Pragmatism, not idealism

As Singaporeans become more educated, we concern ourselves increasingly with ideologies and ideals. There is nothing wrong with that, after all, we can never reach perfection but it should still remain a goal. Ideologies and ideals allow us to direct our policies and actions toward where we aspire to be. It allows humanity to reach a better state where we are bounded by the right principles and values, such as equality, justice, and fairness.

Ideals and ideologies, however, need to be pragmatic. One of the key reasons why we succeeded is that our former leaders were pragmatic and practical. They understood where we need to progress, but they did not lose sight of our unique constraints, demographics, our characteristic as a small nation as well as our key national interest. Taking this approach, policies were formulated. Some are controversial but over time, we get to see for ourselves what worked and what didn’t. Of course, not all policies are or can be, a hundred percent accurate.

Today, many arguments remain the same. But instead of a smaller educated group, we have masses participating in the dialogue. It is generally a good thing. Having more people in the conversation will allow us to help make sure that everyone is being taken care of and have their concerns addressed. But with all things, balance is the key.

For example, the recent debate on conscripting females. We are progressing towards gender equality and that is a good direction. However, there are many other pressing and important concerns – declining birth rates, economic recovery from COVID-19, and the balance between the male and female roles. Should we blindly chase ideals while ignoring our other pressing concerns? It is crucial not to forget that males and females were not made to be similar in the first place. For instance, as much as I would want to share the load of my wife, there is no way I can nourish my child through breastfeeding.

While this may make sense for me individually, every policy has to take into account all kinds of deviations. There may be some females who choose not to give birth, then should they be conscripted? We were often drawn into these arguments from an ideological point of view and we often see things from our perspective. Without an overview and studying the topic, how can we as a layman come out with good policies? Speaking from my experience, perspective, and current understanding, I would agree that females should not be conscripted. Perhaps my views may change in the future; that all depends on how things develop.

We can argue till the cows come home for many policies but one fact remains – We should remain pragmatic while chasing ideals. Pushed to the extremes, building infrastructure for the elderly can be construed as ageism. How dare we assume that the old needs all these railings for support? Supporting some policies may not necessarily mean we hold some bad principles. Sometimes, it may be because there is a lot more to consider about than to simply chase ideals.





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