I don’t think Kishore is wrong to advice Singapore to come to terms with it’s limits

July 3, 2017

Coming to terms with one’s limits is not necessarily a bad thing per se. As that sort of attitude breeds a very cautious approach that pays heed to scale, constraints along with opportunities…..what is poisonous and even destructive is when one is so detached from reality and intoxicated with the ridiculous idea one can do anything and everything that one can only get it so wrong all the time….this big headed sttitude can only lead to certain ruin.

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‘Being small is no fun in my line of business. Especially when one is sorrounded by giant neighbors. Do they respect me? Well the honest answer is some genuinely do. Others do a good job of pretending…that at least is how I see it. Then they are those who simply don’t….and what I have just describe is a microcosm of how it really is when it comes to the conduct of power and politics between the big and small.

No amount of homily sugary inspired rhetoric or platitudes will ever change the dynamics of how politics will always be conducted between the big and small.

Should I stand up on a soap box. Stand straight so that I don’t slouch and shout out the message that I deserve to be treated fairly? Well the truth is what would that really accomplish? Who would even listen to me?….recently a large landowner asked me whether I could allocate one of his clansmen a parcel of land to grow bananas. From the way I see it, it’s quite an inconsiderate request. As since I have already allocated land to others who have approached me earlier. Now I have to go back to them to break the bad news they will be getting less land as I need to accommodate this new fellow. But I don’t have a choice. I have to say yes. Am I happy about it. No. But that’s reality – the small fish have to always find a way to get by with the big fishes in the not so big pond – when one is small, one has to come to terms with what is impossible and possible. To know one limits is not weakness. It is a strength.

So why do the big landowners leave me alone?

Because they all know I can hit back. May not be able to sink them. But I can inflict considerable and lasting damage of a kind that certainly hurts. Not too long a big landowner from the east tried to bully me into selling part of my land. It seems he wants to go into housing development. So what I did was got together some insomniac estate workers and dressed them up as WW2 Japanese soldiers and told them all to make a lot of noise marching up and down this new housing development in the dead of night. Soon rumours began to spread that the spirits of the land had grown restless with all the noise of construction. I even asked the village barber who is the CIA director of the Kampung to spread fake news of ghost sightings. To cut a long story short. This fellow couldn’t sell a single a house! Today it’s an abandoned project. The jungle has reclaimed it all. And soon this landowner from the east put his tail between his legs and promptly disappeared.

You may say it’s quite an underhanded thing to do…childish even – but that is precisely my point when one has no illusions whatsoever about what one can and cannot do due to the limits of being small…..one has no choice but to pull rabbits out from the hat all the time. The art of snakeyness is alleviated to a theoretical science.

As I said coming to terms with one’s smallness isn’t such a bad thing….Kishore’s cautionary footnote should not be viewed negatively especially against the foreground of how Singapore could have done a better job at managing competiting interest between China, US and ASEAN in the SCS. Neither should LKY’s approach towards realpolitik be defended so dogmatically and religiously as to come across as woefully presentist that it even elides the history of the period that create ideal conditions for such strong macho leaders to emerge. The geoeconomic realities today are far complex and infinitely less certain to suggest the old way of doing business can yield good returns.

No coming to terms with smallness is not such a bad thing…for one it disciplines one to always think and act strategically without the slightest abberation of delusion – to see things clearly and accurately. As since one is small, every shot has to count. Even the long shots have to some how find their mark! The discipline is the gold standard of one shot, one kill! And since being small means one has to often get by with loads of superglue and Sellotape all the time, there is no such as unlimited reserves..the big have that, if they mess it up the first time. They can always go right back to the drawing board to try again…. but never the small rarely have a second bite at the cherry….usually there is only enough resources and the aperture of opportunity to get the job done in one bite! Hence it breeds the extraordinary discipline of scaling it right right the first time with no corrections. Hence there is great attention to quality of scaling, planning and execution…..it breeds a failure is not an option mindset.

Above all being small simply means no one ever thinks you’re dreaming to be big one day…..I want to big one day. But no one will ever know it. As all they really see is a farmer with dirt underneath his nails…how wrong they all are.’

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