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Why cry over spilt milk?

Dr Wong Wee Nam

Mr Lim Boon Heng, the  Minister without Portfolio and Chairman of the People’s Action cried. Many saw it on TV and many others saw it on the internet.

He was introducing another batch of PAP candidates when one reporter asked if there was a potential group-think in the type of candidates that the PAP had chosen for the coming general election.

Mr Lim tried to answer the question but for reason best known to him, he was overwhelmed. He paused and was choked with emotion as viewers held their breath in suspense. Then Mr Lim cried.

There are many reasons why he broke down. It is difficult to know why. Even he himself may not know.

There is a Chinese Allegorical Idiom (歇后语) which says “Grieving over the death of Matriach Jia in Grand Garden View – each has his or her heartbreaking circumstance” (大观园里哭贾母- 各有各的伤心处)

This saying is derived from an episode in the great book on human nature entitled The Dream of The Red Chamber.

After the death of Matriach Jia, everyone in Grand Garden View cried. However, not everyone cried for the same reason. Some indeed felt the loss greatly, some cried because it triggered the pain of their own unfortunate circumstances and others for reasons not closely related to the event.

Take for example Jia Baoyu, the favourite grandson. When he looked at Xue Baoqin, his cousin, in her plain clothes, it invoked memories of Lin Daiyu, his real love, who had passed away not long ago. Then he looked at his wife Xue Baochai in her simple mourning gown. He thought to himself, “If Daiyu were around, she would be similarly dressed and how much more exquisitely she would look.” At this point, he felt a pang of grief and tears started to stream down. Taking advantage of the sad occasion, he bawled uncontrollably.

Shi Xiangyun, Matriach Jia’s grandniece, came to the wake just before the funeral because all the while she had to take care of her husband who was suffering from tuberculosis. She thought of how much her aunt had loved her and also her own misfortune. Just soon after she had married the good-looking husband, and they were still in the stage of newly-wedded bliss, he contracted his illness and now could die anytime. This thought added to her grief and she cried the whole night through.

The maid, Yuanyang, cried because of pure loss. Matriarch Jia had been her whole life. She belonged to her and without the Matriarch, she felt she no longer had a life. After a long bout of crying, she went and hanged herself.

Thus, for the same event, everyone had his or her reason for crying. Therefore there is no point speculating why the minister cried.

However, the episode raises two points worth discussing. They are the questions of group-think and the introduction of the casinos.

Firstly, however much the PAP may say that there is no group-think, it is inevitable that there will be. You don’t go around selecting dissidents as your candidates, would you? And if a person doesn’t believe in the PAP, he wouldn’t join them, would he?

So it is inevitable the PAP would end up with people who do not have any fundamental differences with the leadership. Moreover, by selecting people from the establishment, it is unlikely there will be any fundamental change in the policies of the next PAP Government. These are the people have been implementing the policies of the previous PAP governments and habits just don’t change overnight.

Such a selection process can only lead to the inbreeding of ideas and it cannot prevent group-think.

If anyone tries to be a no-man, party discipline and collective unity will eventually turn him into a yes-man. A person who persistently holds independent views is likely to be seen as a deviant, a thorn in the flesh and is unlikely to last very long.

So, Mr Lim, why need to get so upset over this?

From what the minister had said, it is not wrong to conclude that Mr Lim was a conscientious objector of the casino idea. However, he finally supported the proposal because his decision hinged on the 35,000 jobs that they would create.

Unfortunately, this is really a very weak rationale for supporting what he obviously considered a vice. Such a rationale can then be used to support all kinds of other vices. The reason becomes even weaker when we see that the bulk of the jobs would go to non-Singaporeans. It is not difficult to see that the huge profit, derived from the pockets of Singaporeans, will not go back to Singaporeans but to the foreigners who own the casinos. It is also not difficult to see that social costs would outweigh the gain from the jobs created.

As he said, “The casinos have only been around for a year, yet there are already accounts of people who have blown fortunes. If it is people who have a lot of money, I would not worry too much, but if it has also affected families, then I think it’s not a good idea for Singapore.”

Are all these side-effects not expected or anticipated when the idea of the casinos was first mooted? The minister need not have to struggle with his conscience all this while if only he had resigned as a conscientious objector when the Cabinet decided to go ahead with the project.

Then this drama on TV need not have taken place.