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Excerpts from the interview

ON NATIONAL SERVICE

I think it has become second nature. Everybody accepts it. Nobody tries to wriggle out of it. And many parents take pride in the fact that one of their children has become an officer. If their son doesn't get into the Officer Cadet School, they feel disappointed.

ON SOCIAL MEDIA

I'm not criticising everyone who writes on social media - some of them are responsible and genuinely believe what they are saying is for the good.

But for some, it's a kind of sport. "He's walloping so-and-so, I'm very happy, I'll join in." This is a new phenomenon and the technology is changing so fast you can't keep pace with it.

ON SALE OF CHEWING GUM BAN

This is just one of the many measures that foreigners laugh at, just as they laugh at our campaigns. But these people come from settled, mature societies.

We were a new society, with no tradition of social discipline. The campaigns were just the beginning of a process of education. Gradually, cleanliness and social order become a habit.

ON NEWSPAPER READERSHIP AND THE YOUNG

I don't know if they see any merit in being branded an informed person. During our time, we wanted people to say of us, "He's informed, his opinion is good, it's worth talking to him."

For them, no. For them, the culture is different, more about entertainment, lifestyles, glorifying themselves.

ON TODAY'S POLITICAL CHALLENGE

It's not easy to draw the line when it comes to political debate. The slightest things can stir up acrimony, but silence can be equally damaging.

Many of us speak in English, but there are large numbers of people who don't speak English or rarely tune in to English-language television. It's easy for the arguments to get lost in translation.

ON SINGAPORE'S FUTURE

With so many voices wanted to be heard, so many voices demanding that the helmsman steers in their direction, Singapore is going to become increasingly difficult to govern.

With no natural resources to back us up, our future is full of risks. Can the ship keep afloat and remain on the right course? I am confident it can. But all sides have to understand that bitter contention and divisiveness will lead us to irreversible decline.

S R Nathan In Conversation costs $39.90 (including GST) and is available at all major bookstores.