Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dear MM (Part 2) Another rejected letter

For some reason I didn't have time to read the MM's message on (not) retiring till late last week. I drafted a response to his comments and sent it off to The Straits Times on Sunday. Today I received their unusually prompt reply that they are not running it.

So this is it: a view from the social anthropologist who researched ageing for her PhD thesis. I also made reference to my stint as a factory worker when I was working on my Master's degree. Us social anthroplogists do a lot of 'participant observation'.

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If we push the argument that ‘retirement means death, don’t stop working’ to the limit, a possible result would be people won’t start working in the first place.

In my research I found that the happiest old people are those who are able to ‘age gracefully’. They accept that their bodies age, their eyes grow dim, their hearing deteriorates, and strength seeps away, little by little.

They are always finding a new ‘equilibrium’ as they go through these last stages of life. If I were T/Daoist, I would call this ‘the Tao of ageing’. As I’m not, I call it my ‘equilibrium theory’.

Unlike the MM, many people work for years in jobs requiring physical labour and/or mindless tedium. For these, it is the goal of retiring with a little nest egg, when children are grown, educated and married, when grandchildren are forthcoming, that life and work remain meaningful.

How can the labourer who has to lift heavy loads, say, at age 23 be expected to do so till age 85? What about the bus, lorry, taxi or crane driver whose reflexes slow as age advances? Do I want an 85-year-old driving a public bus?

Do readers here know what it feels like after 8, 10, 12 hours of mindless work on one’s feet in a factory? I do. It feels exactly like excruciating pain shooting through your feet, upwards to your knees. Your mind feels it’s been detached from your body. You’re too tired to even comprehend whatever is being said on TV.

People in ‘intellectual’ jobs can unwind with a game of squash, perhaps even attend a SSO concert, doing something ‘opposite’ to their sedentary work routine.

People who labour are too tired physically and mentally just to be, full stop.

One of my thesis supervisors worked till she dropped, literally. In the same department another retired professor is still teaching, and is probably only paid pocket money to do so.

One did not have any retirement. The other is blocking the career progression of young PhDs.

The issue of late/early/healthy/purposeful/affordable retirement cannot be divorced from the need to ensure that young people are also given their chances. Somehow, we must find that healthy balance.

In some cultures older people can look forward to retire to a time of quiet reflection, and where they might have caused wrong, seek to right those wrongs while they still have a chance to do so. That way they can leave this world with a happy and rested soul. I look forward to that.

And at what age do we retire our SIA air stewardesses now?

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I believe SIA air stewardesses are retired at 35 or 40 at the latest, but don't quote me.

This is a response to the following report in The Straits Times:

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Jan 11, 2008

Retirement means death, don't stop working: MM Lee

By Clarissa Oon

A SEDENTARY retirement will sound the death knell for anyone, said Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who is determined to keep active for as long as he can.

'With nothing to do, no purpose in life, you'll just degrade, go to seed,' he said on Friday at a dialogue session at which he shared his experiences of active ageing with participants at the Silver Industry Conference and Exhibition (Sicex), held at Suntec Convention Centre.

The four-day conference, which ends on Sundaym explores ways to grow the seniors' market in Singapore and the region.

Mr Lee said that an active life, regular exercise and frequent travel were his secrets to ageing gracefully.

'I would not be able to speak to you in this way if I had not led a very active life, connected with many people throughout the world and tried to interpret it to make sense for Singapore,' said the elder statesman, who turns 85 this year.

'I'm determined that I will not, as long as I can, have my horizons slowed on me.'

He added: 'We got to educate those about to retire: Don't retire, work. Retirement means death.'
And he meant every word of it.

He said those who believed they could stop work at 55 to drink wine and play golf were 'done in'.
'Research has shown that those who lead a sedentary life tend to die quickly,' said MM Lee, who started jogging regularly in his 50s and now also keeps fit by swimming and cycling.

He maintains a packed schedule of international travel, including at least one official trip a year to regional powerhouses China and India.

The biggest punishment a man can receive, he said, is 'total isolation', which he defined as 'if you're not interested in the world and if the world is not interested in you'.

'If the mindset is that I'll reach retirement at age 62, I'm old, I can't work anymore, I don't have to work, I just sit back, now is the time I enjoy life, I think you're making the biggest mistake of your life,' he said.

'After one month...two months, even if you go travelling with nothing to do, with no purpose in life, you would get degraded, you go to seed. The human being needs a challenge.'

MM Lee also defended the Central Provident Fund scheme and argued against pensions for the elderly, which have to be supported by tax revenues.

The CPF scheme, he said, helps Singapore to remain competitive, as it aims for 'minimum tax rates and maximum self-sufficiency'.

'This way you are not passing the burden (of caring for the elderly) to the next generation,' he added.

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Back to Organic-Ally.

1 comment:

George said...

It's easy and quite irresponsible for MM Lee to shoot off his mouth like that. His extended family is probably sitting on a gold mine with extra privileges thrown -do you recall the Jade something condo deal some years back? If not for the embarrassing revelation, not one ordinary Singapore citizen would know about the hefty discounts given by the developer, Ong Beng Seng to memebers of the Lee clan.

With due respect, would MM Lee care to divulge his daily work routine is like for the past 10 years right up to the present?

It is easy to tell others to work beyond their normal retirement age from the comforts of one's fully airconditioned office where the greatest physical effort at work is confined to little more than typing on the PC or clicking on the mouse.

This is not said out of envy, but frustration that a political leader can reach such a stage as to be so far removed from the physical and envoronmental realities of the people as to pass such self-centred and uncaring remarks.