Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Post No. 111: MM Lee, Single Mothers and Genetic Determinism

Last Sunday(10/6/2007), both 《联合早报》/"Lianhe Zaobao" (LHZB) and the Sunday Times featured reports about MM Lee's remarks, while on an official visit to the Republic of Tatarstan, about the possibility of encouraging single motherhood in Singapore. Perhaps I may be reading too much into it but it was interesting to note the contrasting ways in which the 2 newspapers portrayed MM Lee's comments.

Same comments, contrasting presentations

The Sunday Times, as how I see it, gave less prominent coverage to MM Lee's comments about the possibility of encouraging single motherhood in Singapore, considering that they published these comments in a sub-article adjoining another article featuring MM Lee's visit to Tatarstan. It also seems to me that the Sunday Times have, through their entitling of the abovementioned sub-article as "S'pore 'not ready for single mums'", have made it appeared that MM Lee remained hesitant about accepting single motherhood in Singapore, if not against it.

In contrast, it would seem to me that LHZB gave much greater prominent coverage to MM Lee's comments, seeing that these comments were featured in a 3/4-page article entitled: 《李资政:为让本地高教育女性愿生育;鼓励“单亲妈妈”也许行得通》(basically, this translates into: "MM Lee: As a means of inducing highly-educated local women to give birth, the encouraging of 'single motherhood' may work"). And, quite evidently, as can be observed from the title & content of their article, LHZB have made it appear that, though MM Lee may not be entirely certain about the effectiveness of encouraging "single motherhood", he is at least adopting a more positive stance towards it. For example, it was quoted in the LHZB article that MM Lee said: “女子即使没有丈夫,也可以有孩子,那可以是个解决方法。我不清楚新加坡社会是否能够接收,但这也许比聪明女性完全不生育来得好。”(basic translation: "Even without husbands, women can have children. This can be a solution. I am not sure whether Singaporean society can accept it or not but this may be better than intelligent women entirely not reproducing at all.").

Single Mothers = ???

Besides noticing the difference in the way how the 2 local newspapers presented MM Lee's comments, I also observed that it appears that MM Lee failed to clearly define what he meant by "single mothers".

I mean, the term "single mothers" can refer to many different things.

For one, it can mean women who are divorced with children. Two, women who adopt. Three, women who resort to artificial insemination. Or, four, women who have children out of wedlock.

And, assuming that the issue of highly-educated local women not getting married and/or having children is, as how MM Lee perceives it, a problem to ensuring the quality of Singapore's population, it would seem to me that the abovementioned 4 types of "single mothers" would not be the panacea to such a problem.

Just think about it. If "single mothers" refer to divorced women with children, we will have a non sequitur on our hands, considering that the issue here is that local men are, in the first place, reluctant to marry women who are their educational equals and/or superiors.

Again, if “single mothers” refer to single women who adopt children, MM Lee’s concern with ensuring the genetic quality of Singapore’s population through having highly-educated married couples having children remains unresolved. This is considering that, as far as I know, adopted children do not inherit any genetic material from their foster parents.

As for women who employ the help of artificial insemination to have children, there, in my humble opinion, arises the issue of ensuring the quality of the sperms used in the procedure. By this, I mean that if the issue at hand is to ensure that highly-educated local women give birth to children whose biological fathers are hopefully perhaps also highly-educated men, then I suppose it would be necessary to verify that the men, donating their sperms for the artificial insemination of highly-educated local women, should also be highly-educated men. I don’t know about you all but this, from my viewpoint, is going to create another whole host of problems.

And, lastly, if by “single mothers”, MM Lee is referring to women who have children out of wedlock, then I think he is justified to be concerned about whether Singaporean society can accept “single motherhood”. Though I may not have the statistics to back it up, I suppose that most people in Singapore, especially those of the older generation, still frown upon women who have children out of wedlock.

On that note, it would seem to me that if the Singaporean Government is indeed to encourage “single motherhood”, it may find itself having to rethink several of its policies. One such policy would evidently be the strong emphasis on the family (that is the “family” as one having 2 married parents of different sexes and their children). Another would, of course, be the discouraging of pre-marital sex. No easy task this would be.

Single Mothers = a means to an end?

Moving on, though it may not be explicitly stated by MM Lee, it appears to me that he is not actually approving of “single motherhood” per se but rather he seems, as can be inferred from his statement quoted above in the third paragraph of this post, to be adopting a pragmatic stance towards it. In other words, it is not that MM Lee approves of “single motherhood” but that he perceives it as a means to an end of resolving the issue of highly-educated local women remaining unmarried & childless.

Well, I don’t know about you all but this seems reminiscent to how MM Lee mooted the issue of how Singapore may eventually have to decriminalise homosexual acts. This is considering that it has been suggested that this sudden implied tolerance of homosexuality by MM Lee is not motivated by his actual approval of it but an attempt to pursue the “pink/purple dollar” and “homosexual creative talent”.

Don’t be mistaken, I am most aware of the necessity and value of being pragmatic and of the fact that sometimes, we may need to do something not for its own sake but as a means to an end. However, I still can’t shake off the feeling that some things should just be pursued because they are worth pursuing and not because they are means to other ends.

Oh well, as the French put it: “C’est la vie”.

The men don’t get it

And, though I may just be thinking too much, it seems to me that in the discussion about highly-educated local women staying unmarried and childless, we seemed to have mistakenly placed most of the blame on these women. I mean, just think about it. Back in the 1980s, we had the Graduate Mothers Scheme (see here, scroll down to "1983") but not the Graduate Fathers Scheme. And now, reading MM Lee’s comments, it seems that he is perhaps still placing the emphasis on highly-educated local women as though they are solely responsible for the current situation.

What happened to those men who are reluctant to marry women who are their educational equals and/or superiors? Why do they appear to be missing from the discussion? Shouldn’t we also be focusing our attention on changing the dated mindset of that it is more preferable for men to marry women who are lower in educational status than them?

I mean, just think about it. Even we managed to encourage more highly-educated local women to want to get married and have children, it will be to no avail if men remain reluctant to marry them, wouldn’t it?

80% nature, 20% nurture?

Moving on, in case you all are not aware of it yet, MM Lee has, for quite some time, been a proponent & believer in the idea of genetic determinism, if not eugenics (or at least a milder form of these 2 concepts).

This stance of his can be clearly observed from this statement of his quoted in the abovementioned LHZB article: “结果是生育了下一代人,但他们的母亲却不是最优秀的。这有如把最好的母牛、母马从繁殖群取出,这根本不合逻辑。” (basic translation: “The end result is that the next generation was born but their mothers were not the best. It is like removing the best cows and mares (i.e. female horses) from the breeding pool. It does not make logical sense.”) [aside: I don’t know about you all but if I am a woman, I would really feel offended at being compared to livestock; oh well, at least MM Lee did not use the term "birth giving machines"].

And lest we forget, this was what MM Lee said at his 1983 National Day Rally: “If you don't include your women graduates in your breeding pool and leave them on the shelf, you would end up a more stupid society...So what happens? There will be less bright people to support dumb people in the next generation. That's a problem” (note: I cannot attest to the veracity of this quote, considering that I got it from Wikiquote but I guess it should be accurate enough).

Also, as he clearly stated in the 2nd volume of his memoirs (“From Third World to First”) on the chapter about “nurturing and attracting talent”, it is MM Lee’s belief, based on “studies of identical twins done in Minnesota in the 1980s”, that “nearly 80 percent of a person’s makeup was from nature, an about 20 per cent the result of nature”.

Okay, I am no expert in genetic sciences and so I would not attempt to examine and/or discuss the validity of the results from the abovementioned studies. However, in my layman’s opinion, though it may be true that genetic inheritance plays a significant role in determining a person’s makeup, the importance of a person’s life experiences also cannot be discounted.

Just consider this following hypothetical example.

Let’s say local scientists from A*STAR managed to clone MM Lee Kuan Yew. Would this cloned MM Lee, without having gone through the various life experiences (i.e. nurture) that the real MM Lee has gone through, be actually able to replace the latter to perform his duties as Minister Mentor? I highly doubt so. This cloned MM Lee may have perhaps share the same personality traits and intelligence level as the real MM Lee but, without the reserves of life experiences that the real MM Lee has, he would just be another ordinary articulate, self-opinionated and intelligent person (note: I say all this with, of course, no intention of attempting to cause offence to the real MM Lee).

In the end, as implied in the movie “Gattaca”, our genes may perhaps determine who we are but they do not determine who we become. We are, after all, more than the sum of our genes.


That’s all, folks and thank you for reading!


loupgarou said...

he could you know:

a) create the job of surrogate mother.

b) get highly educated men to donate sperm, highly educated women to donate eggs (by executive fiat)

d) surrogate mother gives birth to child

e) an entire pap industry to raise the child as ward of the state, all finely tuned to be nobel or olympic prize winners..

LCC said...

Hmm... Loupgarou, your suggestion somehow reminds me of both Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and Plato's "The Republic" at the same time...

Of course, I highly doubt that your suggestion will come into effect anytime soon, at least for the foreseeable future...

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