, insisting on an ideological approach might indeed be the better tactic, were it not for the government’s own insistence on its ideology of pragmatism.


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