Saturday, September 08, 2007

Meritocracy: A value taken-for-granted

After some prompting, I decided that I'll practice Citizen Journalism and post my views that I put on my school's Discussion Board on my blog! Please feel free to express your views under "comments" just below the post! ENJOY!

Here is the question posed, just so you know what i'm talking about.
What do you think are Singapore's taken-for-granted beliefs and values? How do they influence journalism here? Are "citizen journalists" immune from such influence? Your views, please!

I think that meritocracy is the value most taken for granted in Singapore. During a conversation with a younger friend (psst! It’s Ming Sheng!), we were unearthing the "deep issues of life". After some probing on my part, this sentence came out of my younger counterpart, "I want to be The best. I don't want to just be the best that I can be". To me, that is indeed shocking news to me. Apparently, being the best that you can be is not enough. Not in an environment where only the "best of the best" gets the limelight and second best is a much detested seat.

Meritocracy in its nature of giving its awardee the due reward for what he/she has achieved is seen as the most fair and just rule invented in our society. However, insidiously, it has actually set a certain psychology in our youth that is highly detrimental to, in essence, their happiness. In a society where a person's worth is measured by ability, youths being the best that they can be and yet still miss the mark at being the best or even mediocre can be highly detrimental to a their emotional well-being its destructive effects stretches even to mature adulthood. Since only there are limited spaces in the “best” category, the citizens of Singapore often on an endless pursuit of being The best and often never being “good enough”. Singaporean nurtured well by meritocracy grow into adulthood enter the rat race and pursue a far fetched nirvana often reached only by a small group of individuals namely, the elite.

I am not saying that meritocracy is BAD and should be abolished totally. Neither am I saying that rewards should not be unearned or gained through underhand means. However, I believe that because meritocracy have so many benefits that been taken for granted so long so much so that we have failed to correct and qualify its claims on society and are not aware of its pitfalls. This brings me to my next point.

Another mindset that meritocracy played a great role in creating is Kaisuism. Typing in Kiasu in Wikipedia, I obtained these findings. "Growing up with this attitude (Kiasuism), these students often become ambitious businesspeople, with the desire to be on top in wealth and prestige regardless of whether the most prestigious careers are aligned with their true capabilities." Another definition of Kiasuim broadcasted by NewsRadio 93.8 is (paraphrased): Seeking for the upperhand at the expense of courtesy. Evidently, the messages meritocracy is sending out is, "if the best that you can be (your true capabilities) is not enough still go and fight for it, tooth and nail, discarding courtesy if need be, because in this society, what is recognised is your ability."

Taking this argument further, I believe that the focus on raw ability and talent breeds elitism. The sentiment expressed by my young friend indeed is a verbal expression of elitism. Evidently, to him, being The best is of utmost importance and anything that falls below that is not worth noticing. This sentiment is shared by numerous if not numberless Singaporeans. “Who got top for PSLE? Who won the most prestigious scholarship?” These questions consistently hit the headlines and become the talk of the town after each annual release of results.

Elitism rampant in society; Kiasuism as our nation's identity. Singapore has fallen into the pitfall of meritocracy due to unchecked advocacy. I believe that meritocracy is not the sole contributor to elitism and Kiasuism, however, I think that the overemphasis of meritocracy and the lack of accrediting virtues such as courtesy or kindness or self-sacrifice played a big role in nurturing such attitudes. Perhaps, the government should have more courtesy campaigns and news reporters give more airtime to good deeds rather than Singapore's next top technopreneur.

It is needless to say that the journalism in Singapore has contributed in large way to advocating meritocracy. Meritocracy being one of our nation's core values and the way journalism in Singapore is seen with the responsibility of nation building, obviously journalism would be trumpeting meritocracy. Whether or not, at the same time addressing these pitfalls… evidence speak for itself.

Citizen journalism which magnifies the views of a common citizen to the general public would certainly reflect these attitudes, knowingly or unknowingly. One such example is that of a minister's daughter who expressed in her blog highly elitist views and welcomed the censure of society. I think the issue of whether national values will influence citizen journalism is an issue that does not need much debate. Because, like it or not, national values shape policies and policies are enforced by laws. Hence, citizens will be influenced by them since they are compelled to adhere to them. Moreover, media in Singapore being the government's persuasive mouthpiece of national values would in many extents shape the thoughts of the citizen.

No comments: