From General Paper

Does truth still matter in today’s world?

The truth has been an age-old virtue that was heavily prized for its persevering value in allowing people to know the accurate outlook of the situations they face, and thus having the ability to make the right choices to solve their problems. However, in today’s increasingly interconnected world where information is easily made up, where problems exist not as separate entities but rather much like an entangled ball of numerous threads, waiting to be unravelled gracefully, the significance of truth is questioned as our fast-paced lives require us to solve our problems in the fastest way possible, and very often, telling the truth is troublesome. However, the reality is that it is precisely because of this outlook of today’s world that the relevance of the truth should be augmented. Granted, the cost of maintaining the truth is expensive, and may even compromise our ability to tackle issues at lightning speed, but the truth – pun intended – is that telling the truth could sometimes give us a clearer outlook at how to solve today’s problems.

‘Developed countries have the responsibility to accept refugees.’ Do you agree?

Angela Merkel’s victory in the recent German elections came as a surprise to many given the rising xenophobic sentiments in the country. There was latent tension due to refugees taking away jobs and weakening the German economy, waiting to turn into an actual conflict. Since the Chancellor’s decision to take in thousands of refugees from Syria, her administration has been criticised for doing so at the expense of her people. This raises the conundrum as to whether economically developed countries like Germany and many others are obligated to accept asylum seekers, given the variation in sizes for developed countries, like geographically limited Singapore, to acres of land in the United States of America. We have to ruminate on whether this responsibility is present and justified. After all, displaced persons are usually the result of civil strife or racist sentiments from their own countries, such as in the case of the Rohingya refugees. When evaluating a country’s responsibility, we have to take into account its sovereignty and by extension, whether it affects or compromises its duty to protect itself. Every sovereign country is autonomous and would not be responsible for the citizens of others if its own citizens would be compromised. However, privileged developed countries may owe a moral responsibility on the premise of capacity and from a humanitarian perspective, preservation of life may transcend other rights to make accepting refugees obligatory.

How far can an individual be held responsible for crimes against humanity?

Even though war and conflict have existed since the beginning of time, the 20th century has been characterized by the rapid rise of massive crimes against humanity, providing much food for thought. Crimes against humanity refer toobjectively wrong acts deliberately committed as part of a broader systemic attack on a civilian population including rape, genocide and torture. Many of us analysing the countless atrocities in recent history – that of the Holocaust, the Nanjing Massacre and the more recent Rwandan Genocide – are disgusted by what we consider acts of pure evil. We are convinced that these manifestations of pure evil, actions that have claimed countless innocent lives, represent the worst of human nature. Many therefore automatically assume that individuals should take full responsibility for the consequences of their actions. In many cases, accountability is important, but when viewed in context, crimes like these are committed in sets of highly complicated and nuanced circumstances and conditions that must be considered. While crimes against humanity are indeed morally regrettable, I believe that there are certain factors that can prevent us from holding individuals, at various levels, fully responsible for these acts. I will thus analyse this from three different levels of complicity – leaders of organizations, their followers and officials, and members of communities.

How far is elitism inevitable in your society?

The issue of elitism is one that is prevalent in all societies, and has plagued many governments, with Singapore not being an exception. Elitism, or having a non-inclusive mind-set, with groups of exclusive individuals viewing themselves as superior to the masses, has always been present, and continues to prevail today. It can be observed since medieval times, where royal blood or relation to the royal family would immediate place one in a class above the rest, and even in modern times, when financial status immediately classifies people and society into groups. This is especially prevalent in Singapore, especially in financial terms, given the context of meritocracy, our financial gap, and the cyclical nature of an elite class. However, elitism, while pervasive, is not inevitable, and on higher and structural levels, it can be alleviated or avoided, and the government has made attempts to do.

‘Nature should always give way to the forces of urbanisation.’ How true is this of your society?

Singapore has made a quantum leap from a poor fishing village in the 1800s to the stunning cosmopolitan city that it is today, frequently topping global indices for our prosperity and quality of life. This commendable success can be largely attributed to the forces of urbanization, where Singapore has opened its doors to globalization and modernization, prioritizing the urgent need for economic growth and development to feed the demands of its people. However, this economic dynamism has come with a price to pay – Singapore often struggles with the dilemma of compromising our nature to suit the urgent requirements of our modern society. As such, while many Singaporeans may demonstrate a seeming apathy in bulldozing our nature for the sake of pragmatism and economic growth, I believe that nature should not always be sacrificed for urbanization in our society because nature brings about extensive benefits and can always be incorporated in our modern society to complement urbanization.

Do you agree that there is little value in literature today?

‘The reader lives a thousand lives, the man who does not read lives only one,’ penned George R. R. Martin, one of today’s best-known literary giants. As a self-proclaimed bibliophile, I could not agree more. I spent my childhood folded between the pages of books. I lived the lives of fictional characters, and my days…