Friday, February 27, 2009


“They say people can think for themselves? Do you honestly believe that the chap who can’t pass primary six knows the consequence of his choice when he answers a question viscerally, on language, culture and religion? But we knew the consequences. We would starve, we would have race riots. We would disintegrate.” - Lee Kuan Yew, The Man & His Ideas, 1997

I am revisiting this quote.

Having read the first 3 chapters of Tim Harford's latest book (I read Undercover Economist as well, econs-lite makes for a good read in my humble opinion), got me to reconsider the quote above.

We are individuals, making individual choices. The government, as a State actor, makes decisions that affect many individuals. While it might be correct to say that a lowly educated person is unable to "viscerally" know the consequence of his choice. But I am pretty sure it can be proven that his choice was at the very least, rational. It may not well thought out. It may not even be the correct choice in the short, medium and even long run, but it probably wasn't a random response. There must have been a thought process.

And guess what? We love to witness such thought process. We can't become thought police but we definitely like the idea of a person verbalising his/her thought process and how s/he arrives at an answer or decision. And the producers of "reality tv" knows that. So do the producers of game shows like "Don't forget the lyrics", "Who wants to be a millionaire?" and "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?". The contestants are encouraged to talk through the process which they have done before coming up with an answer or making a choice. Usually this process would be out of sight, hidden in the brain. The audience love knowing the whys and hows, which is also why reality programmes like "Big brother" and "Survivor" have private one-on-one sessions for the contestants to air their thoughts.

Coming back to the lowly educated person making "un-visceral" choices, well, that is the burden one has to bear in a democracy. Because every person counts in a democratic State, right?

But has it struck you to notice how meritocracy might encourage highly educated individuals to make collective decisions? And the assumption is that the decisions these highly educated individuals make are "vicerally" superior to the decisions any body below them make?


ys said...

i tink it's about time the highly educated individuals realise that almost all sgporeans now have above pri 6 education.. and the implications myriad.

.::: .: :.:. :.: ... ::: :. .::. .: :. ::. said...

too free on a friday, hence the entry. I think modern 'democracies' overcome this problem by persuasion and rhetorics. It's almost like a guns or butter decision but made to look more palatable.