I am particularly saddened by Alvin Pang’s riposte to Calvin Cheng’s article. I did not read his post but read from the ST that Alvin says compulsory is a trade-off. I suppose compulsory education too then? Or is it a case that for NS, the service is to the state while education is service to oneself?

Why the difference? Both are not so far apart in their age, both attended British universities, one a distinguished one and the other, a fine one. So? I think, firstly, the degree. One did Politics, Philosophy and Economics, and the other English Lit. Thus, one is exposed to 3 very important aspects of life, both practical and abstract, and more holistically, while the other, abstract. One understands the interaction between politics and economics and uses the rigorous logic provided by philosophy to pursue his argument. The other, more a ‘transcendental’ approach.

But I think the main difference is their occupations. One runs an organization which is based regionally while the other basically sits at his desk. One has the responsibility to shareholders, employers, employees, tax department, customers, suppliers, banks and a host of other stakeholders in the various countries in which it operates while obeying the laws. The other has basically himself (and maybe, a family) and sometimes, the law, to answer for. When you have people whose livelihood depends on you, you become more responsible and circumspect about your decisions. You are dealing with the real world with competitors both fair and foul, where timing is all important and execution, critical. You understand the difficulties of setting an objective and driving and if necessary, pushing, people to that objective so that the organization can prosper and the stakeholders rewarded. On the other hand, the latter tries to describe a chair in the minimal number of words, congratulates himself on his cleverness and thinks he has made a contribution to society. He has no dateline (well, maybe, if he has a publisher breathing down his neck) and no people to push. The first is successful and pay taxes so that the second can continue to have his dream life.

A country is not a company writ large, given its complexities. But the former has a far superior understanding of how the world works and the steps and the trade-offs to make it thrive. So he is in a much better position to answer the refrain of the latter: why we must do NS? Why aren’t we allowed to say this and that?

I am glad that at a certain point in my life I chose to be a boring accountant rather than a life in the arts. I might become selfish, self-indulgent and self-centered.