I was checking out The Singapore Daily when a link to a blog post on natural aristocracy (a hot topic these days) brought me to Petunia Lee’s blog. Unlike most of the articles that Singapore Daily links to, Petunia Lee’s post has a pro-establishment slant, strongly supporting the treatment that Amos Yee and Roy Ngerng received. Let me go through her blog post.
First of course, she had to mention the now famous (though long forgotten) Thomas Jefferson quote.
“There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents” so said Thomas Jefferson. With no contradiction to the concept of meritocracy, there are a few individuals in society who deserve to rise to the highest ranks in society by virtue of their talent and virtues.
Next, she went on to teach us how to identify a natural aristocrat, giving the philanthropic barefoot doctor, Dr Tan Lai Yong as an example. In the same vein, we could also include saints like Mother Teresa but I happen to have a former classmate in NUS who did much the same thing in Africa. Lets call him Dr C. Mrs C followed him to Africa. His children were born there. While I certainly salute these people for their courage, passion and sacrifice (which includes accepting a pay much lower than what is “correct”), I’m not sure they qualify under Thomas Jefferson’s definition of natural aristocracy. One thing is certain, however, these kind samaritans who served the less fortunate regardless of their faith or political affiliations, are quite a different kettle of fish from most politicians I know.
Next, Petunia Lee mentioned her father’s golfing partner who could make a room full of proud CEOs turn silent when he entered the room. Why? Because he built a multi-million dollar company from those humble beginnings. His company was an industry leader and he was actually a Past President of that industry association. He would still have been its President if he had not insisted to resign. Based on this information, I would probably wai this man when I see him.
But that’s as far as business is concerned. And let’s say Petunia’s children when they were young, visited Uncle Natural Aristocrat and come home bruised and bleeding? Would she not even ask questions? Would she consider her silence and inaction as a sign of respect? I don’t think so.
The next part of her post totally baffles me.
The paradox in the phrase First Among Equals is that if there is a First then people cannot be equal. If people are equal, then there cannot be a First. Yet somehow, the phrase First Among Equals means something, no? We understand that amongst people who are equals, some are just better people… and these people command our respect by dint of whom they are. These better people do not REQUIRE the respect because they are better. They do not DEMAND such respect by claiming they are First, for in so doing, they will lose the respect of their Equals.
Hence, the culture of respect inherent in a Natural Aristocracy does not focus on the notion of First. It focuses on the notion of Equal. What I mean is that PM Lee and all this country’s leaders deserve respect, NOT because they are First, but because they are Equal.
Yao mo gao chor ah? What on earth is she talking about? Is this a lame excuse to reconcile a sense of superiority with political correctness? Let us get a bit more down-to-earth here. Thomas Jefferson was often regarded as a “first among equals” because his party comprised office workers, farmers and labourers. Jefferson was a polymath in arts, sciences and politics. His supporters explained that as a realist, he could not possibly give everybody an equal chance at leadership. So, without showing any doubt about the importance of values of Democracy and Equality, his party members willingly, automatically or “naturally” if you will, affirmed his leadership, still bearing in mind that they had equal rights. I suppose that included the right to ask him where the money had gone.
Now Petunia Lee went on to draw a puzzling analogy:
If you went to a restaurant and someone came to accuse you of stealing another man’s wallet without proof, you would be neither hurt nor insulted? In essence, that was what Roy Ngerng did to PM Lee.
Yao mo gao chor ah? How absurd can you get. I’m not a fan of Roy Ngerng and I confess that some of his immature antics even annoy me, but I can’t visualise the restaurant and the wallet. In my mind, I see a disgruntled investor questioning his fund manager about all the new rules and regulations that prevent him from liquidating his investments. He should not have placed our PM in the same flow chart as some discredited pastor, but I fail to see the scum, calumny and poison. Even though the scum, calumny and poison is clearly found in her own warning.
Gee… if you did that to me at a restaurant, be prepared for me to gouge your eyes out and make you eat them with your Gin Tonic.
In a twisted way, that reminds me (by way of contrast) of the selflessness and compassion shown by folks like Dr Tan Lai Yong. Saint Teresa had her fair share of critics. Dr C has been mocked and even considered irresponsible. I’m sure Dr Tan had his doubters and detractors too. Did they sue? Did they threaten to withdraw care and kindness from those who didn’t support them lest society becomes extinct?
Why should any of our politicians need to take such crap lying down just because the Western powers-that-be believe in Free Speech?
The Western powers-that-be would be jumping for joy if their people think like Petunia Lee. The people are the ones who really want freedom of speech. Isn’t “natural aristocracy” a Western concept too, albeit one that is hundreds of years old? How “Western” are Hongkong and Taiwan which had joined in the protests?
Finally, there is something else not mentioned about President Thomas Jefferson. Though he is often remembered as one of America’s greatest presidents, he actually didn’t practise what he preached. While he spoke against slavery, he kept hundreds of them. This may make you wonder what is meant by “first among equals”.
Do check out Petunia Lee’s post in her blog.
© Chan Joon Yee