Let us get down to fundamentals. Is this an open, or is this a closed society? Is it a society where people can preach ideas – novel, unorthodox, heresies, to established government – where there is a constant contest for hearts and minds on the basis of what is right, of what is just, of what is in the national interests, or is it a closed society where the mass media – the newspapers, the journals, publications, TV, internet either by sound or by sight or both sound and sight, people’s minds are fed with a constant drone of sycophantic support for a particular orthodox political philosophy? That is the first question we ask ourselves.
Let me preface my remarks with this: that it is not only under dictatorships where the mass media is used to produce the closed mind, because the closed society must produce the closed mind. I believe that Singapore was founded, if you read its constitution, as an open society, constituting peoples of various communities, of various religions, of various languages, of varying political beliefs, in which the will of the majority will prevail, and in which a large dissenting minority will not be crushed and intimidated and silenced.
I would like to see minds stimulated and debate provoked, and truth refined and crystallized out of the conflict of different evidence and views. I, therefore, welcome every and any opportunity to meet members of the government or opposition, online, on television, university forums, public rallies, whether to agree, or to dissent, or to discuss, or to disagree, so we can progress. I will never run away from the open encounter. If your ideas, your views cannot stand the challenge of criticism then they are too fragile and not sturdy enough to last.
Is this the open encounter? Is this the democratic system in which ideas compete for ascendancy, not brawn or the strength of one’s phalanx, but the idea? They crossed frontiers, they have brought people into space – and if we try to keep our people rooted, glued to the ground, fixed in an orthodox political society which resists change, the world will pass us by, and one day it will come down like a house of cards. It has not go the resilience, the sturdiness, the stamina. I am talking about the principle of the open society, the open debate, ideas, not intimidation, persuasion not coercion.
The basic fundamental we ask ourselves is whether the duties of the government are to produce closed minds or open minds, because these instruments – the mass media, the TV, the internet – can produce either the open minds receptive to ideas and ideals, a democratic system of life, or closed and limited. But I know that the open debate is a painful process for closed minds. Let me make this point: that 5 million minds in Singapore cannot be closed – definitely not in the lifetime of the people of authority. It is not possible because whatever the faults of the democratic system, and there are many, they generated the open mind, the inquiring mind.