From Hope

How would a system that sustains hope look like? What kind of indicators should we have, and how should they be interpreted to allow a society to flourish on hope?

The previous blog explored how a society based on fear could have their indicators interpreted in ways and sustained. What I want to do now is to think about the reverse – how would indicators look like, and would be interpreted if we were serious talking about a Singapore based on hope.

Hope could be expressed in terms of giving people multiple chances of a decent life. That means accepting that people will fail, and to provide the opportunities to try again. That also means a restructuring of the economy – that the opportunities do not just refer to social mobility on a vertical scale, but also on horizontal scales. That  means the expansion of the number sectors in society. That social mobility improves with the horizontal expansion of the economy comes from experience – that the industrialization of societies led to the creation of many niches for people to fill, giving people the opportunity to move into additional climbers for people to climb on. Unless economic sectors expand substantially, people will be stuck with existing hierarchies, and hierarchies tend to leave little space at the top.

The expansion of economic opportunities also means either the expansion of education domains, or removing the links between education and economy. Remove the signalling function of education and remove the disciplinary boundaries between education and industries; either action could lead to debates as to whether industries or the state is responsible for the matching between people’s skills and industry requirements. Mismatches happen when people are too committed into a discipline that might not offer “employable” attributes. At the same time, a porous skills market would allow people to pick up the skills for whatever industry that could be in vogue at any different time. Any of these things would mean very different approaches towards education and to how the economic structure. Giving people the flexibility to choose between skills would motivate employers to create non-financial incentives for prospective employees to stay.

There would be serious thought about how to provide Singaporeans with a temporary minimum guarantee that will allow them to learn from life’s stumbles and give them the strength to carry on. We would be encouraging them to try out new things, whether or not they would make money in the immediate short term. To have hope as a new rhetoric would mean thinking about the longer-term and not just about present needs.

A society based on hope would also have people who are self-assured of their current possessions, and be secure with their lives. That means that there should be a less intense rat-race, because people have little anxiety about how their lives are and how their children should compare with other kids. A society based on hope would give kids to enjoy their childhood and to expand the notions of learning far beyond the narrow focus on grades and performance and getting them to enjoy the essence of learning. They would also be imbued with a sense of character that would help them navigate around an ethically ambiguous world. In another way, a society based on hope would focus less on the hierarchies they are placed in, and more concerned with the connections between.

With this self-assuredness, the desire for more property or more material possessions falls away. Yet there remains enough to fuel the hopes of the next generation and the generations to come. Losing the desire for more material possessions does not mean becoming less productive or less driven; the work ethic is independent of material possessions, but should come from the drive to succeed and to take pride in one’s work. Excellence in the work can be its own reward, no? And this cannot come primarily from fear.

From hope we would ambivalent about pursuing investments from abroad, because the flourishing of entrepreneurship energy would also mean that Singaporeans are holding their own overseas. There would be less concern about competition because that would be just one facet in the range of relationships we would have with neighbours. Realism persists nonetheless; a single country cannot run on hope in its international affairs in a continually hostile environment.

If any of these things are difficult to do, it would be difficult not because they are really that difficult to implement, but because of the changes in values implicit behind the behavioural and indicator changes. The aim behind all of these changes remains the same – they are still about providing Singaporeans with hope for them to lead successful lives – however they define success, but certainly with less emphasis on material grounds.


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