Kishore Mahbubani: How do you define modernity?
Kishore Mahbubani was appointed Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy on 16 August 2004 after having served 33 years in the Singapore Foreign Service (with postings in Cambodia, Malaysia, Washington DC and twice as Ambassador to the UN, during which he also served as President of the Security Council). He was the Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Ministry from 1993-1998.
He is the author of Can Asians Think? published in Singapore, Canada, US, Mexico, India and People’s Republic of China and of Beyond The Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust between America and the World. His new book entitled The New Asian Hemisphere: the Irresistible Shift of Gobal Power to the East was published in New York in February 2008. He was also listed as one of the top 100 public intellectuals in the world by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines in September 2005.
Kishore Mahbubani: Well, in the West, the term modernity is associated with kind of far out things like Andy Warhol and very unique cultural aspects, but with modernity in Asia is associated purely with the achieving the basic material necessities of life. I tell the story of how I felt in my personal case, I entered modernity when they finally installed a flush toilet in my house when I was 10 years old, and believe me it is a huge difference in your life, when you from having a metal bin, that is removed every 24 hours to having a flush toilet. It changes your life dramatically and as things like flush toilets clean water, electricity, a roof over your head, all these things that the West takes for granted Asians haven’t had for a long time and now you see this explosion, but I emphasize that this explosion in material well-being is both ethically good in terms of improving their lifestyle and living standards of hundreds and millions of people, and at the same time produces peace and stability too, because people who have these things no longer…now have a vested interest in preserving the order.
Recorded on: 2/28/08
In the West, it has a cultural connotation, but in the East, Mahbubani says, it only means achieving material success.
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