Gossip, Grief and Guidance

Gossip, Grief and Guidance

A recent meeting of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce caught me by surprise. A top Minister was the speaker. Rather than a subject, it was more about what he wanted to say of today’s current affairs affecting Singapore and the world. I attended because the Minister concerned is always thoughtful and interesting. I shall treat what he said as coming under the Chatham House Rule but I can still mull over the implications of the meeting itself. 

It was the best tour d’horizon I have heard in Singapore since one of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s last speeches. It contained more questions than answers, opened the audience’s eyes to a wide spectrum of subjects, including the intriguing concept of ‘editing humanity’, and made those present aware that what will become of the world is very much in our hands – collectively, but individually too. Will there be great social, political or technological changes arising from this small meeting? No, of course not. Will everyone who attended be filled with a new determination to join the design team for the next development of humankind? I don’t think so. 

But I’ll wager a few people taking part will ponder what was discussed and will try to work out their reasoned position. One or two may ask themselves “What shall I do not to gossip, not to grieve over what is changing but to help design what comes after me to make a better world, to enable more purposeful lives?” I’m sure several of those who attended are already asking themselves versions of these questions but I also heard people say the problems are too big for those coping with an over-fast pace and uncertainty as to purpose.

Even if we wanted to, it would be quite wrong for us all to become philosophers at a time when alertness and shrewdness are prerequisites for survival. But just as ‘no point of view’ is not tenable for any country – Singapore included – so ‘too busy to have my own opinion’ is not acceptable for any individual. The issues that are already determining the future of humanity are too important to be left to politicians, too urgent to be ‘kicked down the road’ and too complex to be answered by those who don’t bother to think.

Are any of the world’s education systems equipping their pupils to think how to tackle these intractable problems? Does the voting system of democratic countries encourage attention to what voters are asking their politicians to do? Not many, in my opinion. Watching the far right of the US Republican party you may think we are actually training bad actors. Seeing the economic lurches of autocratically run countries is pretty unsettling too.

At the Chamber of Commerce meeting, the Minister referred to the weaponization of almost everything from health to money, from energy to food. It is a consequence of shared misinformation and transactional attempts at fairness. It may appear more civilised to battle with words and sanctions than with armaments but today’s threats to the world will turn such provocation into armed hostilities without fail when the people are deprived of food, water, clean air, shelter and basic medicines.

Why should the ordinary voter worry about such things? S/He has plenty to do without taking on problems they have delegated to highly educated, well qualified representatives in parliament or the ruling committee. They can show their views of how their MP has performed at the next election, can’t they? Or simply protest, if there is no election?

And that is precisely my point. The wheels of democracy turn slowly, too slow to keep up with the pace of modern life and strife. The wheels of autocracy turn too fast for the individual to express a point of view that will be considered. One thing is clear from such a mishmash of governance options – we are ill equipped to manage ourselves let alone a planet dying from exhaustion at our mishandling of its resources.

Having sensible tours d’horizon won’t solve the problems.

But they would be a major step forward, don’t you think?

Good morning 

John Bittleston


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16 August 2023