The Rafflesian elite owes society the greatest debt

Aug 13, 2015 10.31AM |

by Daniel Yap

IT IS a shame that it was a fellow Rafflesian who penned the words in defence of an uneven playing field, urging us to pull resources away from the weak to favour the “intelligent” (“‘Elitism’ can be good for society” by Russell Tan Wah Jian, ST, Aug 11). There he argues that the able deserve more than the weak; there he gives a poorly-thought-out example of “equality” and gives it a made-up definition to support his love for elitism, and for the elite class he believes he is a deserving part of. There he argues that elitism is merely the dark side of meritocracy – I say no: it is the perversion of it.

And this, mere weeks after RI’s principal, Mr Chan Poh Meng urged our alma mater to break out of its self-indulgence as a “middle class” (I think more middle-upper class, really) school. Mr Chan’s speech was received with supportive nods from my generation of old boys, but at the same time it drew the school and her students back into the spotlight we have always been trying to avoid – the ridicule of our peers. Ridicule born of being the odd ones out, the kids that everyone else tries to shun or gang up against. Ridicule because our peers in other schools, branded or not, have always regarded Rafflesians as outsiders and elitists.

Today, we truly deserved that ridicule.

Having only graduated from RI one year ago, the young forum writer demonstrates, with great irony, the deep truth in Mr Chan’s words. Many of us have often lost touch with reality. Our heads have grown so big that our vaunted intellect warps upon itself in twisted logic. We have consumed the drug of elitist meritocracy for so long that it is all that we value and crave.

I first noticed the outside world and my displacement from it when I went to study in a JC that was not RJC. There, back in the day, my white-on-white was a perfect match with a large segment of students from another school with the same colours. It was there, without my school badge, trying to blend in, that I realised that I had been growing up in a microcosm of the microcosm of a society that Singapore is, that there was purpose, meaning and value beyond the elitism that I was a part of at the school I loved, and still love.

But a life well-lived has taught me otherwise, as I hope it will teach this young Rafflesian writer in the years to come. Our innate talents give us the right to nothing but a greater service to society (and even the opportunity to serve is one that must be earned). Our birth into privilege is a benefit to be repaid, because everyone, rich and poor, is part of and is sustained by and through the same society, the same community, the same humanity.

How could I ever have believed that my intellect and talent qualified me to receive more than another? To believe such a thing is to reduce the essence of a man to his mere intelligence and ability. What of compassion? What of wisdom? What of valour? What of love? What of all the things that cannot be tested and measured in a classroom or an exam, but which separate the smart from the truly great or the wise?

An intelligent fool in a position of power will destroy a nation twice as quickly as an incompetent one.

Yet here we are: the product of opportunities, resources, programmes, achievements and rigorous testing. Indubitably smarter than your average man, as the exams scores attest to. Indisputably more capable of achieving great things, as our alumni have through the years. Unquestionably more disposed to lead the way forward in the world we live in, but only because of the good fortune that we were born into, and no merit of our own. But to what ultimate end? The amassing of goods and accolades? Or the benefit of our nation and society? Would that Raffles, my alma mater, could impart to us with greater clarity the immeasurable measure of a man as easily as it endows us with knowledge.

Yes, we are the elite. And the elite owe the world the greatest debt.



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