The protesting and non-protesting classes according to Philip Yeo

October 27, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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The Governments latest pet project, the Biopolis, will be open soon. Hoping to attract scientists who supposedly dont care about anything else except doing their research and of course, making a little fame and fortune along the way the biotech centre aims to turn Singapore into a wonderland of cutting-edge biomedical research.

Some have, however, questioned whether the PAPs penchant for authoritarianism will affect the centres ability to attract top-notch scientists. Enter Singapores so-called economic czar, Mr Phillip Yeo, who defended: “All scientists think about are T-cells, B-cellsI don’t think scientists go around protestingthis is a different class of people.”

Oh really? And what might that class be, Mr Yeo?

Do you mean the class a certain Albert Einstein the same one who exhorted that every citizen should be equally responsible for defending the constitutional liberties of his country because dictators are particularly anxious to intimidate and silence the intellectual belonged to?

Or are you referring to nuclear physicist and the father of the Hydrogen Bomb, Andrei Sakharov, who despite intense persecution, never stopped speaking up for democracy and human rights, and ultimately inspired the movement that toppled the Soviet dictatorship?

Could you be thinking about world-reknowned psycholinguist, Noam Chomsky, who rails against his own American government and exposes the abuses of power it commits both within and beyond its shores?

You obviously couldnt have been talking the class of scientists who were among the 15,000 people who marched at the Bio2001 Conference in San Diego in protest against genetically-modified foods and globalization, could you?

But let’s assume for a moment that Mr Yeo is correct: that the “class” of people, the scientists, are indeed not interested in protests. Surely Mr Yeo is not saying that the class of people who are interested in protests, are in some way inferior, is he? Is there a comment somehwere in his statement (“I don’t think scientists go around protestingthis is a different class of people”) about the “class” of people that Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, and Kim Dae Jung belong to?

The truth is that from the earliest of times thinkers and scientists have been at the forefront of questioning conventional wisdom and expounding ideas and views that make confrontation with political authority inevitable. From Copernicus to Galileo to Bruno, who made celestial observations for which their political masters persecuted them observations such as the world was round and not flat, there were planets that revolved around the sun, and more than one sun existed in space scientists have never shied away from engaging in the realities of life, including challenging the views of politicians.

Except for those in Singapore, that is. At least that is the way Mr Yeo and the PAP want it. Like everything and everyone else in Singapore, one should just do what one is paid to do and not mess around with public policy (even though we are the public) which should be left to politicians, aka the PAP.

Which raises an interesting question. If scientists should not engage in protests and politics, presumably because these are beyond their interests, then why is Mr Yeo, an economist by training and profession and a non-elected public servant, making pronouncements that has all the sound and feel of a minister? With declarations like “There will be a new economic future for young people,” the Singapore Democrats wonder if Mr Yeo will be running in next GE.

Unfortunately and ironically, it is this continued sanitization of the Singaporean society where people can do anything they want except engage in politics, especially if it is not in favour of the ruling party, that will be the woe of Singapore. This compartmentalization and isolation of politics from the other sectors of society will spell disaster for this country.

Singapores economy minus the energetic participation of the people will continue to go nowhere. It is the dynamism and synergy that comes when the people, be they scientists or sanitation workers, are free to debate and quarrel with the government (and with each other) that is going to mean whether a society, and its economy, progresses or not.

In this regard, it is particularly disconcerting that someone like Philip Yeo has been tasked to lead the revival.