Education, Education, Education All Around, But Not A Brain in Sight

August 16, 2008



Are we are already living in a sort of dystopian nightmare where we have ceased to examine the deeper meaning of education in Singapore?

I am reminded, the cost can be exorbitantly high when droves of people can do nothing beyond regurgitating what they have once parrot learnt.

Engineers aren’t really engineers as much as they remain technicians; physicians aren’t really healers as much as they impersonate mechanics to repair human wreckage; and lawyers are nothing more than car coupon aunties who blindly follow the logic of black letter law.

I mean if you really want to gauge where we really stand in the intellectual scorecard then throw out the back slapping. “we are the master’s of the universe” rhetoric and just check this out:

Yes nothing hits the spot better than a few tight slaps served up fast and furious.

What I really like about this; is it puts every thing into the proper perspective to even rubbish some of our time honored assumptions about education. I know we just managed to squeeze one in (incidentally it’s by ranking) and he shares the same slot as the last of the Mohican. But I am just wondering aloud; I mean, if there are so many superman flying around in our happy nation performing miracles everyday. Then why is it we still can’t manage to make up the numbers in the international list of renowned intellectuals?

I mean, we certainly don’t have a problem with bagging the best airline, best airport, best flush the toilet award; we don’t even have a problem of making it consistently to the top 10 of the most competitive nations every year; in fact, if you think about it, we even bag a disproportionate number of seats in ivy league colleges, even our math textbook is being used by school teachers in Harlem, presumably they’re more fun that carrying semi automatics and rocket launchers to school; so pray tell why is when it comes to the litmus test of assessing the brain of nationhood, we cant even rise beyond the pea brain of a dodo bird?

Where did it all go so wrong?

I mean this may sound odd, but it’s even conceivable there is no such thing as a Singaporean intellectual? God forbid, but before we jump into the deep end, what exactly is an intellectual? Now I know there is a multitude of interpretations here as to who is and isn’t an intellectual; for instance some people consider Confucius as a intellectual par excellence with his pragmatic one liners: Man who fight with wife all day get no piece at night; Man who lives in glass house should change clothes in basement; Man who fishes in other man’s well often catches crabs.

I don’t deny Confucius may have well have been an intellectual to some (especially after a few shots of Maotai in Sanlitun on ladies night Passionate kiss like spider’s web, soon lead to undoing of fly seems impossible to fault along with flirting is like game of poker. You start with pair and then when your pastor see you, you end up with Royal flush.), but to me, there has to be something more to the whole notion of intellectualism beyond just impersonating a fortune cookie; the kernel of intellectualism as a state of mind in my personal opinion first emerged during the Dreyfus affair; J’Accuse in 1898 in France when Emile Zola first questioned the ratio of the supreme courts decision concerning the incarceration of a Jewish officer, when asked “where does your authority to question the highest court in the land come from?” Zola nonchalantly replied, “I am a thinker. I don’t need authority. I think, so I am.”

That more of less chiseled the whole idea of intellectualism from Karl Kraus to Theodore Rozak – the idea to me is novel, as it suggest anyone could be an intellectual and the vocation doesn’t really demand any skills beyond being a common sense thinker; I know intellectualism may still be perceived as an elitist guild for clever dilettantes, savants, writers, social critiques, philosopher kings and generally people who really do very little beyond consuming large cups of coffee and talking alot of nonsense. It suffers the same indolent tag of blogging, only it carries with it a certain À la recherche du temps perdu “life of disippation” texture about it which lends it’self flippant and even deserving of being considered inconsequential.

But I disagree, even if others insist on narrowing the field of possibilities by proclaiming no end. The sun rises and sets only in the corridors of power such as parliament; that’s like saying since Chimpazees were the first species to be blasted into space, they’re set to conquer this new frontier called outer space. 

Duhhhhh! Do you see any monkeys working for NASA designing rockets to journey to Mars? My point is primates were just there for the ride; in the same way, no one denies Parliament may be the physical locale where laws are regularly tabled and enacted; but it’s certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas and it’s hold on being a happening place where smart people regularly mash to produce good ideas for change is even less assured.

It’s easy to confuse the thunder clap with the lightning. Truth remains, one doesn’t get there in one bound. And it has to be noted that so much of what we term “real change” actually begins with simple conversations.

Doesn’t matter whether it’s experimental architecture like the Bauhaus movement; a knot of geeks in Silicon Valley who consider Bill Gates as a reincarnation of Darth Vader. Or even the Santa Fe black arts fraternity who used to discussed fringe math; even Jazz, politics or serious gaming – it matter little what’s the topic of conversation.

My point is for there to be real and not bullshit social progress; these Bohemian encalves must not only be encouraged to take root, but if possible they should even be nourished so that linkages and networks can radiate out to add value to the ongoing social narrative – as those are really the places where things are happening and not parliament – only because there’s infinitely more room for improvisation, experimentation and in cummulative terms more brains there. 

The sort of intelligent conversation in which one starts with a willingness to become a slightly different person. And that is something, that will never happen in Parliament.

Perhaps that’s why so many new social movements have the word ‘cafe’ in their titles – and if one really takes the trouble to waste time soaking up the cultural attributes of really happening firms like Google, Apple and Microsoft, God forbid, they want nothing to do with the moribund way of Parliament, Politburo or even our so called Great Hall.

As much as recreate the same exciting culture of buzz and impromptu feel of the cafe – it reaffirms their belief and commitment in the power of the intellectual’s wonder weapon i.e conversations can and do very often change the world in ways that we cannot even begin to understand.

Unfortunately, in Singapore, the notion of the pesky intellectual who throws out thorny questions triggers sidelong glances, sneers and derision. Often described as eccentric and even ultra altruistic, they’re considered part and parcel of the lunatic fringe. Now if you think this is just an off the cuff observation; don’t. Even our vernacular appears to discriminate against intellectuals. Consider the Singlish term, “cheem” (profound, deep) – what does it really mean? If anything it demonstrates our intolerance for anything remotely philosophical, never mind that philosophy is simply defined as a rational means of thinking how best we should live and make sense of the world.

And if that doesn’t stretch the intellectual on the pelt rack what about the Singlish vernacular “atas,” (bombastic, highfaluting). What does it really mean? And if that’s still not enough to sink the intellectual for six, that’s the cue for the village dunce to roll out and spout the lines, “hey chiat kantang, don’t talk so much lah!” – that to me is the clincher, that says it all –not only do we loathe intellectuals, but there exist no scope for them to even take root within our community.

I guess if we really want to nurture more intellectuals in our society. Then we simply need to look beyond the whole idea of education and ask ourselves the lateral question? How do we really fashion a better society? Is it true to believe all the answers can only be found in one party and all wisdom resides in only the hands of a few good men? Do we need to look deeper into the whole ratio of education beyond just producing automatons who can do very little except work according to script?

Ultimately for any society or even a tribe of monkeys like the brotherhood to perpetuate holistically. It’s not enough to be merely national park managers of the tried and tested yellow brick road; the only constant in nature is change; and this means there’s always be a need to question intelligently many of our assumptions of the status quo ante be it the imperative of educating our youth. And even the Tao of changing light bulbs in void decks to serve the imperative of continuous improvement – for none other than the betterment of society.

In truth, intellectuals represent a formidable force. For one they are born into every milieu of society. They offer tremendous opportunities for value creation and tempering much of what we may eventually weave into the fabric of society in the form of laws, policies and civic initiatives.

Neither do they belong to any particular class least of all the elite.

But all this can only take root in earnest in an environment that gives citizens the tools, curiosity and taste to engage in the societal debate without any inhibitions. In that world, all citizens and friends are potential intellectuals, only of different caliber.

May I be the first to embrace you all into our fold. I offer you all my hand of friendship…here take this sword, it has been with me since I entered the service of the Emperor as a loyal servant, here it shall remain, here it shall never leave, here it will serve the new Republic.

Meanwhile I remain your loyal servant.

Darkness 2006

“If you really want to know why everyone from Huan Thi, Stalin, Hitler etc have been trying to kill the intellectuals since the beginning of time; you don’t even have to read even a single book. All you have to do is play our game and at the end of the day, these people will make you pull your hair. They are just impossible. They are what the great Russian winter once was to Napoleon’s Grande Armie and Hitler’s 6th Army – we cannot fight all of them…do you all hear me? We will run out of ammo and just die! We must have the wisdom to pick and choose our battles. Meanwhile, let us get close to them, my feel is if we can earn their respect, we may have half a chance, but if not, we may have to go, but fighting them is definitely out of the question…you will win all the battles, but still manage to lose the war..gentlemen, this fish has too many bones, Bo Hua (no trade off)” -Darkness 2006

Commentary by Y2K:

This condensed essay once published in APICS< ASICS and in a longer version in the Intelligent Singaporean received nearly 20,000 hits.

It reads like any other BP essay; but it was actually an olive branch held out by Darkness to the intellectuals in the Great Hall. The relationship between Darkness and this class known as the third rowers (as they all sit on the third row) has always been fractious and bitter. I will con’t with this story later.

What I like about this piece is how it throws long shadows on some of the set pieces discussed recently For one it questions the whole imperative of narrowing the idea of education and this is done very beautifully by juxtaposing it against the whole debate concerning intellectuals. Or rather the lack of them, the author seems to be saying, “stop back slapping yourself, you still have your work cut out before you,” it suggest the whole idea of “education” should be broadened to include not only what is regularly taught to students, but to inure them even with the right mindset to explore and discover possibilities. This appears to be the missing narrative the author is playing on – as a historian what I really like about this short piece is how one subject flows to another leaving big gaps which the author does not provide any answers too. This I have found is a trick that Darkness regularly uses to recruit the reader into the story; the theme of education is taken out and juxtaposed against society’s preconceived views about intellectuals; the idea of value is  also questioned along with opportunity cost, when the author throws out the question, “can wisdom reside in only a few men?” He even takes a dig on how many of us subconsciously shout down intellectualism in our own society; here the author is playing devils advocate by almost throwing out the pointed question; “we have ourselves partly to blame” for the lack of intellectuals in our society; unlike most writers, the author doesn’t buy into the idea the government is to be blame exclusively for this lamentable state – that its even perpetrated at ground level by many of us unsuspectingly.


Most people may not know the history of this piece, but it was published somewhere in the middle of the age of the machine. Just after Darkness staged a series of unsuccessful coups to dissolve the Senate by sending in the Army to occupy Primus. It was the intellectuals in Primus, who single handedly resisted his attempts to impose martial law on Primus by staging a walk out in Parliament.

Perusing through their historical records, this was the first time, that Darkness conceded publicly to the role of the third rowers (the intellectual class) in Primus; not only did he reverse his position, but following the incident, the army were barred from entering the gates of Primus.

There is also evidence to suggest Darkness deliberately recruited many of the third rowers into the ranks of the army once he realized this group couldn’t be cowered by threats – the strategy of assimilation harks back to the Roman adage; “those who cannot be defeated, must be embraced. ”

Embrace them, he did by allowing the intellectuals to even transform the militia into a quasi diplomatic corps – many have described this as one of Darkness most significant reversals in Brotherhood history -following the advent of the age of reason, the alliance forged between Darkness and the third rowers would lead to a flourishing of the arts, sciences and laws giving rise to that period of enlightenment the brotherhood called, The Age of Reason or the Great Peace.  Which led to the formation of the supra national republic known as the Confederation which united the entire Universe.

Regrettably this period would last only some 350 years (space time).

[This Essay has been reconstituted by the Free Internet Library Board (FILB) – The Brotherhood Press 2008]

2 Responses to “Education, Education, Education All Around, But Not A Brain in Sight”

  1. gbh said

    The thing abt Darkness is it’s jolly difficult to get him out of one’s mind. He keeps coming back again and again, like a haunting refrain. A sweet refrain, but one that I can certainly do without.

  2. dotseng said

    Dear Valued Readers,

    As some of you may already know the writer’s guild protest is still very much in force. Now it has even spread to many of the readers.

    During the weekend. Things appear to have gone from bad to worse. Now many of the old links that we used to navigate to different brotherhood sites are no longer working.

    They have been moved out of the Singapore blogosphere!

    Both I and Y2K have been trying to get more info, but all we seem to get is the standard, “we are not in a position to confirm or deny….. whatever.”

    Please note some ex-SBF’s have already started to check out their newsite here:

    When I have more info, I will post. I promise.

    Be good all,


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