What General Yeo doesn’t want you to know is really in cocktail talk

December 19, 2010

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 Did Anwar really play backside? Does Gadhafi’s Ukrainian blond bombshell nurse give a good hand job? What about short cake Nicolas Sarkozy? Does he suffer from an inferiority complex every time he has to stand next to his wife when the French national anthem is played? Is it true LKY is getting senile and confusing Madame Tussaud’s for the Burmese generals?

At first it’s easy to buy into George Yeo’s notion much of what WikiLeaks has to offer is less the treasure trove of state than the idle chatter of the diplomatic corps. But is that reason enough to dismiss cocktail talk?


Going by traditional wisdom, George Yeo’s recent stricture where he advised, the public not to “read too much” into the leaked memos beyond regarding them as cocktail talks even seems Biblically sensible: “Gossip (after all) separates the best of friends,” the Book of Proverbs tells us, so should we pack our bags and go back home and hit discovery channel?…….after all, what can possibly be more edifying than the truth? – Should we all not show scorn over tittle-tattling?

Wrong! I guess one reason why George Yeo and his Singapore slingers want us all to register the puih factor over Wikileaks is because he wants to draw an imaginary line that separates fact from fiction, serious from trivial, trustworthy from plain dodgy  – if you think real hard about it, it’s a subtle perceptive shift, one that has to be so effective as it attempts to recruit the power of our revulsion; but does absolutely nothing to answer the question why should we treat cocktail talk any differently from official speak?

After all weren’t the substantive contents in those memos and cables used primarily to make strategic and tactical decisions? Wasn’t it part and parcel of the decision making process of scaling strengths, opportunities, threats and weaknesses in the geo-political chessboard?

This should prompt us to consider: is cocktail talk and gossiping really that unreliable that it doesn’t even deserve to be treated in equal standing to other kosher versions of the truth?

I think not, as when one boils down the whole idea of conveying a thought or idea, its almost impossible to gut out the human condition i.e it has to include pettiness, parlance, quirky perversions etc -my point is when we decamp from the idea that gossiping can offer nothing beyond an indolent pastime; we deny the existence of the humane view that usually accompanies every motive and action –what is often discounted is cocktail talk and gossiping like poetry and fiction often has the power to penetrate right down to the marrow to reveal the truth – reporting every facet of the emotional nuances, warts and all. 

Unlike cold clinical slabs of facts, which are often served up devoid of all human context; the gossip usually captures the nuanced version of the transgression along with framing the scene on the canvass of society – to dismiss the power of gossip is akin to denying the idea humans are essentially social animals.

George Yeo is simply disingenuous to dismiss the power of cocktail talk. Or for that matter to treat it as something so alien where we are expected to regard it as irrelevant and inconsequential to the whole scheme of things.

The prosaic irony may well be nothing can really compare to detailing an event as well as the power of cocktail talk – granted, gossip may range from the entertaining to even the feral back bitting. It can even claim to be factual when it lacks fidelity or is sheerly so speculative that it trends to an exaggeration. It may at times even be trivializing, voyueristic, reprehensible and inter alia  -nonetheless cocktail talk and gossiping remains humanities most honest social preoccupation; perhaps even mankinds only way of building alliances and friendships.

Wonder no more why diplomats seem to be so obsessed over cocktail talk.



“How can he say, Oh every thing is fine, it’s business as usual? Has he been drinking and dealing again? If politics is the art of possibilities. Then diplomacy is the means by which these probabilities can past from the realm of theory to reality, but all this can only happen if there is trust. 

Whether that trust is real or not, high grade or fell from the back of a lorry is not the issue here, that question is sterile, academic even in this game of cat and mouse, but nonetheless you still need the presumption of trust before you can play this game. 

As trust is the primary raw material of diplomacy. But when you don’t even have trust, then you are no longer in the game. In other words you are no longer in the business of managing probabilities to create possibilities. This is not about skill, experience, opportunity cost or even what you may be up against – this is tooling yourself for a job. In which case, you have to ask yourself one fundamental question, where would Michelangelo be if lets say he was denied fine Palermo marble to work with – I think my young apprentice it is fair to say, the best you can hope for under those conditions is a very nice flower pot. You would have to be pretty crazy to expect a masterpiece like David. 

In diplomacy you learn only one thing, probabilities do not make for possibilities. Now you know why it’s kaput.”   


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