Monday, May 21, 2007

Must it always be about Money?

The Singapore daily, TODAY has this tagline: We set you thinking. A couple of things I read this morning set me thinking.

In a report about Michael Moore’s latest movie, Sicko, the director, famous for movies like Fahrenheit 911 and Bowling for Columbine, was quoted as saying that he was trying to ask questions like, “Why do we behave the way we behave? What has become of us? Where is our soul?”

This reminded me about something former Malaysian prime minister, Dr Mahathir said recently about us; “Singapore believes the most important thing is what profits Singapore”.

Offhand, I would like to dismiss this as another of his thoughtless, unsubstantiated accusations. But if you think about it objectively, there may be some truth in what he said. A lot of times, our behaviour gives others the impression that profit is our only criterion for evaluating decisions in practically every aspect of our lives.

Let’s take the example of our sales people and businessmen. You must have encountered such a situation before. You walk into a shop and the salesman is all smiles and enthusiastically answers your questions. But the moment it becomes apparent that you are not going to buy anything, his attitude changes, and he makes no effort to hide his irritation and wish that you would leave and stop wasting his time.

Not long ago, we had a huge debate in this country about the decision to build casinos after decades to saying no. In parliament, speaker after speaker spoke about the ills of having casinos; but in the end they were persuaded because of the prospect of revenues and jobs. We will come up with lots of measures to reduce the social impact of gambling on our society. But what about the harm that it does to foreigners who we will woo to come here to gamble? Not our problem? Then Mahathir is right isn’t he?

For years, the Indonesians have been pressurizing us to sign an extradition treaty so that they can go after corrupt officials who hide their ill-gotten wealth in Singapore. We have always resisted because it will affect our reputation as a financial capital. We will only sign the treaty if there are other conditions attached to it and bring benefits in other areas. But, what about the fact that we have helping dishonest people to get away with their crimes? Again, not our problem?

Last Saturday’s edition of Today carried this headline, What Price the Pink Dollar? It reported on the results of a poll commissioned by Today which showed that a majority of Singaporean heartlanders were against making homosexuality legal in Singapore. The article went on to argue that this was not good for Singapore. A law criminalizing homosexuality will work against our push to lure foreign talent here and grow an ideas-driven, creative economy because homosexuals are supposed to be creative people. We do not want to be seen as a ‘culturally intolerant and sterile’ people. But what about the long term effects of welcoming such ‘alternative lifestyles’ on our society?

Why do we behave this way? I don’t know. Maybe it has to do with the fact that our leaders are all paid ‘market rates’ and constitute some of the best brains that money can buy in this land.


Victor said...

Yes, this salesman not only wished that I would stop wasting his time, he actually said it out.

zen said...

Naturally money is important. It is like petrol that drives the car and octane that makes the plane flies. In short, money makes the world go round. To common folks money always comes first. Without it, how are they and their families are going be fed. Depending on the govt or well-wishers to feed them? Before they can discuss all the moral issues of the world, they must take care of their stomachs first. Finally I am quite sure Dr M himself knows the importance of money extremely well himself. So the pot shouldn't call kettle black.