Sunday, November 11, 2012

Vindictive, petty and mean: PAP government shows true colours

Just when the Yale-NUS College, and by implication the PAP government, promises full academic freedom and free expression of all political and social views, short of direct political action, to its international faculty and student body, the vintage authoritarian PAP that is vindictive, petty and mean resurfaces with a vengeance.

James Minchin has been peremptorily turned back at the Singapore airport for daring to express a less than sycophantic view of the PAP government (unlike the Chinese Communist Party "scholar" Lu Yuanli who sings oleaginous and fetid praises of PAP [here]).
 
Being a foreigner expressing an unfavourable view of PAP risks being either refused entry to, or deported from, Singapore without explanantion.

Foreigners should only be refused entry in the national interest (for the safety of Singaporeans), and not in the interest of the ruling political party (to suppress critical views on the government). PAP is not Singapore. 

Should foreign faculty members and students of Yale-NUS, and all other institutions of higher education, be likewise promptly deported for daring to question the government's policies?

Having given the PAP government the benefit of the doubt, I am beginning to seriously doubt its sincerity in claiming to promote liberal arts education by establishing Yale-NUS College.

It seems likely that, having been seduced by sweet talks and empty promises into gracing Yale-NUS College with its venerable name, Yale University will have to contend in the coming years with a meddlesome and thuggish (à la Lee Kuan Yew) PAP government that seeks to muzzle Yale-NUS.

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(see "Yale steps into the authoritarian abyss" by Jim Sleeper below)

Neither priest nor philanthropist welcome here, Alex Au (Yawning Bread): here

Making a martyr of Minchin? here

Rev James Minchin and our secrt police: here


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James Minchin refused entry to Singapore

Singapore Democrats

Nov 9. 2012 (source)

The Reverend James Minchin, an author and Anglican priest, has been barred from entering Singapore. He was turned back at Changi Airport when he arrived on a visit from Melbourne. No reason was given.

He was held at the airport on Wednesday (Nov 7, 2012) evening for nearly 24 hours, and subsequently escorted by the police to the plane for his flight back to Melbourne the following night.

Father Minchin was recently interviewed on the SDP's talkshow, Let's Talk (video below), when he discussed his book No Man Is An Island - A Study of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore, which was published in 1987.

He has been a regular visitor to Singapore and a long-time observer of its social and political developments. As he describes in his Let's Talk interview, he started visiting Singapore in the 1960s and even served for a time as Pastor of St George's Church, Minden Road.

Given that Fr Minchin has never faced any problems entering Singapore, this recent prohibition may well be attributed to his interview on Let's Talk. If so, this move on the part of the Government is petty and small-minded. Does the PAP want to punish Fr Minchin for appearing on the SDP programme.


No doubt, the charge will be laid that by appearing on the show, Fr Minchin, who is an Australian citizen, is "interfering" in Singapore's politics.

But in this interdependent and interconnected age, does it achieve anything for the PAP Government to stop non-Singaporeans from commenting on Singaporean issues?

Is the Government so thin-skinned that it seeks revenge on individuals who express their honest opinions on Singapore? Does not the Government regularly invite non-Singaporeans to speak at public events which are then reported by the media?

If we aspire to be a global city, let us be confident in our own ability to think for ourselves and discern what is good and bad for our country - regardless of whether they are expressed by Singaporeans or non-Singaporeans.

In the past, the Government has barred other visitors from Singapore. Most recently, Mr Robert Amsterdam, SDP's international lawyer, was
turned back at the airport when he tried to visit Dr Chee Soon Juan. Mr Amsterdam had published a White Paper on Singapore in which he highlighted the lack of the rule of law in Singapore and detailed the legal actions taken against the SDP secretary-general.

The Home Affairs Ministry must come clean on its decision to bar Fr Minchin from entering Singapore.


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Fr James Minchin barred from entering Singapore

Teo Soh Lung, Nov 11, 2012 (source)


 I said in an earlier post that “It would have been better for the government to demolish Minchin's arguments using its controlled media rather than to ban him. Its action has defeated itself. Its refusal to change will ultimately bring about its downfall.”

The deportation of Fr James Minchin, author of “No Man is an Island” may have surprised some people in Singapore even though there had been deportations of lawyers assisting the SDP recently. In the 1990s, some of my friends and acquaintances were prevented from entering Singapore. There were occasions when I had waited at the airport for friends who were supposed to have arrived but failed to show up at the arrival hall. They were simply detained in a room, disallowed the use of the telephone and told to board the next flight home. A friend’s friend was interrogated for several hours by “old hands” of the secret police and departed to the last port of embarkation. In those days, there were no handy mobile phones and I wouldn’t know if they would have been allowed to call from their mobile phones and communicate with their friends who were waiting for them when they were denied entry. In those days, I was in no position to comment as there was no internet. So my friends and acquaintances were quietly deported. We simply felt the injustice of it all but did nothing, not that we can do more or anything for Fr James Minchin this time.

In the 1990s, the intimidation of the immigration police and I suspect, officers from the Internal Security Department was common. Anthony Lester QC was stopped at the airport and made to wait in a room while officers apparently checked if he had a right to return to see his former client.

A friend had her passport retained at the airport and told to report to the immigration department to retrieve it. She was interrogated for two days and told to cooperate in order to make life easier for them and for her. In the end, she had the sense to tell them that they can do whatever they want but that her passport did not belong to the Singapore government.

In the 1990s, there was no internet. The inability of a person to enter Singapore means that his channel of communication with friends in Singapore would have ended more or less. Letters by snail mail would take time and effort and the chances of him losing contact with friends in Singapore would be natural. Today however, skype, emails, facebooks, youtube, twitter, cheap telephone calls and airflights etc would not cut off links between the deported and whoever he wishes to contact in Singapore. So what is the use of the Singapore government barring Fr James Minchin from entering Singapore?

I can only think of two reasons. Old habits die hard and old methods that worked in the past are hard to discard. The temptation to remind individuals that the Singapore government is all powerful and that its power to deport anyone it deems acting against its interest (not necessarily against the interest of the country) cannot be undermined. That may be so but in today’s internet age, would the Singapore government like to preserve and project the old image that it is intolerant of criticisms, whether from Singaporeans or foreigners? I don’t know. I can only say that by preserving and projecting its old authoritarian image, it has failed to keep up with a changing society and may ultimately bring about its own downfall. It would have been better for the government to openly criticise what Fr Minchin said in the interview with Vincent Wijeysingha of the SDP using its mainstream media, issue press statements or call a press conference, (here I am assuming that this interview sparked the action taken by the immigration for it happened just a few weeks ago), listen to what others say about its views and that of Fr Minchin. After all, “No Man is an Island” was written in the 1980s and even Fr Minchin admits that Singapore is now a more open society. Surely such a view is a compliment to the PAP. But perhaps the government no longer has faith in its own mainstream media since it is always “slightly behind the curve” as Cherion George said recently.



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Update (source)


An Australian clergyman was barred from entering Singapore last week, as he "has interfered in Singapore's domestic politics", the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement on Nov 11. 2012.

Mr James Minchin arrived in Singapore from Australia on Nov 7, and was turned back at Changi Airport.

In August last year, while on a social visit to Singapore, he spoke at a political forum "where he alleged that the rule of law was bypassed and corrupted in Singapore, and questioned the independence and integrity of the judiciary," said MHA.

But he did not have a permit to speak.


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Rev James Minchin and our secret police

by Teo Soh Lung
21 Nov 2012
(source)

When I wrote my last post (11 Nov 2012, see above) on the deportation of Rev James Minchin, I did not even remotely think that two mainstream media (The Straits Times (ST) and TODAY) would on the following day, 12 Nov 2012, inform the world that Function 8 had, more than a year ago (allegedly in Aug 2011), contributed to the Singapore government’s dossier against him. How did ST and TODAY know it was Function 8 which had organised the forum at which Rev Minchin had allegedly said that “the rule of law was bypassed and corrupted in Singapore, and questioned the independence and integrity of the judiciary?” Incidentally, this oft repeated phrase “questioned [or sometimes “undermined”] the independence and integrity of the judiciary” irritates me. Is the judiciary our most fragile and sweetest smelling flower, our beautiful Keng Hua that blooms at midnight and survives only a few hours? Does it always need the government to protect its standing?

As stated in the press release of Function 8 of 19 Nov 2012, it did not invite anyone from the media to any of its forums. How did Janice Heng of ST and the anonymous reporter/s of TODAY know that it was at a Function 8 event that Rev Minchin uttered the alleged words MHA complained about? Did the reporters tail Rev Minchin throughout his stay in Singapore? Or did anonymous officers of MHA instigate the reporters to name Function 8? Was the media aiding and abetting MHA in its preparation for some sinister happening to Function 8? Even if the media intended to aid and abet MHA, shouldn’t its reporters check with Function 8 as to the truth of MHA’s allegations before publication? Compliance with this golden rule of good journalism is surely important when the alleged words had contributed to Rev Minchin’s traumatic expulsion from Singapore.

ST also reported that MHA said that Rev Minchin “had breached regulations on the involvement of foreigners in political talks by speaking at the forum without the necessary permit.” MHA did not cite the law but ST took it upon itself to proclaim that Rev Minchin should have had a “Miscellaneous Work Pass” before he commented on domestic politics. This implied that Function 8, if it was indeed the organiser of the forum, was in breach of the law more than a year ago. Function 8 had in its press release denied any breach of the law.

I don’t know if the ST had consulted its lawyers on this issue. I am very certain that ST is incorrect but the law is not my concern in this article. My concern is this: “How did MHA know that Rev James Minchin had said “the rule of law was bypassed and corrupted in Singapore, and questioned the independence and integrity of the judiciary”” at the forum? Which forum and where and when was it held? MHA must be precise when it makes serious allegations against a person who because of what he is alleged to have said, is deported.

We all know that MHA has the habit of bugging private conversations of citizens, non citizens and members of organisations. It is part of its job and we pay them. But I question the legitimacy of spying on lawful activities of people and organisations. Let me narrate one instance of MHA’s snooping of a respectable organisation, The Law Society of Singapore.


In 1986, lawyers requisitioned an extraordinary general meeting to pass a resolution calling upon the government to withdraw the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill 1986. One of the objectives of the bill was to oust the popularly elected Mr Francis Seow from being the society’s president. The meeting was held at a hotel and more than 400 lawyers attended. I was the mover of the motion which was passed almost unanimously. What surprised me subsequently was the revelation that the entire private proceedings was tape recorded by the Ministry of Law, presumably using the good services of MHA. Soon after the meeting, I was summoned before a parliamentary select committee at which the former prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew questioned me at length about my speech at the meeting. He showed me a transcript of my speech. I quote part of the report of that parliamentary committee. For easier reading, I have inserted “Prime Minister” and “Teo” in the questions and answers:

Prime Minister: … Read your first paragraph. I have sidelined it for you to make it simple. “We call this meeting simply because …, read it? ---

Teo: Mr Chairman, can I ask a question? This speech appears to me to have been a transcript of what I said at the EGM. And I would like to know how this manage to get into the hands of Mr Lee.

Prime Minister: In the age of the tape recorder, you want to know how I am able to get a transcript of what you said? ---

Teo: But how did the tape recorder get into the EGM room?

Prime Minister: I am not interested, Miss Teo. I am interested in taking you through what you said. I didn’t make the speech. You did. If you didn’t make the speech ---?---

Teo: I don’t deny making the speech.

Prime Minister: Let’s go through it? ---

Teo: But I would like to know how that ---

Prime Minister: How I was given the speech? By the Ministry of Law?

Teo: So the Minister of Law had set a tape recorder in the room.

Prime Minister: Yes, please. I assume that?---

Teo: Right, thank you.

Prime Minister: Read it?---

Teo: Where do you want me to read?
….

Now that I have re-read the Minutes of Evidence recorded, I realise that some words may be missing and they are probably represented by ---. I recall that after asking several questions, the prime minister said “I am told that it was so easy to transcribe your speech”.

Somehow this sentence is missing from the Minutes. But it does not matter. The prime minister did admit after some persuasion, that the Ministry of Law bugged the room.

Once upon a time, in Eastern Europe, the secret police spied on everyone. For the secret police, it was a comfortable job (even if it was a loathsome job) that enabled them to live well. For those imprisoned as a result of their work, like the dissident Czech playwright, essayist and poet, Vaclav Havel who later became the president of Czechoslovakia, it was years of torture, loneliness and hardship in cold prison cells.

In today’s Singapore and in the light of our earnest National Conversation, should the subject of how much money we spend on spies who invade the privacy of individuals and organisations that mean no harm to Singapore be discussed? Are such spies necessary for the progress of our country? Shouldn’t we open our minds about what foreigners say about us and debate with them when we do not agree with what they say instead of shutting them out of our country? Or should we tell the world that Singapore is not a developed country and does not believe in freedom of speech and the rule of law? And lastly, shall we tell the world that our judiciary is as fragile as our lovely keng hua, and has to be protected by the executive always?
 
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In this episode of Let's Talk, hosted by Dr Vincent Wijeysingha, we discuss the historical aspects of Singapore's politics with the Reverend Father James Minchin, author of "No Man is an Island: A Study of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew" (1986).





I'm a thug with knuckle-dusters: Lee Kuan Yew






From the time Lee (Kuan Yew) was a schoolboy, his aggressiveness has been the subject of comment. A story in circulation during the 1960s came from a family source. The eleven-year-old Harry asked an uncle for one of his canaries. The uncle refused and thought no more of it until he discovered the dead bird: the boy had pulled all its feathers out. 'If he could not have it, no one else would.' 'Lee would hit anybody' was the testimony of another old family friend.

Since coming to office, Lee has tended to indulge his instinct to bully and demolish. The need to flee from untenable situations have been reduced and dignified by the mechanism of physical or mental withdrawal. Power mostly removes the humiliation of being bested.

Within this dominant characteristic of aggression we may trace elements of rage, fear and self-aggrandisement. They may be proportionate to what arouses them, or they may carry an extra force derived from a previous injury. They make a negotiated settlement so much harder.

Two quite separate sources related the following story: 'A former Singapore newspaper proprietor, now retired, was having an audience with Lee and apparently not toeing the line. Lee leaned over, grabbed him by the collar, and said "I'm a thug, you're a thug, and as one to another, you'll do what I say."

                   ------ James Minchin, No Man is an Island

 
  “Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle-dusters. If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no way you can govern a Chinese society.”

                   ------ Lee Kuan Yew, The Man and His Ideas, 1997


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 Yale Steps Into the Authoritarian Abyss


Jim Sleeper

Lecturer in Political Science, Yale University

July 17, 2012 (source)

In "Quarrels With Providence," his magisterial and, to my mind, unforgettable essay of 2001 about his alma mater's past glories and contemporary travails, Lewis Lapham noted a bit impishly that "Institutions as venerable as Yale ordinarily arrange [their announcements] with considerable care, the press releases staged in a sequence indicative of sound judgment, good feeling, and the dawn of a bright new day."

This month Yale tried to keep up that pretense as its new, star-crossed liberal arts college -- undertaken with and paid for entirely by the authoritarian city-state of Singapore and its National University of Singapore -- announced that "Students at the new Yale-NUS College will be able to express themselves freely on campus."


Skepticism about this among Yale's own faculty "would fade as people see the "successful education experiment," Business Week was told by Pericles Lewis, the energetically pliable former Yale English professor who is now the new college's president. "We expect students to express all kinds of opinions on campus," he said. "The issue is about going off campus and, there, students will have to abide by the laws of Singapore." The college's first students, who are now being admitted, will arrive just over a year from now.

But something was missing from these on-campus freedoms, I thought -- especially as I read the comments posted by young Singaporeans below a Bloomberg version of the story that was carried on the Singapore website Tremeritus.

I expected a "clarification" of these policies to follow very soon from Yale-NUS, in a manner staged to indicate sound judgment, good feeling, and the dawn of a bright new day. My suspicions only intensified as I conversed online with Kenneth Jeyaretnam, secretary general of Singapore's small opposition Reform Party, which is constrained and sometimes harassed by the slick, duplicitous, and steely ruling People's Action Party.

Jeyaretnam, who holds a Double First Class Honours degree in Economics from Cambridge University, told me that "Our son was denied a place here at one of Singapore's so-called elite schools... clearly politically motivated to isolate me." He also recounted that when he was invited last year to speak at candidates' forums at the National University of Singapore and other Singapore universities, each invitation was rescinded at the last minute. Would that happen again, I wondered, now that Pericles had spoken?

Partly because Jeyaretnam's father, Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, an early opposition leader, had been persecuted mercilessly and infamously by the regime, Kenneth has not been treated as harshly. His own political contemporary Chee Soon Juan, leader of another opposition party, the Singapore Democratic Party who holds a PhD from the University of Georgia, was fired by the National University of Singapore from his position as a lecturer in neuropsychology in 1993 after he joined the opposition party; he was sued for defamation, bankrupted, and imprisoned when he attempted to contest his dismissal.

Although relations among Singapore's opposition parties are not cordial, Kenneth Jeyaretnam, with courage and nobility reminiscent of his father's, spoke out against renewed persecution of Chee two months ago, when the latter was barred from leaving Singapore to give a speech to a human rights organization in Oslo -- the same month, ironically, when Yale University President Richard Levin came to Singapore to give a speech celebrating Pericles Lewis' ascent to the Yale-NUS presidency.

What a disgrace for Yale, I noted in "As Yale's Blunder Deepens, and Singapore Bears Its Teeth," a post that's been read and shared widely. And last night I was about to write another, asking Pericles Lewis what he and the Yale-NUS governing board would do if, say, Yale-NUS students, seeking to exercise their promised freedom to "express all kinds of opinions... freely on campus," invited Jeyaretnam to give a talk on campus.

Before I could even pose that question, a Wall Street Journal provided the answer: "The Singapore campus won't allow political protests, nor will it permit students to form partisan political societies." 
 
"Students at the new school 'are going to be totally free to express their views,' but they won't be allowed to organize political protests on campus, said Pericles Lewis, the college's new president, in an interview last week.

"Although groups will be allowed to discuss political issues, he said, 'we won't have partisan politics or be forming political parties on campus,' including societies linked to local political groups akin to college groups supporting Democrats and Republicans in the U.S., he said."

At this posting, Lewis is telling Yale faculty that he was misquoted and never said that there could be no protests on campus. But the new policy still dashes any hope that Yale-NUS will widen space for free political debate and organizing in that young, energetic, but assiduously self-censoring city-state.

By reporting the truth, the Journal bested the New York Times, which has never reported that Yale faculty actually passed a resolution expressing concern about their university's collaboration with such a regime -- a surprising lapse by the paper, since it did run a long story about faculty discontent the morning of the fateful meeting at which the resolution was passed. The Times never followed up to report that the faculty passed the resolution, by a wide margin, over President Richard Levin's objection and in his presence.

Worse yet, the Times' next story on Singapore, "Activism Grows as Singapore Loosens Restrictions," made no mention of the regime's assiduous suppression of political expression and of opposition leaders, in ways that generate extensive self-censorship. Impressed with the loosening of restrictions against gays, Times reporter Andrew Jacobs engaged unintentionally in what some people call "pink-washing" -- helping a regime that tolerates gay life (as a profit center or a harmless showcase for its "liberalism") to distract attention from its ongoing repression of political freedoms.

A few people at Yale -- which some consider the gay friendly Ivy -- have been gulled by such "loosening." They and the Times reporter need to read William Dobson's new book, The Dictator's Learning Curve, which, although it barely mentions Singapore and doesn't address gay rights, shows how deft some of today's authoritarian regimes have become at disguising their brutality.

Such regimes have learned how to use overt repression against a few, in sparing but exemplary ways, to frighten others into thinking that it could happen to them: "Fear leaves no fingerprints," Dobson, Slate's politics and foreign-affairs editor, told NPR a few weeks ago while discussing his book. Some authoritarian corporate states asphyxiate dissent without administering too many beatings and imprisonments that might spark uprisings and worldwide condemnation.

A "friendly" tip to a dissenter that the regime has recorded but refrained from punishing some small infraction he or she committed years earlier can prompt dread of surveillance, of knocks in the night, and of prosecutions for "defaming" the state that Singapore's ruling party uses to send its vocal critics into bankruptcy and worse. For example: Singapore still has draconian laws against homosexuality. Although it has backed off from enforcing them, they remain in its arsenal.

The larger tragedy in all this for a compliant Yale beggars description. A few months ago, after attending an eerily Orwellian forum at Yale called "Singapore Uncensored," at which a Yale Daily News reporter worked to suppress a full and honest account of a panel discussion staged by Singaporean students to "humanize" the regime under the banner, "Singapore Uncensored," I described the incident and the Singaporization of Yale -- amid a galloping culture of self-censorship among Yale students themselves -- in a 13,000-word post, one of the longest the Huffington Post has ever carried.

The point of that chronicle wasn't to defend Yale's humanist purity from the sins of Singapore but to show that, wittingly or not, Yale's president and trustees have embraced Singapore's model of authoritarian prosperity and have lost any sense of how a real liberal education might strengthen the American republic against market riptides and the seductions of militarism. A liberal capitalist republic has to rely on a critical mass of its citizens upholding certain public virtues and beliefs that markets and armies, necessary though they certainly are, can't ultimately provide.

American liberal arts colleges did once provide it. Do they still? Yale's governors have overseen the creation of a strange parallel university that, in some courses of its Directed Studies humanities program, its Grand Strategy program, and its Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, conscripts and distorts the humanities to provide better-disciplined crews and tighter rigging for its graduates' commercial and military expeditions -- perhaps including Yale's venture into Singapore, as I've shown in the other posts with reference to the business ties of Yale's own trustees.

The ethos in some of these new courses shows that not only a fear of power but the seductions of power can generate cultures of insider networking and enthusiastic self-silencing by students who imagine that this brings them closer to power and freedom. Actually it brings them closer to a culture of bureaucratic self-mutilation that's amply reinforced in corporate and national-security America but is bottomlessly costly to their souls and to the American republic, as they tend to discover, if at all, only too late in life.

Yale has done this so often and perversely in the past -- creating and then staffing the CIA through secret student societies like Skull & Bones, whose alumni sealed themselves off into their national-security strategizing -- that you might think the college would have learned something by now from these graduates' endless blunders on the world stage, from installing the hated Shah in Iran in 1953 and their committing the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam fiascos right up through their handing Iraq to the sphere of influence of Iran's mullahtocracy through a war waged by Skull & Bones alumnus George W. Bush. Their ideas about where power comes from and how it flows are deeply wrong.

Yet, according to a Wall Street Journal story, when students in Yale's Studies in Grand Strategy program visited West Point a few years ago to discuss a book about Iraq with cadets there, the Yalies -- not the cadets -- "decided not to record the discussion because they did not want to have 'views expressed in the spirit of intellectual debate be used against them at a Senate confirmation hearing'" according to the program's associate director.

And when recent posts in The Atlantic and Foreign Policy asked why General Stanley McChrystal is teaching an off-the-record course in "leadership" in Yale's Jackson Institute, his students leaped forward to defend and to "salute" their great teacher, who told his first class that "a seminar is like a team," but they've only wound up proving that what he teaches in a supposedly broad, open discussion can't be shared with anyone outside it, even with other professors in other courses on related matters that McChrystal's students happen to take.

The students' claim that vigorous and intelligent debate is fostered this way unwittingly mimicks the Yale-NUS policy in Singapore of quarantining freedom to the campus, as if it could flourish that way. It buys into facile understandings of democracy that compromised McChrystal's own leadership on several occasions before Yale grabbed him to teach about it.

The consequences are profound. "The sinister fact about censorship... is that it is largely voluntary," George Orwell wrote, as his manuscript of Animal Farm was receiving rejection after rejection by frightened British publishers in 1944. "Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban.... Because of a general tacit agreement that 'it wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact. It is not exactly forbidden to say this or that or the other, but it is 'not done' to say it... Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness...."

There's a legitimate difference between being discreet and being silenced -- that is, between exercising a sound judgment not to do something and accepting blindly that something is simply "not done." It's quite right that some things are" not done," because agreeing to take certain things off the table can actually help a discussion to proceed and freedom of thought to flourish. But courses
like these at Yale and, now, on several other campuses, do little better than the old secret societies have done at teaching students when and how to draw such distinctions on behalf of a real republic, not a corporate state.

Yale administrators' lack of understanding and their loss of faith in real freedom is ignoble. And it's heartening to some warped minds elsewhere. A Singaporean who was offended by the Yale faculty's resolution expressing concern about the university's drift into Singapore's "behind closed doors" ethos retorted:

"I don't see why we need to have a partnership with an institution that has produced the talents who... have morally and financially bankrupted their once great nation. Your nation's economy is in a depression as your central bank robs the general population with its easy money policies transferring more wealth to the bankers. Your political parties are both bought and paid for. Your men and women are sent to die in senseless wars to protect the reserve currency status of the petrodollar. Before this decade is through the Treasury market will be in free fall and so will the dollar along with your living standards.

"Call us authoritarian all you want but we are a prudent state while yours is a once great nation that is a banana republic on its way to fascism. And your nation owes us and other authoritarian regimes A LOT of money. All made possible in part by the notables graduates of Yale and other Ivies.

"I suggest that debt slaves adopt a more courteous attitude toward their creditors instead of name calling and stereotyping. Btw Feel free to come grovel for a job once this comes to pass."


Most of what this writer said about what's happened to American political culture under the tutelage of people who think like Yale's governors -- President Levin and trustees s Fareed Zakaria, Charles Ellis, G. Leonard Baker, and Charles Waterhouse Goodyear IV, the latter three long and deeply involved in business with Singapore's government investment funds -- is true.

They need to be reminded that the university was founded, in 1701, to stop a Harvard-based "social network" from diverting the Puritan errand into the wilderness from its efforts to balance authority and consent toward other efforts at wealth-creation, in a society increasingly connected but flattened by commerce. The world isn't flat, Yale's founders tried to remind the settlers. It has abysses, and students need a faith deep and strong enough to plumb them and sometimes even to defy worldly powers in the name of a Higher one.

Students still need a faith that strong, the kind that a real liberal education awakens when it makes them grapple with lasting challenges to politics and the human spirit, not only in their texts but also in their lives as citizen-leaders. At times, the old American colleges have done this extraordinarily well. "To a remarkable extent this place has detected and rejected those who wear the colors of high purpose falsely," President Kingman Brewster Jr. '41 told my entering freshman class in 1965. "This is done not by an administrative edict ... but by a pervasive ethic of student and faculty loyalty and responsibility... deep in our origins."

A neoliberal might dismiss Brewster's admonition as a snob's boast about an in-crowd. But Brewster, a descendant of Puritans, really wanted students to plumb abysses in order to know true leaders from false, and his college had struggled for three centuries, in Calvinist and classical ways, to balance humanist Truth-seeking with republican Power-wielding.

That balance determines how we live, invest and wage wars, and there's a lot more to be said for what it accomplished than many now tend to acknowledge. I've had the profound pleasure of watching many Yale undergraduates awaken and rise to the challenge of striking better public balances than are being struck by the Machiavellian mice in Yale's "parallel university" and its Singapore venture.

Yale and other old colleges are morphing from the crucibles of civic-republican leadership that they sometimes were at their best into career-training centers and cultural galleria for a global elite that no longer answers to any republican polity or moral code. Yale teaches that the world is flat thanks to global engines of wealth-creation driven by investors and consumers.

Many a lecture chirps this good news, along with characteristically elegant apercus and tips on how to do well by doing good. Isn't that what liberal education is for? A flat world may have valleys, but abysses? Please. We're riding neo-liberalism to Singapore, even the Moon!

So Yale's governors have thought. But this week's news warns that they're leading the college into an abyss. This was anticipated in Lapham's "Quarrels With Providence" and is rendered chillingly, though not in reference to Yale, by Robert Kaplan in "Was Democracy Just a Moment?," a 1997 Atlantic essay that Morris Berman summarizes in The Twilight of American Culture:

"Kaplan ends his article... saying that "we are poised to transform ourselves into something perhaps quite different from what we imagine." ... [W]e shall "sell" democracy to hybrid regimes that will, for economic reasons, take on democratic trappings, while the political reality is something else; and in the process of doing that, we too shall become - are becoming - a hybrid regime."

So Singapore "loosens" a bit to take on democratic trappings, and Yale surrenders some of the hard-won commitments to freedom speech and political expression that I described in the long post mentioned above. To prove that it hasn't surrendered, the Yale administration would have support students and faculty in New Haven if they want to host Kenneth Jeyaretnam; his fellow opposition leader Chee Soon Juan; Chee's international human-rights lawyer, Bob Amsterdam (whom Singapore barred from entering the country to see him); Francis Seouw, the former solicitor-general of Singapore and critic of the regime, who now lives in Boston; and other honorable, knowledgeable dissenters to participate in a panel called "Singapore Really Uncensored."

That's what freedom of speech and political expression should promise, isn't it? We'll see if Yale will countenance it now, or if it has lost its soul in self-censorship and is too terrified of its new partner across the Pacific to do anything but grovel.
 
 
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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

If a world champion debater in the family cannot come up with better arguments to counter what James Minchin may utter in Singapore, he has to ensure that Minchin do not get a chance to make any comment here.

Lee Shin said...

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Lee Shin
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