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“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” This was a question that author and activist Naomi Klein tackled in her talk at TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference lecture.
She was speaking on the subject of climate change but used it to address the issue of how some over-achievers become so full of themselves and their own abilities that they adopt an attitude of infallibility and, based on such perception, would take reckless risks in decision-making.
This seems to be a narrative familiar in Singapore. Members of the PAP have arrogated to themselves the power to manage the lives of Singaporeans in every manner conceivable.
They tell us who our neighbours should be, whether our children will turn out smart or not, and why we should not be trusted wiith our own retirement savings.
And how do they know all this? Because the party has cornered the market of the best and brightest. They are the chosen ones and they’re too good to fail.
And when confronted with their failures they step up their defiant arrogance. Take for instance Dr Vivian Balakrishnan whose handling of the Youth Olympic Games in 2010 left much to be desired. When Singaporeans criticised the overblown budget and inept planning by his ministry, he countered that if he had to do it all over again, he would.
The problem with such a mindset, Ms Klein points out, is that it encourages recklessness in decision-making in such individuals. They are willing to take greater and greater risks – at our expense.
We have already seen our sovereign wealth funds enter into massive, high-risk overseas ventures with little due diligence. The Suzhou Industrial Project, Shin Corp deal and the Merrill Lynch bailout are just some examples of how huge wasteful gambles were taken on our behalf.
The arrogance extends to the point that they still refuse to tell us how much we have left in the till. Calls for more transparency and accountablity have been dismissed.
They and only they should know. “Lesser mortals”, to quote one of its MPs Charles Chong, just have to work hard and let the five percent who are “more than ordinarily endowed mentally and physically”, to quote Mr Lee Kuan Yew, run the place.
The problem is not that such hubris exists in Singapore, it is that those around them say nothing because in the silence, the only voices that they hear are their own.
As you watch Naomi Klein’s talk below, notice how close to home her description strikes.