Rein in pragmatism to spur civic-mindedness

The lack of civic-mindedness in society stems mainly from a culture of pragmatism, where we are concerned only about our own practical needs and not about others - unless the latter benefits us or prevents punishment from society or the state (Singaporeans are just not civic-minded; Jan 12).

It is inherently individualistic; doing what is logically in your best interest.

Take bike-sharing, for instance. Imagine the practical Singaporean: Why should he bother parking the shared bike in a proper, accessible area? It would waste his time to move it; it is in his interest to leave it in a location of his convenience.

One possible way to combat this would be the use of shame and legislation, which is not uncommon in Singapore, with the wide use of social media and active law enforcement. But this can breed contempt for the state and for nosy people's constant interventions. It does not tackle the core issue.

When this civic-mindedness is guided by pragmatism - in this case, to avoid breaking the law or being shamed - its nature turns cold and arbitrary, but still operates at the individual's convenience.

To be clear, pragmatism has benefited Singapore, but it must be balanced by a culture that seeks out the common good.

Otherwise, it would be difficult to develop an authentic civic-minded society.

Christopher Burchell-Davies

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2018, with the headline 'Rein in pragmatism to spur civic-mindedness'. Print Edition | Subscribe