Friday, September 14, 2012

The Con In Conversation

Herbert Paul Grice (1913 - 1988) is best known for his work in the philosophy of language, in particular, his analysis of speaker's meaning, his conception of conversational implicature, and his project of intention-based semantics. In "Logic and Conversation" (1975) Grice offered a theory about what a person's words literally mean and what a person means by his or her words over and above what his or her words literally mean.

Paul Grice proposed the following conversational maxims in "Logic and Conversation":

The maxim of quality, where one tries to be truthful, and does not give information that is false or that is not supported by evidence. According to the first rule – people are expected to say what they know to be true. When talking with each other – we expect people to tell us the truth. Lui Tuck Yew telling us that public transportation is subsidised is stretching it a bit. How can SMRT be subsidised when the CEO is paid more than Barack Obama, the U.S. President who can rightfully boast: Osama is dead, GM is alive?

The maxim of quantity, where one tries to be as informative as one possibly can, and gives as much information as is needed, and no more. According to this rule – when talking, people are expected to provide just enough information to get their point across. It is fruitless to quote 35,000 private homes are still under construction, 45,000 units are in the pipeline, plus 17 private residential plots which developers can build 8,100 units, when it is still a myth $100,000 flats are affordable for individuals earning $1,000 a month.

The maxim of relation, where one tries to be relevant, and says things that are pertinent to the discussion. According to this rule – you are expected to stay on the topic. In other words, make sure that your comments fit with what is being talked about - make sure your comments are relevant. Sure, the guy can quote lots of people who got caught for speeding and are not sent to jail, but how many colluded with their staff to deceive the authorities?

The maxim of manner, when one tries to be as clear, as brief, and as orderly as one can in what one says, and where one avoids obscurity and ambiguity. This last rule states that your comments should be direct, clear, and to the point. You should avoid using vague or ambiguous language when speaking. Promises of hope, home and heart are too nebulous when COE breaches $100,000 (no hope), HDB flats go for a million (no home), Medisave minimum sum raised to $38,500 (no heart).

Still interested in talking? Go for your life.

[Historical aside: Differing views and solutions to national policy were encouraged during Mao Zedong's Hundred Flowers Movement (Chinese: 百花运动 ) of 1956. Soon after, he abruptly changed course and acted against those who were critical of the regime and its ideology. Mao remarked at the time that he had "enticed the snakes out of their caves."]


  1. Saw the Transport Minister spoke to the Media on CNA News and he was as good as Zorro Lim in his body language. Even the artistes in Mediacorp are no match for the MIWs nowadays.
    Why are they so expressive?

  2. Love this piece of writing. Intellectually stimulating, highly amusing and, best of all, absolutely truthful.

  3. Written in the best tradition of conversational maxims.

  4. Why end with the quote from Mao? Was not what Tang Liang Hong said at a feedback session, understood to be "without prejudice", used against him?

  5. /// when it is still a myth $100,000 flats are affordable for individuals earning $1,000 a month. ///

    I think $100,000 flats are affordable.
    You mean $1,000,000 flats?

    1. Not so, if ur monthly salary is just $1000.

    2. Sigh, let's go thru this one more time:
      Salary = $1,000/month
      Deduct CPF
      Deduct Medishield
      Pay PUB bills
      Pay Town Council charges
      Pay SMRT (to go to work)
      Pay NTUC (groceries)
      Pay Singtel (phone bill)
      Pay DBS (bank interest)

      As Clinton says, do the math!

  6. Legally speaking, you are not paying $1 million dollars for your HDB flat.
    You are paying $1 million dollars for a lease that gives you the right to stay in that HDB flat for 99 years (or less if it's a resale).

    HDB flat belongs to HDB.

    So cost of building an HDB flat = construction cost only.

    Also ask, if HDB flat does not belong to me, why am I subsidizing HDB for lift upgrading?

    1. I predicted HDB will hit $1m some months back, and it has come true.
      I now predict if HDB will rise to $1.5m, people will be on the streets.
      There are seething anger about this uncontrolled escalation.
      And there are even more seething anger among Singles who are watching their coupled friends, PRs and New Citizens enjoying first mover, 2nd mover and 3rd mover advantages that kept leaving them behind like a 4 grade singaporeans. Words of assurances can only go that far.

    2. Indranee: What the government does is not intended to penalise those who are not married but to actually help those who are married and looking at additional expenses"

      Yes, while yr intention is to help the married group, over time, the policy has an equally discriminating effect on Singles (with widespread perception from couples who now see the Singles have less/no merit to have a home of their own) and the policy outcome has negated towards them in an unfair way over the last 2 decades.

      I would urge MND to reveal and share more data on the Singles/Married composites in SG and let the facts/realities speak for itself. 46% of the audience polled they feel Singles should be allowed to have children is not an insignificant trends by today's standard. For PM to insist that a "normal family unit" should be maintained is for him/govt to bury their heads in the sands, ignoring the demographic changes in the grounds.

  7. Actually the construction cost of a typical HDB BTO flat cost around $150,000. This is the amount that HDB paid to the contractor which can be easily calculated by dividing the contract sum over the total number of units built. These data can be found on Wikipedia under "built to order" second last revision. The government is actually making a huge profit by pricing the flats two to three times above what it cost them. Previously, flats were designed and built by HDB themselves. These are even cheaper as they are standard flats built under economies of scale.

  8. That is why bloggers like you are so important to us. It is prudent not to grant interviews to anyone especially journalists from SPH who are all too eager to ensnare you.

  9. Agreed with Nick Lim, my thoughts too.

    Thank you, Tattler, for such a piece of well-written article.

  10. Excellent piece! Made my day, as usual.

    Mr Tan Chuan Jin of MOM has failed on all 4 counts of the maxims given how he deliberately gave approval % but no base numbers on Permits. If PAP keeps fudging, no point in engaging the CON with this govt. When you're unwilling and unable to provide data, don't ask citizens to come with rational dialogue, constructive facts and solutions.

  11. This is marvellous. They don't want to be truthful and informative. Neither do they want to be relevant and clear. All these mean, they are not interested in a conversation. So NatCON is indeed a con.

  12. They have already flouted these 4 Maxims, because they do not mean what they say, and they do not say what they mean.

    What is the objective, the mission, the goal of this national conversation - has anyone defined this? Some say the goal is to improve certain issues, to create an inclusive society, etc..., which all sound so nebulous. To turn stones, to listen, discuss, engage, consult - these are not goals, but are just part of the process.

    Everyone knows the problems, the issues, you don't need to have a national conversation to find out - but how do you solve them? Do you have the political will, the leadership, the moral courage to implement the solutions? Otherwise this national conversation is just an exercise in futility, an exercise to placate the public. In short, a CON! Action speak louder than words!

    1. The emphasis from day one is on the process itself, the talking part - turning of stones, managing expectations, listening etc. So they have a goal in stretching the process, which of course they dare not articulate. The goal is to Distract, for as long as possible. Is it a wonder that they do not have a mission statement on this NatCON - but they can't because ultimately it is a CON job. A project needs a goal or goals, without which it is like ducks being led by headless chickens. A Distraction! What a waste of resources.

  13. National CON-versation...nuff said..


    Looks like even the Foreign Affairs Minister need a reminder of the maxims to keep his insults on

  15. In a proper functioning, multi-party parliamentary democracy;
    The national conversation takes place regularly in the parliament.
    Every time the parliament is convened.

    No need for a National Conversation once every 10 years.
    Bloody inefficient use of everybody's time & money.

  16. Actually during a speech in 1958, Mao said he had far outdone Qin Shi Huang in his policy against intellectuals: "He buried 460 scholars alive; we have buried 46,000 scholars alive... You [intellectuals] revile us for being Qin Shi Huangs. You are wrong. We have surpassed Qin Shi Huang a hundredfold."

    One ought to remember, when one doesn't have human rights to assemble here, no-one (not even one!) will come to your protest rescue as long as the suppression laws see that as illegal.

    1. In Sin City, the intellectuals are not buried alive, thank God. They were sued, bankrupted, ISAed, hounded to death or into exile. Maybe now, they will talk them to death. We are getting more civilised, LOL.

    2. We are even better than any evil dictators in history. We silent these scholars until there is no dignity and respect for them. Do you think anyone give a respect to any PAP scholars ? What can be worst than death ?

  17. This National CONversation.

    Who pays?
    PAP or Singapore taxpayers?
    Where is the money going to come from?
    How much will it cost?

  18. Just imagine how can the CON works if the people are divided in opinions & expectations.

    Let say some say it's time we change our obselete laws like possessing sexual & pornographic materials should not be a crime anymore since almost everyone can assess them through the net so easily and any banning/censorship serves no real purpose, furthermore as the net can turn everyone into sex maniacs if they access such materials as argued.

    Then those fake conservative & religious ones continue scream 'cow peh cow bu' saying that will be the end of morality in Singapore.

    So how we expect our PM to act sincerely to say we need to change with the times or still pretend again that ours is still a conservative society ?

    So what purpose will the CON serve if they themselves can't be true to themselves ... in so many things like cheating through GRC, gerrymandering, election Ang Pows, etc.

    1. The Truth Sets You Free9/14/2012 7:50 PM

      Recall when PM said on live TV "Question Time With the PM" during GE2011 "PAP is not seeking to represent all sectors of society" -- he claimed that that is what the NCMPs are in Parliament for.

      Don't you think that was such an underwhelming answer for a leader whose justification for total parliamentary dominance by his party is the premise that this party alone could more than adequately "do a good job for everyone?".

      I am convinced by now, there are competing interests such as those you mentioned, that a single PAP party days are over. We need to seek out and cultivate Parties who represent progressive values that will be a more permanent representation (not NCMP) for us in the PArliament. Otherwise, the divides and discontent will only grow. Until people wake up and realize this, they will continue to be disappointed over and over again, by the promise or futile hope that PAP will Change. It just doesn't work that way.

    2. A vote for the Pro Alien party is good for Singapore.

      This is one sacred cow we can all silently kill in our hearts and minds.
      No need to wait for a National CONversation.

  19. as usual another Interesting article...............why is the pap so afraid of a two party system........i am 47 years old.........i grew up in thing that JB said has always stuck in my mind ie it is very dangerous to have one party holding majority in parliament our constitution and our lives are at stake and in their mercy...........this is something I have shared with my children and friends ..........

  20. Saw the segment from last night. Where PM said to a young guy if his parents were able to raise him and put him through school etc, with high pay now he should be able to do wash, rinse and repeat what his parents' method ie. start a family without problem. Thought that was rather preposterous.

    The cost of living index varied greatly now, and society and employers demands are greater. There is simply no comparison here. One might as well say his father was able to be the Minister on much lesser pay, so if LKY could do it, he/his generation of Ministers must be able to do too. Ridiculous much?!

  21. I juz want to know how many PAP trolls are supplanted in the Con audience?

  22. Conversation and no conversation.

    What's the diff ?

  23. the national con is just that a NATIONAL CON