The Significance of the Term “Pioneers of the Next Generation”


The Committee on the Future Economy recently released their report entitled: “REPORT OF THE  COMMITTEE ON THE FUTURE ECONOMY: The Pioneers of the Next Generation”. The term “Pioneers of the Next Generation” has a very special significance which most Singaporeans would probably miss. Why is this so?

In an Straits Times Op-Ed article that was published on 2 June 2016, “Getting to the Future with Honour”, which I had co-authored, reference was made to a study by Sir John Bagot Glubb called “The Fate Of Empires And Search For Survival” (William Blackwood and Sons, 1978) that was cited in “Winning with Honour” by Siong Guan Lim and Joanne H Lim (Imperial College Press, 2016) in consideration of the  question: Would Singapore Fall?”“

In his study, Glubb studied 11 empires over 3,000 years and found that every empire lasted only about 200 – 250 years. This is mystifying because one could have thought that technology would have allowed the later empires to last longer.

Glubb uncovered the mystery by finding that all the empires went through six stages – the Ages of Pioneers, Conquests, Commerce, Affluence, Intellect, and Decadence – before its eventual decline.

Winning with Honour l  Page 361.png

Each stage has its own characteristics:

  • Age of Pioneers, a period of amazing initiative, enterprise, courage and hardihood.
  • Age of Conquests, where the principal objects are glory and honour for the nation.
  • Age of Commerce, when values start shifting from the self-sacrifice of the initial pioneers to self-interest, and the acquisition of wealth starts taking precedence over everything else.
  • Age of Affluence, where money replaces honour and adventure as the objective of the best young men.
  • Age of Intellect, when business people who had made their wealth seek the praise of others by supporting art, music and literature, and institutions of higher education.
  • Age of Decadence, which comes about due to an extended period of wealth and power, selfishness, love of money, and loss of a sense of duty.

Glubb found that nations decline not because their people do not have a conscience, but because of a weakening sense of duty accompanied by an increase in selfishness and the desire for wealth and ease.

In his study, Glubb stated that the Age of Decadence, the last age before the decline of the nation, is marked by defensiveness, pessimism, materialism, frivolity, an influx of foreigners, the welfare state and weakening of religion.

Glubb affirmed that his analysis of the rise and fall of empires also applied to small states if the small state had also tasted power and affluence.

Many thoughtful people see signs in Singapore of five of the characteristics of the Age of Decadence – namely, defensiveness, pessimism, materialism, frivolity and influx of foreigners, as well as incipient signs of the last two characteristics – namely, the welfare state and the weakening of religion.

Glubb’s basic finding is that nations rise with the energy, determination, and hard work of their people as they seek a better life through affluence; and nations ironically fall after they achieve affluence as they weaken in their imagination and drive for new success.  

The interesting question is whether Singapore can avoid a natural fall after the Age of Affluence by starting a new growth curve with an Age of New Pioneers seeking a new way of success and affluence. This is where the proposed return to the “Age of Pioneers” by the Committee of the Future Economy is of paramount significance and importance for the future of Singapore.

As mentioned on page 363 of “Winning with Honour”, the Age of Pioneers is a period of amazing initiative, enterprise, courage, and hardihood, characterised by an extraordinary display of energy and courage. Pioneers are always ready to improvise, experiment, and innovate as opined by Glubb: “Untrammelled by traditions, they will turn anything available to their purpose. If one method fails, they try something else. Uninhibited by textbooks or book learning, action is their solution to every problem.”

Glubb sagely noted: “ ‘The only thing we learn from  history,’  it has been said, ‘is that men never learn from history’, a sweeping generalisation perhaps, but one which the chaos in the world today goes far to confirm. What then can be the reason why, in a society which claims to probe every problem, the bases of history are still so completely unknown?”

Should Singapore be able to learn the lessons from the history of the human race and successfully break the same patterns constantly repeated over 4,000 years under widely differing conditions of climate, culture, and religion, Singapore would prove itself to be exceptional and unique once again.

Can Singapore break the pattern of decline that has plagued nations over the course of human history?

The answer lies in all of us committing to espouse the ancient virtues of courage, patriotism, and devotion to duty, and ensuring the objects of ambition are glory and honour for the nation and collective whole, and not for self-interest.

Should Singaporeans be willing to learn from history and commit to building a culture of continual innovation and excellence that fills the minds and drives the lives of Singaporeans of every age, Singapore has a chance of creating history by not only defying the odds of developmental history that spells a certain social, economic and spiritual doom, but also defining what it means to be a First World Society where individuals look out for the well-being of each other.

Dare we choose courage over comfort and certainty for the continued success and survival of our nation? This is a question for every Singaporean to answer.

By Joanne H Lim

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