Dulce et Decorum est
March 23, 2015 5:50 AM   Subscribe

Development without democracy? Lee Kuan Yew's lifetime legacy to the world is the living breathing heart of Asian Tigerdom. Singapore's first (and some say only) Prime Minister led this tiny island city state from third world fishing village in one of Britannia's key ports on a major global shipping line to one of the world's richest nations and recognized as "developed". Few CEOs can claim a better track record. Lee Kuan Yew breathed his last on 23rd March 2015, just months before Singapore was to celebrate 50 years as an independent nation in August. Mentor to the likes of Deng Xiao Peng of China and godfather to numerous others, he leaves a complicated future for the country he created out of very little.
posted by infini (73 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Guardian's long-form obit is also essential reading.
posted by lalochezia at 6:05 AM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just so people know, this guy was a big proponent of Asian Values. Which roughly translates to "Rights? You don't need no stinkin' rights!"

Singapore's "democracy" sucks. The PAP (Lee's party) has declined in popularity since independence but they basically still have all of the seats in parliament due to a combination of gerrymandering and political intimidation.

The Prime Minister is now Lee's son. There's a joke in Singapore about the Prime Ministers: Father, Son and Holy Goh.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 6:07 AM on March 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's 21 (!!!) years old, but here's William Gibson's Disneyland with the Death Penalty.
posted by barnacles at 6:22 AM on March 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


I also remember the 1994 caning of Michael Fay and how authoritarian right-wingers in the United States were upholding Singapore as a model for dealing with our society's youth.

I withhold the dot on this one.
posted by jonp72 at 6:25 AM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you can get a chance to read Yew's books, they are enlightening. He was dealt an interesting hand, some say losing, and turned that hand into something amazing. I took one of Yew's arguments, that people do not not necessarily care about the form of government if their basic needs cannot be met and will gravitate to one that will, when rereading analyses of history.
posted by jadepearl at 6:33 AM on March 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


What Lee Kuan Yew accomplished is almost unbelievable. One might argue that he succeeded – by virtue of raw ability – despite his authoritarian views, but that wouldn't be the parsimonious explanation, would it?

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posted by topynate at 6:42 AM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


jonp72: "authoritarian right-wingers in the United States were upholding Singapore as a model for dealing with our society's youth."

It comes up in all sorts of places, not the the US. I've come to think of Singapore as a sort of gated community for the wealthy, scaled up to city-state size. Just like the regularly-sized gated communities, they're great for establishment conformists and young children, but anyone looking for intellectual freedom, progressive values or even real fun goes elsewhere.

As a Singapore-residing friend once said to me, "Who cares if I can't smoke a joint in Singapore? I can just hop over to Bangkok for the weekend."
posted by vanar sena at 6:45 AM on March 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wept this morning, as angry and frustrating as his legacy is, he's still the man who transformed and designed the country I love.

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posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:45 AM on March 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


While my grammar sucked when I edited sentences without checking to see how they ended, I too grew up within reach of his legacy. Its complicated but its small minded to withhold a dot when you realize what it was that he had done. This is Singapore, not North Korea.


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posted by infini at 6:50 AM on March 23, 2015


I'm aware that Lee Kuan Yew did free his people from the dominance of the Malaysians, but at best that just warrants an apostrophe '
posted by jonp72 at 6:55 AM on March 23, 2015


Wha...?

Never mind. Carry on.
posted by infini at 6:57 AM on March 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


He was a great man. The world has a lot to learn from his example.

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posted by adecusatis at 7:03 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


He was an interesting, messy and nuanced character for sure.

LKY has expressed regret at giving women equal employment rights, wanting them to marry and have kids instead.

He's also urged college graduates to marry and have kids, because otherwise you won't get the smart kids, and that'll be bad, m'kay!

And, he had a habit of using the judicial system to his advantage, to bankrupt, intimidate and lock up dissidents.

Yikes, right?

But you know, they say a leader is someone who brings you to a place you would not have gotten to on your own. On our own, I don't think Singapore would have gone anywhere good. No resources (not even water!), no industry, no army, with potentially hostile neighbours - that was where we started. Now look where we are!

Perhaps someone else would have brought us to the same or better place, perhaps not. But all of that is speculative. I think Lee Kuan Yew was a great leader deserving of the utmost respect.

It is the end of an era, and I thank him for bringing us so far.


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posted by theony at 7:06 AM on March 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


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posted by Cash4Lead at 7:08 AM on March 23, 2015


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posted by aielen at 7:18 AM on March 23, 2015


I spent a few days in Singapore last year as a tourist and had a great time. I found it a lovely city, somewhat interesting, somewhat ordinary. Also terribly improbable. They have no land to grow food, almost everything is imported. And they have almost no fresh water, they depend on Malaysia for supply. It's a remarkably fragile place. It was also weird visiting a country that has its independence because the rest of Malaysia expelled them.

One of my favorite tourist visits was the Singapore City Gallery at the Urban Redevelopment Authority. It's best known for a large scale model of the entire country, down to individual buildings. Which is indeed fun. But I was most struck by the presentation of the master plan for development for the next 30 years. The grand plan to create ("reclaim") land from the water, to build whole new city districts up north along the border, to renovate the center by removing old low neighborhoods and replace them with taller buildings. All carefully presented with graphs and charts and vision for any citizen to come inspect, for free. They weren't exactly asking the residents opinion on whether the plan was a good idea, but someone put a lot of effort in to marketing the plan to convince people it was a good idea and was going to happen. Also remarkable to see a whole country plan at that level of detail.

Contemporary Singapore seems to mostly exist because the world needs another Hong Kong now that HK is no longer independent.
posted by Nelson at 7:26 AM on March 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Still working through the links, but for all the praise that Singapore under LKY gets for a meteoric economic rise, there seems to be little acknowledgement of it's unique situation. The policies and practices that work for a city-state sitting along one of the world's busiest shipping lanes are not necessarily scalable to "actual" countries.

I do recommend the "legacy to the world" link though, which is a 1994 interview with Fareed Zakaria. It's both refreshing and unnerving to see a political leader so openly discussing what would be termed "social engineering" in the US media, with extra scare quotes and possibly some scary intro music and graphics. Refreshing, because he actually is talking about how governmental policies can and do effect social change in order to meet goals. Perhaps I'm jaded, but it's nice to hear a politician acknowledging that they are actually trying to re-shape society, rather than pretending that culture and government are two fundamentally disconnected spheres.

Unnerving, because LKY does shade into sounding like the villain in a dystopian sci-fi novel more than once. There is this paternalistic/patriarchal strain of thought in his philosophy, as well as a profound racial characteristic. I mean, take a look at this tidbit of 19th century scientific racism:
Groups of people develop different characteristics when they have evolved for thousands of years separately. Genetics and history interact. The Native American Indian is genetically of the same stock as the Mongoloids of East Asia -- the Chinese, the Koreans and the Japanese. But one group got cut off after the Bering Straits melted away. Without that land bridge they were totally isolated in America for thousands of years. The other, in East Asia, met successive invading forces from Central Asia and interacted with waves of people moving back and forth. The two groups may share certain characteristics, for instance if you measure the shape of their skulls and so on, but if you start testing them you find that they are different, most particularly in their neurological development, and their cultural values.
That anyone, let alone a political leader, can actually say that without the least bit of qualifying remarks is astounding. It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of history, biology, and humanity in general. Which kind of brings me back to my original point of what works in a well-positioned city-state not being scalable or even applicable to humanity as whole, and not even really working for the city-state in the long run. The chart of population vs. citizens on this page. Since the 90s, Singapore's citizens have dropped to 60% of it's total population, as the city-state relies increasingly on (often exploited) immigrant workers.

To return to the Zakaria interview, LKY clearly thinks some people are more deserving of political voice (which is also a cultural voice in Singapore) than others, and that he is profoundly skeptical of the basic liberal idea of "one man, one vote." As he puts it:
What are we all seeking? A form of government that will be comfortable, because it meets our needs, is not oppressive, and maximizes our opportunities. And whether you have one-man, one-vote or some-men, one vote or other men, two votes, those are forms which should be worked out. I'm not intellectually convinced that one-man, one-vote is the best. We practice it because that's what the British bequeathed us and we haven't really found a need to challenge that. But I'm convinced, personally, that we would have a better system if we gave every man over the age of 40 who has a family two votes because he's likely to be more careful, voting also for his children. He is more likely to vote in a serious way than a capricious young man under 30. But we haven't found it necessary yet. If it became necessary we should do it. At the same time, once a person gets beyond 65, then it is a problem. Between the ages of 40 and 60 is ideal, and at 60 they should go back to one vote, but that will be difficult to arrange.
The immigrants which increasingly make a larger share of Singapore's population are necessarily excluded from this equation. They are not part of the society and thus cannot be trusted to be "careful" with their votes. What is created instead is a caste system which has at its root not just economic inequality, but an explicit racial foundation as well. LKY may rightly deserve praise for his political acumen and the economic development of Singapore, but there is an uncomfortable, dystopian reality underpinning his accomplishments.
posted by Panjandrum at 7:28 AM on March 23, 2015 [15 favorites]


Lee Kuan Yew is complicated. I wrote about my thoughts here, if anybody's interested.

Also, it would be nice if those of you who have never visited Singapore, and know very little about the place, refrain from passing too much judgement on the kind of country it is. Like any city and any country, it is complex and varied.
posted by destrius at 7:28 AM on March 23, 2015 [15 favorites]


I remember reading the William Gibson article when it came up and Gibson's observation that the most chilling thing about Singapore was that it was an example that you can decouple 'democracy' and 'prosperity' was chilling. Of course, the experiment may not scale beyond a single isalnd, but it continues to persist in the periphery of Asian politics as this sign that trading away free speech and privacy in exchange for low corruption and crime really can be a fair trade.

Similarly fascinating is this article in Foreign Policy about the Singapore Panopticon as a benevolent monitor against racial hatred and intolerance.
posted by bl1nk at 7:36 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am from Singapore - thank you for this post.

A few things.

1. Lee Kuan Yew was ruthless. But he got results. Chewing gum was causing transport problems because it got the metro doors stuck? Ban it. Idiots running around vandalising stuff? Cane them. You can't say you weren't warned in advance. And if you think that you can waltz into our country and ignore our rules, you've got another think coming.

He pointed out once that the term "law and order" was backwards. First you needed order, and only then could you talk about observing the law. If harsh measures were needed to ensure that the law was adhered to, so be it.

2. I, and many of my peers, recognise that he was a flawed man. Some of the views he espoused were rather racist and elitist, or bordered on hilarious ironic in hindsight. But again, he deeply cared for Singapore. What can you say of a man who declared that "Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up"? and ""I have no regrets. I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There’s nothing more that I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A Successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life."

He was essentially Singapore's Batman.

And that is why the same people who would complain about the autocratic state and cracking jokes about "our dear Lee-der", are today filling my social media feed with tributes to him. People are lining up at the Istana (our equivalent of the White House) to pay their respects to him.

3. Yes, his son Lee Hsien Loong is the Prime Minister. Some may call it nepotism, and many do. But growing up in a family environment like that, how do you not absorb lessons in statesmanship? Even something as small as the importance of writing clearly. My friend who associated with his grandson came away remarking that "the genius genes appear to have colonised the Lee Family". Imagine if George Bush Sr took America from its independence till 1990, and everything he knew, he taught his son - the thought process, the things to look out for, the knock-on effects.

Imagine how hard it must be for his son to announce that his father has passed away. Or watch the video. And have a heart.

...

You may not agree with his views and his actions. I certainly don't agree with all of them - though I do respect him for his uncompromising attitude towards integrity in service of his country (such as rejecting a 3.3 million bribe from the CIA)

And I think it's not too much to ask that the remarks about "haha! nepotism!" or "boo! dictatorship!" be placed in context with what he (and his team) achieved, and that the proponents of free speech and individual rights etc etc don't impose their singular notions of how a country should be governed on us, "a small country with no natural resources except its people" - which included one Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

on preview: much of what destrius said, especially the bit on not passing judgement if you're not actually familiar with Singapore. The Western media has a habit of painting Singapore out to be some 1984-style, probably due to hangovers from getting smacked down in the past, but ah well. Different countries, different strokes.
posted by appleses at 7:38 AM on March 23, 2015 [26 favorites]


LKY's reign wasn't completely dissimilar to the authoritarian governments in Seoul or Taipei. But the difference was that Singapore continued its authoritarian government after the need had lapsed. You could argue that Singapore was facing an emergency at its independence and didn't have the luxury of real democracy. But that isn't true any more, it hasn't been true for years, yet instead of developing a functioning civil society Singaporeans are still treated like simple children by their government. Children who cannot even be trusted to speak out of turn, never mind elect their own leaders or decide for themselves what language to speak.

Temporary leaders to rule quickly and efficiently during a time of crisis isn't an Asian idea of course. The Ancient Greeks had them too. But tyrants were supposed to be temporary.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:50 AM on March 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


In a sense, he cleared the land and burnt down the trees, to allow new shoots to grow. The recent years have shown a great increase in societal consciousness. More and more of us young folk, being better educated and world-wise, have questioned the old ways and asked if we can do better. We dissent, and a large reason of why we are able to do so is because we no longer have to worry about where our food comes from, whether the water we drink is clean. In giving us this prosperous nation, he freed us from our baser concerns and ironically allowed us to become idealists who look at the deeper questions in life

From destrius' link
posted by infini at 7:50 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


destrius: "Also, it would be nice if those of you who have never visited Singapore, and know very little about the place, refrain from passing too much judgement on the kind of country it is. "

As ostensibly one of those people (though I have visited), I don't mean to tell Singaporeans how to feel about him or their country, but I'm not looking forward to the inevitable discussions from right-wingers here in India and elsewhere, telling us how his authoritarian model is what we too need. You folks lucked out in having one of the few conservative, authoritarian leaders in recent memory who really did have everyone's best interest at heart, for the most part. I fear that the rest of us are not likely to be so lucky.
posted by vanar sena at 7:50 AM on March 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


Singapore is an amazing modern city state with great food and a kickass airline. It will be interesting to watch the inevitable social revolutions there to come.
posted by Abon Sapi at 7:53 AM on March 23, 2015


Also, it would be nice if those of you who have never visited Singapore, and know very little about the place, refrain from passing too much judgement on the kind of country it is.

It doesn't seem that living in Singapore, no matter how long, buys one a license to say anything critical about it.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:56 AM on March 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


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posted by digitalprimate at 8:17 AM on March 23, 2015


Also, it would be nice if those of you who have never visited Singapore, and know very little about the place, refrain from passing too much judgement on the kind of country it is.

One need not posses expert level knowledge of Singapore to recognize that authoritarianism is a political model with serious downsides.

This is all the more necessary to say when the only "free speech zone" in the country has been revoked lest any criticism of Lee break out, to say nothing of the apologetics exhibited in this thread.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 8:21 AM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Of course, the experiment may not scale beyond a single island, but it continues to persist in the periphery of Asian politics as this sign that trading away free speech and privacy in exchange for low corruption and crime really can be a fair trade.

i'd say it's at the center; one way you could describe china's development model is to let a thousand singapore's bloom...[*]
posted by kliuless at 8:24 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


To qualify my comment, I have totally no issues with people criticizing the Singapore government. I was more of referring to the way many articles tend to characterize Singaporeans as dumb, mute followers of their leaders, babies of a nanny state, mindless drones, and so on. Many opinions of the country also end up being formed purely after visiting only the touristy parts, labelling it soulless.

But that would be really unfair to the many Singaporeans who are active in civil society, who are musicians and artists and creators, and so on. Especially so because such people are already not really taken very seriously within the country... it hurts that people outside of it pretend they don't exist.

I realise that nobody here has really said anything along those lines though, so I might have been preempting a bit.
posted by destrius at 8:25 AM on March 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


Yes, apologies for jumping the gun too.

1adam12: you implied that you lived in Singapore for a while. Curious, but what was your experience like?
posted by appleses at 8:30 AM on March 23, 2015


When you point a finger at Singapore, three other fingers point back at your nation. I don't think any of our "democracies" are very democratic any more, it's certainly true that a lot of idiots, religionists, and crooks are being elected into power, and corporate capture seems inevitable. Singapore's government isn't optimal—and neither is ours.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:31 AM on March 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


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posted by JoeXIII007 at 9:03 AM on March 23, 2015


When I heard the breaking news on the CBC yesterday, I was in the middle of a text conversation with my brother. So I texted, Holy shit! Lee Kwan Yew just died! He replied, We need to tell Mom.

Our mother grew up in Singapore and moved to Canada as an adult. During dinner we would often ask our mother to tell us stories about her childhood and she would oblige. Although she was and is happy in Canada, I think she missed Singapore a lot back then, and telling us stories was a way to allay homesickness. I'm glad to have grown up hearing those stories because I feel a close connection to Singapore, even though I have only been there twice to visit family.

My mother was a war baby, born during the Japanese occupation, and old enough to remember when Singapore gained independence and Lee Kwan Yew became prime minister. The country of her childhood was very different from the Singapore of her adulthood--which was very different from the Singapore of today. We heard many stories of how LKY had transformed the country, and there is no question it was an incredible transformation. My brother and I were often horrified to hear about the draconian measures he imposed, unthinkable to our Canadian sensibilities, but my mother would usually shrug and say, "Yes, it was bad, but it worked."

My mother is an intelligent, compassionate person who believes in social justice and democracy. But she has a complicated view of LKY and a complicated relationship with him and with Singapore. I will leave a dot because it is the one my mother would leave.

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posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:10 AM on March 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


My parents both grew up in Singapore and decided to leave in part because of the social and political climate there. But we still have plenty of family and friends there, and so when we go back to visit, it's an interesting change to note there.
As an American, I'm always a little appalled by the lack of freedom of speech there, or the draconian approach to crime. And my Singaporean family is always concerned about the crime in the US, the dirtiness, and just the general chaos here. There are tradeoffs, for sure.

But what always strikes me is how right at home I always feel in Singapore and in most metro US cities. The consumerism, the fast-paced culture, the obsession with food. I feel like the Singapore and the US are two sides of the same coin. Singapore has erred on the side of personal safety and wiped out a lot of personal "liberties", whereas the US has erred on the side of personal liberties and sacrificed some personal safety. Neither one is really terrible in either respect, at least compared to any developing country.

And that's the thing--people will accept what is normal to them as long as it's not so bad that they'll rise up against the rich and powerful interests that control either country. Yes, Singapore may be unduly harsh on personal freedoms, but are you really going to risk your job, livelihood and family so you can smoke a joint or criticize the Prime Minister? And is America's crime/incarceration problem/lobbying interests so bad that you're going to leave the country? I think the powers that be in both countries know that as long as they maintain some semblance of the status quo, they don't need to listen to the people.

Anyway, no leader of any great country is without warts. We don't need to sum up a complicated history with a plusgood or plusungood.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 9:56 AM on March 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Why Dulce et decorum est [pro patria mori]? He died, retired, at 91, of natural causes. Are you saying he died of overwork?
posted by Bwithh at 10:19 AM on March 23, 2015


Probably one of the greatest statesmen of the latter half of the 20th century.

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posted by Renoroc at 10:35 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


When you compare what Singapore has done in the last fifty years and what it has become today, to, say, what the US and UK have done in the last fifty years and what they have become today?

Problematic? Certainly. Name one single leading government figure who wasn't.

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posted by eriko at 10:44 AM on March 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


He was a brilliant man, a shrewd politician, a masterful architect of the nation with the right combination of foresight, ambition, grit, ruthlessness and - most importantly - the heart and desire to see this small island and its people succeed. Yes he destroyed his political opponents without much remorse, yes he wielded his personal prejudices into national policies, yes he silenced civil society during much of his term in office and limited freedom of expression and public assembly. But he never sought power for the sake of power or adulation, but for the mandate and authority to carry out his vision of a successful Singapore. It was no mean feat transforming this tiny island with little domestic agriculture, no water supply, no armed forces, and an underemployed and undereducated workforce into what the World Bank consistently ranks as one of the best places in the world to do business.

I do mourn the loss of what could have been - a kinder gentler society with higher regard for individual freedoms - and regret the uncomfortable racialist legacies and dominant historical narratives that he's left behind. But I do so in the safety, cleanliness and beauty of the country I forever call my home, and fully acknowledge that there's too much that my family, friends and I owe this man. He didn't do it all, for sure (he had an amazing team), but it was his vision and leadership that brought everything together and led us here today.

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posted by hellopanda at 10:49 AM on March 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Why Dulce et decorum est [pro patria mori]?

Translated, it is sweet and right to die for your country. Interpreted, it means to give your life for your country.
posted by infini at 11:17 AM on March 23, 2015


Right, but since Wilfred Owen got his hands on it, the phrase is ... somewhat not expected to be sincere.
posted by dame at 11:21 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Its complicated, isn't it? Just like LKY and Singapore.
posted by infini at 12:09 PM on March 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't want to argue with you; just explaining why some people might think it is a weird title.
posted by dame at 12:36 PM on March 23, 2015


And assuming I might need 'splaining to? I picked the title. I studied Wilfred Owen in Kuala Lumpur in 1982. Does that help with the critical importance of a title invisible to many for an obituary post?
posted by infini at 1:05 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


>Also, it would be nice if those of you who have never visited Singapore, and know very little about the place, refrain from passing too much judgement on the kind of country it is.

One need not posses expert level knowledge of Singapore to recognize that authoritarianism is a political model with serious downsides.


There is a tendency on MetaFilter (and elsewhere in the American media landscape) to have opinions about issues one only knows about in the abstract. I don't think you can have an opinion about Singapore if you have only read Disneyland With the Death Penalty or some newspaper articles online. I would say those folks living in south or east Asia have more interesting points of view.

Although I have worked for a Singapore company and have had Singapore coworkers, I don't think I know enough about Lee to really argue too much about the merits of his leadership.
posted by Nevin at 1:35 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


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posted by Gotanda at 3:57 PM on March 23, 2015


Regarding the title - I personally think he *lived* for the country, rather than died for it. But this quote of Mr Lee has been cited frequently of late, and I think it's apropos here:

"I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There’s nothing more that I need to do.

At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore.

What have I given up? My life."

posted by hellopanda at 8:54 PM on March 23, 2015


Henry A. Kissinger: The world will miss Lee Kuan Yew

The fact that he was great friends with Kissinger, Thatcher and Reagan is one of the things I'm most uncomfortable about.
posted by destrius at 1:50 AM on March 24, 2015


Nevin: "There is a tendency on MetaFilter (and elsewhere in the American media landscape) to have opinions about issues one only knows about in the abstract."

I think that's more a tendency of human nature in general.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:44 AM on March 24, 2015


naturally due to proximity and cultural links, my social media feed is awash with various commentaries on LKY. The tone overall has been more even-handed and mixed from Singapore and Singapore/SEA experts. So I thought I'll just share some of them:

- ABC News 24 - Associate Professor Michael Barr on the death of Lee Kuan Yew (yt)

- Separating Myths from Reality

- A public FB post that's been going around: '... Online, there are tributes and stories of his achievements, expressions of gratitude and sorrow, even a few (badly written) poems. All this is understandable – he meant a lot to millions of my fellow Singaporeans.

But what I cannot comprehend is the condemnation that greets anyone who dares say anything negative about his rule. It is not right to speak ill of the dead. It is rude. You’re not being human. Think of the family. Allow the rest of us our grief. Shut up. Look at what he’s done for us. Stop being an asshole.

But why? Why should those who believe they’ve benefitted from his actions think they have right to silence those who feel they’ve suffered? Is gratitude the only emotion allowed at his passing?...'


- The wise man of the East; Lee Kuan Yew made Singapore a paragon of development; but authoritarians draw the wrong lessons from his success

- Watch Former Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yew on the separation from Malaysia in 1965 (yt)

- How Lee Kuan Yew Stole Democracy From Lim Chin Siong And The People Of Singapore
posted by cendawanita at 8:25 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh, missed this tab:

Lee Kuan Yew’s political legacy – a matter of trust
posted by cendawanita at 8:35 PM on March 24, 2015


But what I cannot comprehend is the condemnation that greets anyone who dares say anything negative about his rule. It is not right to speak ill of the dead. It is rude. You’re not being human. Think of the family. Allow the rest of us our grief. Shut up. Look at what he’s done for us. Stop being an asshole.

Any time you go against the grain you are greeted by similar sentiments. It appears to be human nature to believe that one's feelings are the only acceptable feelings, and this belief is greatly amplified by social proof.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:11 AM on March 25, 2015


It's not human nature. It's a political agenda to suppress any criticism of a controversial leader at the moment when many are likely to be forming new opinions about him.

The first time I heard the "don't speak ill of the dead!" line was from conservatives after the death of Ronald Reagan. It's the same story here.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 7:23 AM on March 25, 2015


Why not both?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:45 AM on March 25, 2015


The first time I heard the "don't speak ill of the dead!" line was from conservatives after the death of Ronald Reagan.

Looks like it dates to about the sixth century BC.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:10 AM on March 25, 2015


Is this why one of the first things they did on the day he passed away was shut down the Speaker's Corner?
posted by infini at 8:59 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Pride and Prejudice in Modern Singapore - Growing up in the shadow of Lee Kuan Yew: In the late 1960s, in a speech Lee was delivering to Singaporean university students, he famously said, “Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford.” And this is a thorn in the sides of many Singaporeans who have dared to poke a toe beyond the well-trod paths laid out for us.
posted by cendawanita at 9:18 PM on March 25, 2015




I think it's hard for the external observer to understand why so many Singaporeans like myself are mourning the passing of Lee Kuan Yew so ardently. Even my husband wondered yesterday out loud how I could be so profoundly affected by the death of a man I never met, in a country I don't currently live in. I wrote something today on social media that I'll paraphrase, to try to explain.

I guess it's about gratitude. How much do we value what his leadership did for us as citizens? How many days would we give up to have it back if it was taken away? How much of a personal glimpse into the change he and the pioneer generation effected do us young ones really have? How much do we value clean water, a safe country, a good economy? How many days of mourning, how many articles would we write, how would we pay to have back a good education, an un-corrupt system, a multi-racial equality, if we didn't have it?

People are mourning the man, because 7 days of mourning is NOTHING for his 60 years of devotion to a country, and the enormous change he led. But we as a nation are also mourning the end of an era of sorts, and the fear of the unknown ahead. The reality is that most of us have no concept of a Singapore without him, and whilst some complain about his draconian policies and methods, it's undeniable that we have had it PRETTY DAMN GOOD in Singapore.

Before snarking about LKY's or Singapore's "communist" regime, let's take a moment to remember what the real definition of "communism" often represents - the lack of access to global information, a sanction against progress with the rest of the world, and control over its citizens choices. Singaporeans have enjoyed some of the fastest progress in the world, we have been educated on a global standard, and Singaporeans live ALL over the world, benefiting from our passport that ranks one of the highest in ability to travel freely.

I am grateful. For my passport that allows me to traverse the world with no fear. For my upbringing in Singapore that included an amazing yet affordable education that stood me in good stead globally. For clean surrounds and safe streets that a woman can walk at any time of night, safely. For a country filled with the cultures of many races. For access to Salsa Dancing, Indian temples, Chinese architecture, German cars, Muslim festivities, American comfort foods, British brands, European cuisine, and more. For a nation with a focus on family values and societal grace. For being bilingual. For being taught an attitude of perseverance and fortitude. For growing up knowing that a woman is just as economically and socially valued as a man.

And this is why I mourn Mr Lee's passing. I am grateful.

Here's what I wrote on my FB profile the day he died:

"Heavy hearted today. The world has lost a great man - a true leader, a visionary who is one of the few who truly saw his dream through to fruition. Not many of us who roam this earth can say the same about our own journeys - it is rare that vision is so well paired with leadership and passion.

Because of his quest to build a clean and green Singapore, I grew up safe, well-fed, educated. Because of his firm emphasis on multiculturalism, my parents were able to enjoy an inter-racial, mixed religion marriage and raise their kids with freedom. Because of his views on the necessity to include women in Singapore's growth strategy, my mum was able to model a successful career for her children. Because of his education focus, we grew up bilingual, and able to hold our own in any part of the globe. Because of his love for Singapore, I too am a proud Singaporean who has been lucky enough to experience a truly non-corrupt country, safe streets to live on, the dichotomy of old world values and 1st world comforts, and infrastructure that is one of the best in the world. Because of his leadership of his party, Singapore has enjoyed political debate that actually centres upon the future of its citizens, rather than squabbling about empty promises that favour politicians egos and personal priorities.

It is a privilege to walk the streets at any time of the night, as a woman, and feel disproportionately safe compared to any other country in the world. It is a privilege to speak 2 languages simply by default of an education system. It is a privilege to have clean drinking water, a banking system that isn't corrupt, medical facilities that are amongst the best, a transport system so incredibly efficient, a healthy economy, and best of all, multi-racialism and a respect for all religions.

Mr Lee had a vision - that our tiny island could become one of the best in the world. Because of this, I too grew up with a profound sense that no dream was too improbable. I will forever live with the mindset of an ambitious status-quo-changer. We Singaporeans LIVED this, breathed this, and are now as a nation, faced with incredible opportunity to live globally, experience richly, and hold our own anywhere we go.

I live overseas now, but I am no less proud to be Singaporean. Because I live overseas, I know how lucky Singapore is to have all that it does. We could so easily have become any number of the developing cities that surround our island nation. But we didn't. We could so easily have so many of the profound problems that other first world nations have. But we don't. There is no perfection in government. But we beat the odds to have all that we have now.

This was because of a man, his vision, and a devotion to the country that spanned a lifetime, and what's more amazing, successfully led the country to achieve it all. A rarity in leadership, an inspiration.

Rest in peace, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Thank you."
posted by shazzam! at 9:02 PM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]




After Lee Kuan Yew died, The Guardian newspaper devoted an entire article to his policy on chewing gum. Decades of phenomenal GDP growth, the lowest crime rate in the region and top-notch healthcare, and Westerners are still talking about the friggin' chewing gum. This is like being complimented on your English.
posted by infini at 1:53 AM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


So many feels. I think it will take a few years before I manage to process everything I've felt this week. I guess conflicted really is the right word.
posted by destrius at 6:27 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dust in my eyes lah


my Papa also lives in S'pore, so far away...
posted by infini at 9:24 AM on March 29, 2015 [2 favorites]




At least nobody got arrested when Steve Jobs died. Yeesh.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:25 AM on March 30, 2015


The precocious Amos Yee previously on Metafilter.

BBC: "On Tuesday, Mr Yee appeared in court to be charged on three counts: "deliberate intention of wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person", distributing obscene material and harassment. He faces a fine and up to three years in jail if convicted."

Here is the video. Hmm, a young boy tossed in jail for criticizing his autocratic government. I guess he was wrong then!

Fuck Lee Kuan Yew, indeed.
posted by dgaicun at 1:45 AM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Amos Yee for president.

That video is lewd, hilarious, and seriously on point considering Singapore just validated its criticisms by arresting him.

The fact that a child can get arrested for such an act just blows my mind.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 7:07 AM on March 31, 2015


Note however that the initial reason for his arrest was several police reports made by the public. And lots of Singaporeans apparently think he should be arrested and go to jail. (I'm not one of them.)
posted by destrius at 7:18 AM on March 31, 2015


And lots of Singaporeans apparently think he should be arrested and go to jail.

Someone in the comments of the linked article noted the same thing. I will say only that it seems completely insane to me.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:25 AM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]




Someone in the comments of the linked article noted the same thing. I will say only that it seems completely insane to me.

Singaporeans are generally a more conservative lot, and I think a lot of the anger comes from his use of profanities and "obscene" language directed at Lee Kuan Yew. It's a respect your elders thing, which is really important in Asian cultures. We tend to have a very punitive approach to problems as well; if somebody does something wrong, they should be punished harshly. (I guess this is one of LKY's legacies.)

Interestingly the official reason for his arrest is nothing to do with LKY; it's because he said a few nasty things about Jesus and thus violated the laws regarding inciting religious hatred.
posted by destrius at 8:56 AM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I realize my choice of quotation made it unclear that the insane part to me is that the guy seems to have been arrested in response to public outcry. I don't really think laws should be enforced that way, in general.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:33 AM on March 31, 2015


Wow! I'd vote for Amos Lee. He made some inarguable points (which were promptly underscored by his arrest).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:09 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


WSWS's obituary
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 7:30 AM on April 1, 2015


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