The Population White Paper marks a critical turning point in the history of our nation. We stand on the threshold of becoming a shiny tiny red dot on the blue spot of our planet earth or a cancerous spot in a dark world. We are just a tiny red dot and we cannot afford to make the mistakes of the Americans consuming the bulk of our world resources. The future of Singapore does not lie in managing the size of our population. We need to address the danger of greed and our spiritual poverty.
It is so important to address the right questions if we are to have the right answers. We can be a shining beacon of a small compassionate co-operative community to the world or we can be a selfish and greedy society, a cancerous dark spot consuming the world resources. We need to choose between greed or love as the motivating power for our lives.
E. F Schumacher, in his book, Small Is Beautiful, had drawn attention to the danger of Keynesian economics that is rooted in greed. In the 1930s, John Maynard Keynes had espoused the view that “for at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.”
Keynes described capitalism as “the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone. At the same time, Keynes also warned that “the decadent international but individualistic capitalism in the hands of which we found ourselves after the war is not a success. It is not intelligent. It is not beautiful. It is not just. It is not virtuous. And it doesn't deliver the goods.”
We reap what we sow. Hence the recent financial scandals in our world during the past two years come as no surprise. We are all living in an imperfect world and none of us are free from the temptations of the world. The news that Singapore “is at the heart of a global match-fixing empire” for football fixing matches all over the world casts a dark spot over our reputation for low corruption. This, together with the sex scandals in 2012 and the indictment of a couple of civil servants by the CPIB are but warning symptoms of a decline in morality in our society. Our population problems pales in the light of our moral bankruptcy and spiritual poverty.
However, this is not a time for finger pointing which will only cultivate a culture of blame – this is a time for serious reflection by all Singaporeans. When we blame society for being materialistic we need to remember that we are the society as Mr. Tan Chuan Jin, the Acting Minister for Manpower and Senior Minister of State at the Ministry of National Development, rightly pointed out in a forum in November 2012. He made the point that “if everyone of us chooses to exercise our rights and fight for something we believe in, then society will change.”
Indeed all of us can be agents of change in our homes, our workplace and the communities that we are living in. However, in order to encourage our citizens to do so, we need a culture of safety – where people are not penalised for drawing attention to deficiencies in our social system. It is encouraging that the climate of fear has been reduced and this is seen in the results of the Punggol East by-election.
E.F. Schumacher has also drawn attention to the need for each one of us to find the strength to overcome the violence of greed, envy, hate and lust within ourselves. He believed that Gandhi had given us the answer:
“There must recognition of the existence of the soul apart from the body, and of its permanent nature, and this recognition must amount to a living faith; and, in the last resort, non-violence does not avail those who do not possess a living faith in the God of love.”
It is only with such a living faith that we will be better stewards of the resources of our world and to use them not just for our own good but for the good of others. We will also seek to humanise work so that work will not be “an inhuman chore” but the “true foundations of society” through the relationships established by work.
We need a spiritual revolution so that we will not see the “ avoidance of taxes as the only intellectual pursuit that still carries any reward” but as a responsibility to share our blessings and to be a blessing through paying our taxes. As Gandhi reminds us, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed.” We need to live simple lives so that others may simply live.
Just we need a healthy immune system to resist and overcome disease, we need a healthy moral immune system to resist and overcome greed. Leonard Sweet warned the Americans that they are living under conditions of zero morality and there is a moral vacuum in their postmodern society.
It is sad that we did not follow the wisdom of the late Goh Keng Swee who introduced moral education in the schools. We need spiritual wisdom in order to make good use of information to nourish our souls, to build relationships and to harness technology for the common good rather than for selfish ends.
The time has come for a "return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue - that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour, and the love of money is detestable." The time has come for us to come to our senses so that we will see that the love of money is the root of all evil, that “people do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” and that there is no profit to gain the whole world but to lose our souls. We are in desperate need for wisdom and love so that we will be a shining red dot and not a cancerous dark spot.