Getting into this box is what's best for both of us. During your time in the box, you will learn so much, and yet experience so little. It's a wild ride, my friend, one well worth the time spent...and let's face it, you don't have much to do these days anyway.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The state as substitute for society.

Last post, I posted a couple more examples of the Singaporean government's staple of social engineering: the social campaign poster. Now don't get me wrong - the reason why these posters are so ubiquitous is that they work. I've pointed out examples before on how successful this has been on influencing the older generation, and it's quite an interesting phenomenon as in the whys and hows of its startling efficiacy.

Recently, I came across a comment on an Androsphere Youtube video regarding power and authority:
"In an environment with vastly fewer police and way less government, other systems tend to step in to enforce the social contract. IMO that player would understand that if he sleeps with the virgin & leaves, he might get a very painful visit from some of her family & friends. Local businesses would be less likely to hire him and he'd become a social pariah. Those systems are absent in a huge government police state though so it might seem that without big govt he'd go nuts. He wouldn't for long."

"You just nailed why the Omega is a modern phenomenon."
Omega, in the replyer's terminology, doesn't mean the cheetos-eating basement-dweller, but the pump-and-dump PUA. I'm sure you can guess at who this is through his choice of definitions.

This comment, though, got me thinking in a local context, and why the constant need for all these social campaigns for the tiniest things possible. You westerners - you prefer to legislate things like banning sodas within New York City limits, and in your context it makes sense. Things are a little shakier over there; you folks have a longer history of anti-authoritarianism than we folk in the east do; so more overt measures like legislation are needed.

Our government here, though, feels far more secure than yours does, and hence prefers to use the velvet glove approach - hence, social campaigns. Oh, don't get me wrong - they're more than willing to use the iron fist - that's what the Internal Security Act is for. Even if they don't go to that extreme, last month there were some PRC bus drivers who got all uppity and decided that they didn't want to negotiate with the government-linked transport company that runs the public buses, and went on strike. Oh, that's illegal in Singapore. Unsurprisingly, the government decided to make an example of them, jailing some, caning others, and deporting the lot (or at least, those who weren't jailed).

It's a funny world, isn't it?

What's even funnier, though, is how the Singaporean government needs to tell us every needling little thing. Day in, day out, on posters, on billboards, in trains and buses, on the raio, on the TeeVee:

Wake up. Be productive.
Eat healthy. Consume at least two portions of fruits and vegetables a day.
Exercise with hard breathing for at least thirty minutes five times a week.
Be kind. Be courteous.
Be fair and inclusive in your workplace.
Give up your seat to others who need it more.
Marry and reproduce. Your country needs more workers.
Study and work hard, and our meritocratic society will reward you. Up to a point.
Don't spit. Don't sneeze. Practice basic hygiene. Don't squat on the toilet bowls.
Be accepting of foreign talent. Bend over backwards for them regardless of how they conduct themselves.
Don't sleep or talk loudly in libraries. Return your books on time.
Dengue fever is a danger. Don't let mosquitoes breed in your home.
Speak good English and Mandarin. Foreigners need to understand you.
Be clean and green. Don't waste water. Don't litter.
Workplace safety is important. Don't leave loose wires lying around or block doorways.

 Can't find a spouse? The government will be your matchmaker.

So on and so forth. There seems to be nothing so minute that the Singaporean government couldn't conceivably start meddling in it, and that says something about the Singaporean government. What is more interesting, though, is that the government is arguably justified in some of these messages; I've seen a lot of bad behaviour on the parts of Singaporeans in my time.

Now, as the commenter pointed out, in the past, there would have been social strictures in place to curb such behaviour - as I've mentioned before, one small oddity that's stuck out to me from my grandmother's reminisces of the past is the fact she had to starch my grandfather's pants until they could stand up on their own, otherwise he wouldn't be seen as being properly dressed. A rather extreme case, but it suits to illustrate what I'm getting at.

One consequence, intended or not, of the way public housing was built and allocated from the 70's onwards was the fragmentation of the extended family network that was present throughout much of the local Chinese and Malay communities. The stacks and stacks of flats that were built then and which now result in much of Singapore's population being stacked upon one another like lego bricks were originally rather small and not exactly conducive to the family life that had existed prior to public housing. Malays lived in longhouses (which still exist in a number of Malaysian and Indonesian tribes today) or stilted homes large enough to accommodate a whole extended family, and the Chinese would often congregate in compounds that housed a number of extended families, and would share facilities (for example, a number of families might gather around a single black-and-white television, and the women might share a communal kitchen). I haven't read into the history of the ethnic Indians here to comment on their lifestyle, but my money is on them having a better social network than what we have today.

Of course, there were other contributing factors, but the end result is the same: the shattering of the extended family. I've already gone into detail in my previous posts on how the nuclear family was broken up via the cult of education and the worker drone merit badge programme, so I won't explain it again. But what we have is the end result: the average Singaporean is far, far more atomised than many other people around the world. People don't talk to one another on the bus and toy with iPhones; heck, as I've mentioned during my intial confidence-building exercises, most Singaporeans won't even meet the eyes of a passer-by on the street.

And unsurprisingly, atomised people tend to be miserable. According to Gallup, Singaporeans are the least emotional and unhappiest people in the world, or at least the "least positive", beating even Iraq and Afghanistan. For all our technology, for all our wealth, for all our supposed freedom and wonderfulness...Singaporeans are the most miserable people on earth. If you think about it a little, it's not surprising to understand why - as once again evidenced by the recent population white paper, all of Singapore's ruling elite - both incumbents and opposition - are more than willing to devour social capital in order to achieve economic growth.

Miserable people aren't content. Miserable people will slog out long hours, buy useless shiny, noisy tech crap, pay for stupid trips, gorge themselves on food for that dopamine rush, are easier to control via propoganda without as many other competing factors that might tell them otherwise. Miserable people don't live content, minimalistic lifestyles and find happiness through other people, which is on the surface good for the economy in the short run as they slowly become zombified and try to sate that hollow emptiness within them.

But miserable people are also a strain on the dwindling amount of social capital - which brings us back to the social campaign, a.k.a. why Singaporeans need constant reminding by their government for the need for basic courtesy. In the end, it's a shot of synthetic social capital, the equivalent of hormone replacement therapy in an attempt to prevent the lack of social capital having an effect on the glorious economic machine. The problem is that like synthetic hormones, not only do they result in a resistance to the fake stuff, but natural production shuts down.

And so Singaporeans develop bitch tits. Since protesting is outlawed (except in one very specific place, the Speaker's Corner), Singaporeans say nothing on the streets and bow their heads, all the while wondering just why they're so upset and coming to the whole bloody damn wrong conclusions, if the comments I'm seeing on the internet are any indicator of that.

They're becoming more miserable without having any idea why. Since they have all this crap in their lives without being happy and instead feel worn out from slogging to the fullest of their abilities, what's the only logical response? Why, since you worked so hard in a meritocratic society and still don't have that happiness you were promised, someone must have stolen it from you, and the biggest boogeyman is the government. The thought that they might have gone in the complete wrong direction never occurs to them, only that they haven't gotten far enough. They've become so zombified that there's no saving them now: if only they had more cars, more cash, more condos, more credit cards, more country clubs, more more more, and they're now starting to demand shit from the government, when it's both sides that are responsible for the mess we're in socially now.

"Want us to have more children?" they say. "Increase our handouts, everything is too expensive." Hence, the cart is placed neatly before the horse. They don't ask whether getting their 8-year old kid an iPhone is a smart thing to do, they just want someone else to give them the money to do it. The organic support networks that once existed have been broken apart and drained to fuel economic growth, and so they demand that the state create one for them. Thankfully, the Singaporean government has no intention of turning the country into a welfare state just yet.

Hey you, fellow Singaporeans. The "gahmen" didn't cheat you of your money, it didn't cheat you of your happiness. They led you to the water, but you were the ones who ultimately decided to take a drink. The great Singaporean economic machine could never have happened without you and your crazed pursuit of the 5 "C"s. You were the ones who threw your parents into nursing homes and your children into daycare centers while you stopped talking to your neighbours. You went along with the game and now that you realise real wages aren't going up and life is harder than before, especially when you have no one to count on, you complain.

Singaporeans are helpless. Shaming, stricture, and support are gone, and so the government must step in to provide some pale fascimile of those. Society is gone, and there is now just the state reminding you that it's only acceptable to smoke within the yellow box.

No comments:

Post a Comment