Identities & inclusivity

Who are we really? As Singapore. Are we a people; do we have a single or multiple different heritage? How does our history and personal stories weave into the social identity? Do we have some kind of common identity? And do we hold on to it? How do we want to evolve? Is it up to us or to be defined by the government? How are we collectively deciding what is important to us and how to maintain these priorities?

The more I think about ourselves as a society that is growing, that is developing itself; the more I realise that we cannot get out of a paradox about our identity. It will perpetuate and we must really be conscious about allowing this paradox to work for our good rather than our bad.

We will never be able to appeal to everyone as a city. They country does not have a sub-urb or hinterland for people to retire into, or a proper place to ‘get-away’ in a meaningful manner. Maybe there is potential, and it needs to be better developed (resort at Pulau Semakau, anyone?); but for now I begin to realise that the more successful it is as an international city, the more challenges we will face as a nation. We might just try to be a regional capital that brings young people, talents and smart money to be mixed, to be exploited to generate value for the world. As we work hard to attract certain groups of people to make our city vibrant and better connected to the rest of the world, there will be people whom we end up excluding somehow. And these may be locals, they may be people in our society we want to care for and care about.

The policy capacity, the thinking around caring for young ones, for elderly, to create pockets of uncompetitiveness for them to be able to survive, thrive and to be dynamic in the long term is going to be limited. We risk optimising only for the short-term when we think only about immediate economic consequences to things. Even though we have good machinery across dimension; and we might have overcome some of the financial resource constraints our forefathers had when trying to create a system to serve all the different objectives, today we’re suffering from the lack of political attention, and policy bandwidth to manage more complex concepts around our identity and what it really means for our growth to be truly inclusive.

I bemoaned the need for public intellectuals; and perhaps this is an uncontroversial topic to start pondering over.