Words: Equality; Minister Shanmugam’s remarks on Amy Cheong

In the temasek times article. 

Minister Shanmugam was quoted as saying the following.

He described her comments as reflecting a deep-seated racist attitude:

“Her comments reflect a deep seated racist attitude coupled with contempt for those who are less well off, or who wish to spend less. I had said, in 2002, in Parliament, that we should look deep into our hearts and ask what the attitudes of non Malays are towards our Malay brothers and sisters. We will be a truly civilised society only when we deep in our hearts accept everyone as equal.”

Well, while his comments are politically right, and it seems to sit well with the times. I would question the last sentence “We will be a truly civilised society only when we deep in our hearts accept everyone as equal.” I will address the latter part of the sentence, and then the former.

Well, “only when we deep in our hearts accept everyone as equal”. There is no such thing as equal individuals, everyone is born into different circumstances and makes different choices. No two people would ever be “equal”. Deep seated cracks in our society, comes from trying to strive for that equality. Even if you take two chinese or two indian people, they would not be equal, there are rich chinese and their are blue collar chinese as well. How different is that from malay people. Personally I feel that it is a common misconception; perhaps there may be an underlying trend, i may not know because i have not seen the statistics. It is also a misconception to strive to deep in our hearts accept everyone as equal. Maybe i’m right maybe i’m wrong, but personally, it is better to accept everyone as different. Accepting the differences means accepting the inequality, and that sometimes there would be snobs who think they’re better than anyone else. But if you leave this snobs alone, they might make worse comments for awhile, but for how long? After a short while, they’d realize that its REALLY stupid to play your own game to pretend you’re winning.

“Truly civilised society” is another issue that I feel strongly about. Firstly I’ll state that my personal view is that there is no truly civilised society. However, lets for the sake of argument, assume that there is one. We cannot correlate accepting everyone as equal in our hearts to a civilised society. A civilised society is described as the following:

1. Having a highly developed society and culture.
2. Showing evidence of moral and intellectual advancement; humane, ethical, and reasonable
3. Marked by refinement in taste and manners; cultured; polished.
courtesy of (thefreedictionary.com) <= because i’m poor i use a free dictionary.
Now, how does any of the above correlate to accepting everyone as equal in our hearts? I can prove however, that it can be linked to accepting differences and inequality “moral and intellectual advancement; humane, ethical, and reasonable”. A society that is morally and intellectually advanced, would all the more comprehend and deal with differences on a day to day basis. You cannot be a society that attempts to enforce concepts of equality; trying to hide away and sweep under the carpet all the ideas of inequality and still hope to be civilised. When there is light there is dark, when there is hope, there is despair, and where there is calm, there is chaos. Inequality should be accepted and treated as a norm, only then will society advance, to see what is the cause or reasons for the inequality, and if the consequences and the causes of the inequality are justifiable. There is a reason for the inequality symbols in maths. Its just that social value is a lot more difficult to quantify.


  1. Echoeing such sentiments/feelings is akin to telling us, deep down everyone is the same coz we have the same hunger/thirst to become from nothing to something.

    “There is inequality – you are much cleverer than I am; you have greater capacities; you love and I don’t; you paint, you create, you think, and I am merely an imitator; you have riches, and I have poverty of being. There is inequality existing – that is a fact, whether you like it or not. There is also inequality of function, but unfortunately we have brought inequality of function into the inequality of status. We do not treat function as function, but use function to achieve power, position, prestige – which becomes status. And we are more interested in status than in function, so we continue with inequality.

    There is not only the psychological inequality but also the obvious outward inequality. These are all facts. By no amount of legislation can one wipe out this inequality. But I think, if one can understand that there must be freedom psychologically from all authoritarian outlook, then equality has quite a different meaning. If one can wipe away the psychological inequality which one creates in oneself through status, through capacity, through ideas, through desire, through ambition, if there is a wiping away of that psychological struggle to be something, then there is a possibility of having love. But as long as I am striving, psychologically using function to become somebody, as long as there is a becoming of the ‘me’, inequality of spirit will exist. Then there will always be a difference between me and the savior, there will always be a gap between one who knows and the one who does not know, and there will also be the struggle to come to that state. So as long as there is no freedom, all this ‘becoming’ will be used for the strengthening of the existing inequality, which is destructive.

    Sir, how can a man who is ambitious know equality or know love? We are all ambitious, and we think it is an honorable state. From childhood we are trained to be ambitious, to succeed, to become somebody, and so inwardly we want inequality. Look at the way we treat people, how we respect some, and we despise others. If you look into yourself inwardly, you will find that this sense of inequality creates the Master, the guru, and you become the disciple, the follower, the imitator, the becomer. Inwardly, you establish inequality and dependence on another; therefore, there is no freedom. There is always this division between man and man because each one of us wants to be a success, to be somebody.

    Only when you are inwardly as nothing because you are free, is there a possibility of your not using inequality for personal aggrandizement, and of bringing about order, peace. But to be as nothing is not a series of words; you have to be literally as nothing, inwardly; that can only be when the mind is not ‘becoming’.” – J K.

    1. Thanks for the comment! it is really very eye opening, I had not perceived the issue with such depth. I would agree that having a sound psychological construct is key, though, everyone has differences, and not everyone would have the ability/life experience to be able to wipe away the psychological inequality. Though, is it worth to truly believe in our hearts that everyone is equal? or to accept the inequality as it is, or as you have stated the functional inequality, but accept that they are still human beings and not over look their humanity because of their status?

      1. You have got the point nailed on. That is “What is”.

        What is Ryan Adnin without his name, education, social status etc, etc? Just observe this question carefully. Then, what is the same person with all the attributes that he has collected starting from his name, education, social status etc, etc? If you can see the truth in both, then you have started taking the first step towards this amazing thing called freedom……

        I am not saying, do not have a name but the name should not create an ego for itself and seek further glory for itself. But then, our parents who guided us in our early lives had followed the path that the majority were following then and even now and guided us towards success as if it is the gospel truth. They compared their child with their neighbours’ child in terms educational results, sports and whatever not. They even compared them with their fellow siblings. We are individuals. Each individual is unique in his or her own way. We should see an individual as one person. Comparing a human with another is one of the worst ills of society. Past & Present education is preparing this individual to fit into this society and prevents him/her from being humane because success has become the most glorified word now. So when I am successful, I look down on another who is less successful(as in the case of Amy Cheong).

        Who created such a society? We can’t point the finger at the politicians alone. We are part of of this world and we should take the blame too. Every individual as a part to play in this world. So, how to play a part when we want to continue thinking that I am this and I am not that. I am superior than you, physically and also psychologically. This would ultimately lead to inequality. When we realize this existence(life) in itself is a unique gift, then that realization would initiate us to act in the right manner towards our fellow human beings. Then, race, religion, its institutions and all those things which were created by man and his mind would lose its credibility instantly. That right action can come only when you are empty without your ego that you have accumulated in your lives. “Love” which cannot be created by humans may knock onto this emptiness without you ever inviting it. When “love” has entered, “you” cease to exist.

        If there is no “love” than – “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”

  2. Thanks for the clarification! well, Personally I feel that no one really created a society such as this, it is just that the nature of humans, the manner in which people were taught and structured created this society, With regards to your initial point, I was taught something interesting in counselling class where the lecturer requested the students to pair up, one as an inquisitor, one as a subject, the former is only allowed to ask one question, “who are you” and the latter is only allowed to give one answer one time. do it for long enough and it can sometimes get really uncomfortable and even scary.For me I was scared shitless when i ran out of things to answer, and even though i am comfortable with inequality, and I still respect everyones humanity, I broke and was unable to answer after some time.

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