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On the Alternative Elite May 28, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.
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Ever since i read Gerald’s article about the Alternative Elite I have used it rather often in some of the posts I have done. Just recently Monsieur Bernard Leong did a piece on whether there could be an alternative elite in Singapore. Despite the apparent differences in opinion, there is one similarity in both posts; namely, both define the elites referred to are either politicians or civil service organisations.

 Of course, it is not incorrect to talk about alternative elite in terms of politics. This is because it was in the context of politics that such a term came about; that such an alternative elite would play the role of check and balance in society. In his post, Bernard states that there is a possibilty that the alternative elite could become the new elite, as per what happened when PAP became the ruling party after being the opposition in Marshall’s government. In that case, another factor will have to come into play for this system of checks to work properly. For the alternative elite to function properly, the people, or more specifically the critical mass would play a decisive role. That is where awareness comes in, whereby people start to look beyond their rice bowl and think beyond progress packages and upgrading. Of course, while awareness will take some time, it is possible that if the current climate (Mainstream media remains the mouth piece of the government, the strict laws regarding political content and so on) continues then it is highly possible that there will be no alternative elite emerging. Allowing an alternative political elite to emerge will necessitate the opening up of society to a certain degree; and in the process two birds could be killed with a single stone as a more open society would make it easier for awareness to be created among people.

 Besides looking at the alternative elite in the political context, it is also prudent to look at it in other contexts and expand the definition of elite. The common Singapore definition of elite refers to those who have excelled in their academics; getting a scholarship is often seen as a means of entering the elite. However as can be seen, there are many definitions of elite. Therefore one could say that the more prominent bloggers are the “elites” of the blogosphere and that Leslie Kee and Martyn See are the elites of the arts scene. As wikitionary states:

elite (uncountable)

Someone who is among the best at certain task.

Therefore allowing a alternative elite to grow need not only refer to the opposition; it could also refer to people like Martyn See and Leslie Kee who are good at what they do; they are considered “alternative”because they do not conform to the idea of a mainstream arts; the former because he tends to go against the mainstream narrative, the later because his art did not conform to the “Asian Values” which are said to be the norm in Singapore.

And so allowing an alternative elite to grow would not only safeguard the political future of Singapore, it could also help Singapore progress culturally and economically. And opening up these possibilities will necessitate the opening up of Singapore society into one that is more tolerant of differences including but not limited to sexual orientation, political inclination, and so on.

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Comments»

1. BL - May 29, 2007

Hi Ned,

Actually after Gerald replied to my post, I think that the correct title for my post is “Effective Alternative Elite: can they exist?”. As you have rightly put it, alternative elite can encompass a larger set of diverse talented people in our society. For example, I consider Mr Brown in that area, in the likes of Martyn See.

2. scb - May 30, 2007

Much of what had been written about alternative elites seemed reasonable and it is a goal that many have to seriously work towards its’ realization. In this Cyber Era, politics are no more the privileges of ruling elites(government), citizens who dare to contribute ideas, debate issues, challenge policies and actively involve in national and social matters are virtual politicians. They are able to some extend influent, participate and contribute indirectly to formulations of policies. Admittedly, as non formal politicians, they have no say in parliamentary matters and to oppose or support legislations. However, their disseminations of informations, interpretations and understandings to the masses can have potent effects. As a consequence, the Power that is will have to be mindful, careful and altruistic towards the Citizenry. Ideally, all leaders should take good care of their people. In our local context, it appears to be far from ideal and disenchantments are on the rise. Alternative Elites do not necessarily have to be active politicians nor members of political parties. As long as they are willing to voice their opinions, share their ideas with the people(and government of course), they will be playing a very crucial role for the wellbeing of this country.

3. Gerald - May 30, 2007

Since BL clarified his definition of “alternative elite”, I will too. 🙂 In my original article, I was referring to an “alternative political elite”. Yes I agree with you, Ned, that there are elites (and their alternatives) in all spheres of society. But one group of elites that has not emerged in Singapore, and I feel is very important for the the wellbeing of our nation, is a group of alternative political elites.

I think Singapore would do well if it could eventually have a bipartisan system, where you have two strong, competing political parties who are both just as competent and honest to lead the country to progress. Consider democracies like the US, UK, France, Australia, Japan and even India. They have all at one point or other voted out their “ruling party” and still their countries steamed ahead. It didn’t collapse like what the PAP likes to caution Singaporeans if we vote the opposition. With all due respect to the Opposition, I think if they really win the elections tomorrow (i.e. get more than 50% of the seats in Parliament), our investors will probably pull out and Singapore really will collapse. What can we do to prevent this? We must raise up an alternative before the time comes when S’poreans are so fed up with the PAP that they vote them out.

4. guojun - May 30, 2007

yes, an alternative political elite is important. What’s more important, however, is that no one here gains absolute power. Never again!

5. Ned Stark - May 30, 2007

Gerald,
I beg to differ. If one compares the new candidates from the PAP and those new candidates from the WP, there is really not much difference in terms of credentials (unless of course you look at it in terms of scholarships). But I acknowledge the point that the opposition must continue to upgrade itself so as to become an alternative elite.

6. guojun - May 31, 2007

can we not use the words ‘alternative elite’? Having another elite does not mean that these people will really care for us. They will care for us only in terms of lip-service. Any benefits which we get (and i truly believe we will get some) is because of the competition between both elites.

Or do we not trust our politicians anymore?

7. Of the PM’s Speech « Winter Is Coming - August 20, 2007

[…] to develop more as a nation, be it in the arts or as an economy, there needs be more space for an alternative elite in society. Banning Martyn See’s films, censoring pieces of art among other things do nothing […]


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