How mission-oriented are we as a society? When Kennedy decided that America was going to send man to the moon, the economy and society responded. The government put in funds from taxpayers, the people supported the goal, the companies took risks to develop the technologies required, first with the government as customers but just having faith those technologies will find application in other areas. Research institutes, students’ aspirations were radically influenced by that sense of mission. Even if it just meant you were acting as a ‘calculator’ to make complex calculations for the space mission, it was a great deal. The Americans all felt they were involved in one large national project.
In many ways, Japan is a society that always seem to be on a mission. The government is able to come up with really long term plans and roadmaps and push funding to galvanise the society and people towards various different areas of technical and economic progress. I would say that growing out of “losing” World War II, emerging as the world’s third largest economy for most of recent history is still an incredible feat that Japan has pulled off as a country that is just a collection of islands. The fact that Japanese society was homogeneous helped but the kind of long term mission they have is equally admirable.
The question is what about Singapore? What is our mission? Can our mission be just about survival? Because it once seemed to be just that but we have not just survived but thrived, while being mindful also that we are always just really close to losing everything we had built. The only problem is that we now have so much more to lose. So we need a mission that is not about loss-prevention, not about avoiding being a laggard (though we indeed can’t afford to be); but it is about creating a future that we actually want to live in. Because, I don’t think I want to be living in an island economy powered by lots of carbon-emitting industries, or a society stubbornly maintaining internal-combustion based engines burning fossil fuels. More significantly, I don’t think we want to live in a future where mental health continues to be a great challenge with work being so stressful and schools being so competitive and education sector being such a nightmare for young aspiring teachers. We need to reimagine and envision our advantages, resources, and strength that we can evolve and create which would make sense in 2050 or 2100 as we move towards the first century of our independence as a nation.