When Good Produces No Good

November 20, 2007

Sorry, if this sounds a bit vague and even obscure, but I speed read and one of the after effects of regularly doing so – is only one or two things stay in the mind. While the rest just assumes a huge blur.

Recently, I read somewhere, some Doc (do you notice, it’s always a doctor) in the government doesn’t feel the need to lower the entry level for prospective political candidates because he believes, it would be tantamount to dumbing down the govt. He went on to add it’s important to maintain high standards to ensure that the candidates could withstand the rigors of public scrutiny etc. 

Now let’s freeze frame this for a moment and repeat and play again. What really is doctor saying? Well to paraphrase, he claims, we already have a first class government because the people selected are the best. Now there is nothing wrong with the whole idea of plumbing for the ‘right stuff.’ I mean that’s why NASA doesn’t put people who regularly hear voices in cockpits of $2 billion space shuttles. So on the first cut at least, the whole proposition of winnowing the candidates for political office seems like a very sensible exercise. 

However, when does filtering to ensure quality lead to zoo keeping? When does it actually cross the line and degenerate into something like an old boys network, whereby only a select few can actually gain entry into the corridors of power and once they get in, they keep everyone out.

It would seem the best candidates are people who appear to be successful in either their private or public life. Granted, the system isn’t perfect and there will always be the odd psycho who slips through the net like Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler and Stalin. Along with people who like to lace their cigars with bodily fluids – how true is this idea that in order to ensure high quality decisions, one really needs good people? 

Well first of all let’s get a few things straight ‘good’ as a concept or even school of thought is pretty much the stuff of shifting sands – I mean was Nelson Mandela good, that’s to say do you consider his life exemplary? Well it really depends where you decide to drop the ruler on his life, if you placed it somewhere when he just turned 30, then you could say, he was terrorist, that’s to say someone who regularly incited people towards sectarian violence or spend their time making bombs in the kitchen or something – slide that ruler further up a few decades and he’s Mother Terressa, the Dalai Lama and George Washington all rolled up into one goody good package – good enough to even be elected the president of South Africa. See the problem?

This leads us to consider, how do people become practically ‘good?’ The lives of great leaders seem to reveal a pattern. It is not easy to refuse to sink beneath the burdens of disability (Roosevelt), a severely handicapped daughter (Charles De Gaulle), the tragically early loss of a wife (Montgomery) and freedom denied (Anwar Ibrahim) – to name just a few. 

That goes to show you that the whole idea of good isn’t really so good that one can expect good to produce good, just in case you thought it couldn’t get more complicated, what’s bad may actually turn out to be good. Both Gandhi and Nehru for example, attributed much of their humanitarian beliefs to the British, who regularly locked them up and placed them under house arrest.   

Now I want to be clear on a few points, I don’t believe that politicians even deserve such a thing called the deference of power i.e that OMG, so and so is here!  

I don’t believe in that bullshit because firstly it demeans the whole idea of politics and secondly what it means to be a functional human being in this modern age. If politics represents the highest form of making sense of human relationship – why the hell should it leverage on the most primitive stimuli?

The cult of reverence, adulation and fuhrership? I don’t even accord my own pastor that as a matter of ‘right.’ I regard him as simply a radio, batteries not included of course, who hopefully continues to ONLY transmit the word of the lord, but if one day, I find out he’s spouting verbal diarrhea about how Jesus spoke to him to use church funds to lets say build a shopping mall, then I am out of there. It’s really as simple as that. Doesn’t get more complicated than that! 

My point is simply this, I know only too well the perils of what a cult of deference to power produces. For one, the mind goes right out of the window. As the whole idea of deference implies the leader is infallible. All too often it leverages on the dictum, past performance is an indication of future performance. That simply means if that leader brought us out from the wilderness and plonked us squarely in the land of milk and honey, he would be able to do the same again every single time – well that’s bullshit. That’s true if you believe everything that happened in the past has necessarily anything to do with the present. I can argue the case, the conditions these days are so very different that it’s like trying to compare the green fields of Surrey to the pockmarked landscape of the moon! 

The second thing about the cult of deference of power is it needs to be regularly nourished like Dracula – it stands to reason, if the status quo ante is to have any currency to define the architecture of tomorrow – then it must be promoted as the only way and probably the great hope. Is it such a wonder every politician refers to his vocation as the ultimate sacrifice? You go and figure out that part, I surrender lah.

So really what’s ‘good’ and how do we really get good politicians? – well, I can’t speak for most people, but for me, my idea of a good leader is someone who doesn’t keep on reminding me that, hey without me you wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans. The only reason why I say this is because if the whole idea of leadership is to empower by enabling others instead of disabling them, then it’s necessary and even vital to instill confidence in people and how would one best accomplish this?  Is it by regularly ear drumming people that they would still be a protoplasmic mass of nothingness in some swamp or allowing them to form the belief, they did it all by themselves and if victory was purchased, it was due to their effort alone – wouldn’t that be the idea paternalistic approach. I mean, if I had a kid and he was struggling to build a lego pyramid or something, I would help him, but at the end when the last block caps the pinnacle, I would just slip quietly away allowing him to bask in pride, he did it himself! – better still, if I could convince him, I was just there for the ride.

What sort of leader would that be? Not very good or useful one maybe in the eyes of many, only because that I suspect is what it really takes to be a first class leader; someone who knows instinctively when to bow out and quietly elicit greatness in others.

Darkness 2007 

(This Article Has Not Been Assigned An EP code – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

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4 Responses to “When Good Produces No Good”

  1. scb said

    This Article reminds me of the Programme whereby local comedian Li Kuo Huang was in the Panel and in a way hosted it(Programme). It was the Manpower Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen discussing about national/social matters with members of the Public.

    What came across to me as impressive was the coolness and clear expression of ideas from Mr Li Kuo Huang. The relevance of his points were without doubts; juxtaposed the Ministers’ presentations, one would have seen his(the Minister) uneasiness.

    I believe Comedian Li and Dr Ng would have vast differences in status and standings and the latter would have all the qualities of leadership deemed neccessary for political office in PAP. But, I prefer to be lead by a man in the street like Mr Li Kuo Huang anytime. And I have no disrepect for our cabinet members whatsoever; just that of late; many members of the Public feel that there are too much ‘talking cocks’ and ‘bird talks'(neowhwa/pinyin) in Parliaments.

    This bird(me) concurs with the Public and the Sensibility of Darkness.

  2. flowerpower said

    As usual he cuts right thru the BS.

  3. […] Discourse – Just Stuff: When Good Produces No Good – Fresh Brainz 新鲜脑汁: A Uniquely Singaporean Letter – ringisei: Support Your Troops – […]

  4. Dentist Jan said

    Much of it, I believe is the result of years of subconscious scripting. i remember as an undergraduate studying in the UK and watching how the MP’s there seem to mingle with the students as if they were one of the boys and when I went to Israel recently, I even shared a bus seat with a cabinet minister and when I attended a convention I even came across a famous politician and his wife standing in line to buy veggies.

    I agree completely with the deference to power is not healthy and it doesn’t portend well for a liberal and progressive society.

    I just wonder how many people have the benefit of travelling widely like Bambi Bad Boy? Not many, I have to say sadly.

    However, having said all that, old habits will take a very long time to die.

    I like the reference to what a real leader should be, someone who is confident, sure and experienced, yet he’s understated and doesn’t come across as loud and boorish. Completely agree.

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