Thursday, May 26, 2005

An exclusive talk shop 

In response to Dr Cherian George’s lament that government restrictions led to the demise of The Roundtable, Michael Heng Swee Hai sent a letter to The Straits Times giving what he thought were the two real reasons that The Roundtable failed.

The first reason:

The cause of The Roundable’s demise is really its exclusive membership... The Roundtable’s exclusivity clearly created an “affective divide” with ordinary Singaporeans, and explained why it was unable to “mobilise the public”, and not because it activities had to be membership-based.
The second reason:

The Roundtable’s inability to mobilise the public was also because it was never more than just a “talk shop”... Members’ intellectual preoccupation showed their disdain for political action in support of their passionately expressed political beliefs. The Roundtable had begun as a talk shop, behaved as a talk shop and “died” naturally as a talk shop.
While there may be some validity behind these two points, there is a also problem with Michael Heng’s views. Based on the disdainful tone that he takes, it seems that he has based his argument on the premise that there is little value in exclusive talk shops. If so, this is a wrong premise to start with.

Exclusivity has always been one of the ways in which organisations maintain quality control within their ranks. That is, after all, why organisations look at a person’s qualifications before employing him. Talk shops generate ideas, which are the first steps to many subsequent actions, political or otherwise. If you think of it, a university is also a form of exclusive talk shop. Would he argue that universities are useless and deserve to “die”?

So there is nothing obviously wrong with being an exclusive talk shop, and such a role for an organisation should not be casually dismissed. There is a place for political parties, but there should also be a place for talk shops.

This is not to say that Michael Heng is necessarily wrong in saying that its exclusivity and preoccupation with talk as opposed to action are important factors in the demise of The Roundtable. But if he is correct, then perhaps all the more we should be asking whether there is a problem with the rules that leads to this situation. An open, intellectually vibrant society should have a place for exclusive talk shops.


Please tell me you are still blogging.

Well, exclusivity obviously has its merits...politics is always about people and citizens. Unfortunately, no society can ever have all citizens to partake in politics. Maybe it is good, maybe it is bad.

Should have every layman, professional, whatever coloured collar and man on the streets to take part in politics? It does concern them anyway. Political theorists says we should not. Activists says we should. Singaporeans says that we don't care.

There is not absolutes in life. Only greys.

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