Thoughts on Amos Yee

Another opinion you don’t have to read but could open another perspective.

So I’ve held my piece on Amos Yee for quite some time, ever since his video on the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and the insult upon our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, I am a Christian. Friends who know me also know that I am a supporter and a grateful citizen of Mr. Lee’s policies, and his government. Let it be clear right off the bat that I write with a recognition that every person, including myself, are subject to personal biases. So as I strive to write with impartiality and objectivity, I have to let you the reader decide if I am being unfairly supportive or decrying towards Amos Yee and his actions.

There seem to be many things I want to say, but after I’ve had the opportunity to classify them into proper parts, they don’t seem to be so numerous anymore. I’ll start from the beginning. This is going to be a long read.

The Video

I have to say that I am actually impressed. On a couple of levels. One, Amos Yee actually has the right idea of what his ideal political leader should be.

“(A great leader) creates a place where people are able to live happily and prosper based on their own unique attributes.”

Is that true? Well I tend to agree with him. We all look to having a government, a leadership, that maximises the strengths of the people and allow them to flourish through their means and abilities. Has Mr. Lee done that? Has his government, and the two governments that took after him, have they done that? Amos says no.

Unfortunately, Amos quotes a number of statistics which by default, already stand to be corrected. With the right intentions, I’d like to believe, he set his position on the socio-economic status of Singapore, but his google search turned up results that arrived from yet another detractor that we know of: Roy Ngerng.

So although Amos didn’t exactly jump onto the ‘Return my CPF’ bandwagon, he used the statistics of our income inequality, government spending, and measurements of happiness. I do wish he actually went to the agencies that churned out these reports. Because taking them from a blog that has a deeply seated bias against the government tends to screw with your results quite a fair bit.

Now if quoting the statistics is already wrong, what else can he get wrong? It turns out, one major flaw in his argument is his actual definition of a great political leader. Because the problem he has is not actually with the government; it is with the system of meritocracy.

Meritocracy is his enemy

Meritocracy presents itself in a myriad of ways. In Singapore, as a result of post-war industrialisation and the productivity push to get our act together in the early years, meritocracy has rewarded those who are good at math and science, show results, and bring an increase in GDP. And because we don’t fix what isn’t broken, the system remains up until today. We’ve always rewarded those who are proficient at the subjects which will lead to a productive and beneficial future. Is this the right thing to do? Take it from someone who isn’t that good at the sciences: It was, but no longer.

It worked for us in the early years as we were in need of tangible results. The financial industries benefited from our mathematical prowess (leading to accountants and analysts being trained). Science and manufacturing industries benefited from our scientific prowess (leading to researchers and engineers being trained). Excelling in those areas allowed us to position ourselves as a business powerhouse. Today, the landscape is very different.

If Amos’ point is that LKY did not build a country that is friendly to unorthodox or alternative achievers, he is not wrong. Mr. Lee did not. But it was a conscious and deliberate decision, made in a time where focusing on an area like the arts would not bring us to where we are today. So is the decision all that bad? As I mentioned, I think today the landscape has changed. We need to focus on the arts just as much, because there is a tangible and foreseeable benefit to applying arts’ concepts into areas like business and R&D. So is the current government under PM Lee Hsien Loong doing that? You’d be hard pressed to say no.

The Religion Card

Just one last parting point about his comments on Jesus Christ and Christians — Some of you say that even the Christians aren’t offended, so why must Amos be charged? It’s the same as saying a victim was not killed, so why charge the one who planned the murder? The crime is not in the result; it is in the intention. While there is an array of ugly leaders he could’ve chosen to arrive at his point, he chose to play a card that he knew full well was sensitive and extremely taboo in multi-religious Singapore. All it takes is one extremist taking offence to the video, and going on a killing spree with that as a motivation. We all know how crazy the world can get, and religious interpretations and motives just make it crazier. Watch an ISIS coverage on the news if you disagree.

Is Amos Yee Really That Brilliant?

So all I’ve heard for a long time, and even until now, is that Amos Yee is a very intelligent boy. While I am not one to disagree flatly, I have to challenge that notion.

His Accent and Command of English

Let me start by first of all saying that intelligence is not defined by a fake accent and a huge vocabulary library. Yes, he speaks well (fake accent aside). Yes, he uses bombastic words. Yes, he writes well. But honestly, anyone with an A1 in English and attends supplementary classes in speech and writing can do all that.

Brilliance is not simply speaking like an American or having a big word bank.

Challenging the Bail

He famously flouted bail conditions by going online and posting content. This is where things get tricky. Many say that if he hasn’t been charged and found guilty of posting offensive content, why should he be restricted to post more content? Are we prematurely punishing him for something he hasn’t been found guilty of in a court of law? Let’s look at it in another way. A childcare worker is accused of child molest. In the due course of the law, he hasn’t been charged. Are we going to let him continue working at the childcare? If your answer is no, then are we prematurely punishing him for something he hasn’t been found guilty of in a court of law?

Instead of understanding that these conditions were more preventive than punishing, Amos chose to flout those conditions in a bid to outrightly challenge the system.

Brilliance is not doing something only you think is right.

‘Trolling’ the Media

Was he really? I mean, he did state where he was supposedly going, how he would supposedly spend the day, and offer a full on interview specially for the journalists. But really, who bought it?

I don’t know about you, but the whole post just reeked of fake bait. I mean, look at how detailed he was! Something I learned from something I read a long way back: If you want to cook up a story, leave out the details. Excessive details add suspicion.

And what about that molest accusation? My goodness, the man put himself out there, bailed the boy out, invited him to his house where his wife served refreshments, only to find that not only was bail flouted, he was branded a paedophile! I can only imagine what this boy’s thought process is.

Brilliance is not charging forth with no consideration for who you harm along the way, regardless of the situation in life.

What is Brilliance?

It is actually something Amos Yee can be, but as of now is not. He has the potential, of course. And I think everyone can see that. The problem is that he, in all his current capability, has been

  • Coddled by a mother, yet seeing himself as smarter than his father
  • Supported by similar anti-government characters bolstering his already swollen ego
  • Convinced that he did not belong where the common folk, who are less intelligent that he is, were educated.
  • Encouraged by everyone, literally everyone, saying he is brilliant

Take all that, combine it with a rashness of teenage compulsion, and you get a recipe for disaster. So what is brilliance?

Being Different

In closing my long post, I’d like to bring up a couple of quotes from Lim Siong Guan.

To be different is not the same as being contrarian: It is knowing why you believe what you believe, and why you are doing what you are doing.

Here’s the thing: I think many, many people today, are simply being contrarian for the sake of being different. Look at Amos. He recognises he is different, yet does not distinguish between being different and being contrarian. Boom, hot soup. Look at the whole Amos Yee case and the general public’s reaction on social media. I can’t tell you how often this happens on Facebook:

  • Amos’ video goes up. People curse and swear and wish his death, then some others rise up to say we should pity him, he may have a disorder, etc.
  • Amos flouts bail. People say he’s ungrateful and foolish, then some others rise up to say hey his bail conditions are actually quite ridiculous and he makes sense.
  • Amos gets slapped. People first say they wish his death, then when someone slaps him the whole nation is suddenly on Amos’ side. (I’m saying this targeting human reaction, not the ‘due course of the law’ stuff, so save your comments on that.)

If we look at a ton of other current affairs, you’d also see this contrarian attitude that is so prevalent among people today. Personally I think the biggest sign of this are young people who have never experienced political unrest or economic instability choosing to vote the opposition parties “just because”, with no understanding of the party manifests or candidate ability whatsoever. But that’s another debate for another time.

Amos Yee is a byproduct of what our society, and what our youth, are like today. They are contrarian without the thought process of what breeds a different opinion. They sometimes lack the moral courage to do what is right, either simply because they would not get caught or that being wrong somehow carries a greater incentive, social-wise and/or material-wise. Therefore being contrarian may not be a problem of Amos’ alone. It may stand that the values he has are represented along a grander scheme, one that has not yet manifested in the youth today but has been shown on the public stage through Amos. One that may serve as our downfall if we don’t learn to appreciate how we’ve gotten here, adapt to where we are now, and ascend to the greater heights of where we are going.

Brilliance is critically looking at every situation, every problem, every opinion and every idea, and asking with inquisitively: “What can I learn from this that will give me a better understanding, and a better positioning?” Brilliance is knowing that the more you know, the less you know. Brilliance is having the faith that some people out there are smarter, brighter, stronger and more hardworking than you are, and they are serving a cause that will benefit the nation, in turn benefiting you. Brilliance is having the right thought process to add value to the lives of the people around you. Brilliance is living a life to leave a legacy that people can be proud of.

If we become a society where what is legal is right and what is illegal is wrong, then we would have reduced morality to the law, and thereby the whole moral fibre of society would be damaged.