In a world of open borders, patriotism can seem unreasonable, even anachronistic. Still, we do feel obligations towards communities in the particular, to our friends, to the families that we belong to, to our local communities. As much as could be said that individual successes can be independent of the situation of nations, or even larger communities, I cannot help but feel that emotional ties remain even after spending considerable amounts of time in another country. As much as we might live in an open world, these emotional linkages inevitably remain, even if they are links associated with the family, or with institutions changed beyond the recognition of memory.
What then? To become a member of this cosmopolitan world is to have access to as wide a range of opportunities as could be imagined. Yet these emotional links remain, drawing individuals to significant places, such as those of childhood, of affections, of character formation. These ties remain nonetheless, in a cosmopolitan, open world.
Having the chance of entering into the club of cosmopolitans, I suppose that it would be all too easy for anyone to harbour the notions of leaving Singapore for good and in being based elsewhere, starting life anew. Even then, starting anew would not be completely accurate; individuals are likely to have the chance to make connections prior to decisions of emigration, especially in the context of an environment as global as NUS. Even in those circumstances, one would already have an easier path in the pursuit of success in both material and personal terms.
What then? How is anyone to make sense in an open world – being free to choose between different obligations, some asking to break with more intimate connections, often promising rewards both personally and materially?
What then, Singapore? Yes, there are constraints of attitude and openness, yes there are misdirections in how things have been done, especially with claims of being people-centredness. And mostly true as well, the claim that money-making is seemingly the main focus, all the time.
I don't think anyone can ever be completely severed from ties to Singapore (or to home countries, for that matter), even as people are able to make ties and linkages elsewhere. Then comes the question – how is anyone to proceed with choices of staying and leaving?
I don't think it's possible to be based elsewhere and then to be able to make very direct contributions to the society and polity in Singapore (or elsewhere). Or is this Singapore-centricity a mistake in the first place? I can't decide now, and I wonder if the dichotomy is a false one. Is it possible that the option be available so that one could stay and make direction contributions whilst still retaining a cosmopolitan outlook? I don't know. I suspect that the option is too simplistic, too naive.
While we find ourselves having the capacity to pursue lives of freedom, we also find ourselves to some regard, bound to to obligations which are not based on choice or contractual terms.
Still, we choose often, to destinations of opportunities, to places which provide the best outlets for our self-actualisation, often too, in arenas where we might achieve results of great impact. This is an expression of the cosmopolitan environment we find ourselves in, especially for those who have acquired a measure of skills and capabilities that are recognized at least in the societies of the richer world. We are then forced with the dichotomies as illustrated before. How are we to choose? To stay in the communities of affections in the hopes of being able to make direct contributions, or should we go into the world to pursue the opportunities that might further actualise our capabilities and worth?
There is no cost-benefit calculus here. In the final steps, questions of convictions, of belief then enter in our deliberations. The extent to which our convictions bind us, I suspect, is where our choices will be made.