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 March 2013

The magic of Singaporean multiculturalism.

Recently, I was directed to a post on society and human biodiversity theory, and it mentions Singapore as an example. Naturally, I find it somewhat interesting how people from the outside view this wonderful little benevolent dictatorship, since it's hard to see the outside of a box when you're sitting in it, and devoured it quite well.

In the post, the author discusses the issue of Hierarchial Integration of different races, and the potential problems within. While he does get some of the facts wrong (from my on-the-ground perspective, anyways), I have to agree with him in general on most of the points that were raised about the problems with Hierarchial Integration, and why Singapore is an interesting case. After all, it's the few places in the world where you can have a church and a mosque lying peacefully a few streets away from each other and the residents don't have their heads explode from the sheer impossbility of it all.

There are a few things he does get wrong, though, and I'd like to expand on them:

The breaking of the old system.
"That sounded like an argument for separation, and the three nations of Singapore (Chinese, Malay and Indian) do tend to keep to themselves and generally live close-by to their own kin."
I will have to make a correction here:

The major races of Singapore are pretty much not allowed to keep to themselves by law. Numerous government policies such as mandatory public schooling, conscription, and other state-constructed social organisations see to that.

Here's one quick example, the Ethnic Integration Policy, which applies to public housing:
Today, eight out of ten Singaporeans live in Housing and Development Board (HDB)
estates. To get the major races mingling and to pre-empt polarised racial enclaves, the
HDB’s Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) was introduced in 1989.

Under the EIP, Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians in Singapore each have a
representative quota of homes for them in a housing block or neighbourhood. Once that
limit has been reached, no further sale of HDB flats to that ethnic group will be allowed.
There is no restriction on the sale and purchase of a HDB flat if the proportion of the
buyer's ethnic group is within the prescribed block and neighbourhood limits.
In the olden days, the races of Singapore would settle into enclaves, usually centered around where they worked - so near the port where Chinese coolies and Indian traders worked you have little india and chinatown, while the Malay enclaves such as the various kampungs (villages) in the east of the island were more spread out.

What, as I've mentioned before, the government did was forcibly break up the racial/ethnic enclaves using public housing. What they couldn't commandeer in the name of urban redevelopment quickly faded into obsolence as the young people in the enclaves were lured to settle in public housing with the promise of economic growth and a more comfortable life. With enough waiting, the remaining elderly folk either passed away or gave in and went to live in public housing as well, and that was the end of the ethnic enclaves. To say that the races of Singapore keep to themselves is less a question of whether we want to, but whether we have to.

It's my personal belief that one of the effects of the Speak Mandarin campaign was to demolish the lines between the various clans/dialect groups of the Singaporean Chinese. Today, the Hokkien dialect has been relegated to the expletive-ridden speech of the multi-racial Singaporean underclass, and Teochew and Hakka have all but vanished from the island.
There is little inter-marriage, which the government seriously discourages (think of how messy the statistics could get).
First off, perhaps I haven't opened my eyes wide enough, but I've never heard of the Singaporean government actively discouraging inter-racial marriages. Singapore has been quite controversial on the education/eugenics front, but I've yet to hear about them discouraging inter-racial marriage. Yes, there is still some reluctance amongst the people to do that, but where I'm looking at it seems like the ones doing the policing are the people themselves, rather than the state. Odd, for Singapore.

But I wouldn't say that mixed-breed folks are a rare thing here. While Eurasians comprise only 2% of the local-born population, they form a large enough group to be counted as one of the four main races of Singapore. The same goes for the local Peranakan/Straits Chinese (Chinese/Malay mixes), which managed to form a unique subculture of its own and have that culture seep out into the mainstream, especially in terms of cuisine.

But whatever the case, it's clear that back in the day, the slegdehammer was liberally applied to any barriers that might have existed between the different groups in Singapore, and the government was a huge driving force in this breakdown. S Rajaratnam was one of the incumbent party's main idealogues right from the start, and this is what he had to say in a 1960 interview:
...There are people who talk about preserving Chinese though...culture (is) fixed and unchanging...this is not so...individual elements within a culture are constantly being changed,...if a culture is always changing it is illogical to talk of preserving a culture...people generally believe that there is a direct connection between race and culture...this is utter nonsense. By race we mean classification of people according to the colour of their skin, shape of nose,...the classification is wholly on the basis of physical differences and these in no way influence the beliefs, customs, social and political institutions which are purely cultural elements.
And in a 1990 interview:
...Being a Singaporean is not a matter of ancestry. It is conviction and choice...
Towards the end, though, Rajaratnam appears to have done an about-face on the issue:
Perhaps, what makes Singapore unique is our firm immigrant determination to maintain the cultures of our ancestors in the state we last knew it, literally a hundred years ago - or more.
Ah, politicians.

Building a bigger, better tribe...

All right, so we've broken the people of Singapore down into their component parts, smashed the old tribes. Now, it's time for the state to reshape from the people new tribes according to their desires. The author writes:
In short, Singapore is playing a complex game of carrot and stick, setting incentives to individuals from all tribes to assimilate not to the majority (Chinese) culture, but to the state (English) culture, through which they can get status and good money.
Abso-fricking-lutely right. I've written before about the Cult of Education, the Cult of Meritocracy, and the Worker Drone Merit Badge. These three formed the Schelling Points about which the new state culture was sold to the masses from the top-down. We were led to the water, we drank, and we're paying the price for it. Chinese, Malay, Indian and Other (hah!) all striving together in the glory of double digit GDP growth.

Going back to racial issues, the old tribes were allowed to grow back somewhat, although only in the fashion approved by the government, much like a bonsai. One example of this was the Mother Tongue policy that was implemented over 1978-1979 as a result of the Goh report. The reason given for the mandatory teaching of one's mother tongue (racially assigned, of course) was the preservation of one's racial and cultural identity. All good on the surface, but when one digs deeper...

First of all, that was the year when the Speak Mandarin campaign was launched. In 1979, 60% of the Chinese populations spoke dialect at home, now, almost no one does. The same went for other Indian ethnicities who did not speak Tamil, the assigned mother tongue for the Indians - it was not until decades later that other Indian languages such as Punjabi were catered to, and even today students have to travel to a central language center for that and study it as a third language.

I can't help but conclude the whole policy wasn't about preserving the true culture that was actually present beforehand, it was about reshaping it. It may have been good in that it got the Singaporean brand of multiculturalism working more smoothly with every peg fitting into a hole even if it wasn't a perfect fit, but I wonder whether the Punjabi and Chinese dialect-speaking population were so happy in the end.

Another way in which the regrowing tribes were "pruned" to form a single Singaporean in-group was the lens through with all racial issues were reframed into national issues instead. Case in example - the Civilian War Memorial. Take a look at it:

Unofficially, we call it "the chopsticks". You can see why, I'm sure, with each of the four pillars representing one of the major races and signs in all four national languages. This memorial is supposed to be a token of rememberance to the civilian dead in the second world war.

So, how did it come about?

Well, during WW2, there was an event known as the Sook Ching massacre, where thousands of Chinese men suspected of anti-Japanese activity were rounded up by the occupying forces and taken to the beach, where hooded informants pointed out the guilty, who were shot on the spot and buried in mass graves. Grisly enough, eh?

The bodies weren't found until two decades later in 1962, when the mass graves were discovered and enough human remains to fill 600 large urns after cremation were unearthed. Naturally, this caused a bit of a stir, especially within the Chinese community - there were people visiting the sites of their own accord to pay respects to the dead, and the main Chinese newspapers, backed by the widows of the slain, were calling for a Chinese cemetery to be built to properly inter the remains.

Eventually, the nascent Singaporean government decided that this silliness was enough, told everyone to enjoy fresh oranges, and completed in 1967 the memorial that stands today, a carefully non-racial, non-partisan and all-inclusive memorial to all those who'd died in the war.

Another example would be the rememberance of the contributions of the Malay Regiment towards the defense of Singapore during WW2, especially the Battle of Pasir Panjang. It was only until 2002 that a public exhibit on the battle was opened. If you go and take a look at the exhibits, you'll notice that the ethnicity of the Malay Regiment was downplayed, and instead universal values such as courage, heroism and loyalty that were shown are emphasised. While this again helps avoid the issue of race other than the official narrative, it also impedes a honest discussion of the role of Malays in the defense of Singapore. After all, it's an open secret/rumour that Malays are often drafted into the civil defense force and police rather than the armed forces, and there supposedly is a disproportionately small number of Malays in the upper ranks due to security concerns over any remaining loyalty to Malaysia they might have (although frankly, it really shouldn't be needed any more).

The point I'm trying to make here is that unlike the multikulti in western nations, everyone in Singapore was broken down and remoulded by the state through a massive and directed decades-long program of social engineering to form a massive Singaporean tribe. It required a pliant, politically apathetic populace of the sort I believe is only found in asian societies, and immense social controls that cannot be found anywhere in the Anglosphere. Attempting to transplant the Singaporean system to a western country will probably end in failure.

...And oh hey, look, a distraction!

While reading the post, I was drawn to these lines:
There are several arguments against Hierarchical integration. First is, even if different tribes they can be put to work with strong law enforcement and smart incentives, the fact is that in average they will always perform worse than whites. Which means that if you have anything like a free market, different tribal groups will end up doing working in different occupation ladders. Yes the right tips of the Bell Curve might integrate, but those are the sellouts. The mass of the tribe will become servants or doing cheap and unpleasant jobs.
This, unfortunately, appears to be the case in Singapore. While the cult of meritocracy has indeed been successful to some extent - 25% of Singaporean Malays are professionals, compared to 14% of Malaysian Malays despite decades of crony capitalism, licenses and university seats earmarked for Malays, and a whole slew of other affirmative action benefits - the fact is that the Singaporean Malays are the economic and educational underclass in a nation that glorifies both. Traditionally, this has been blamed on the "lazy Malay syndrome" that was pushed onto them by the British - the locking-in of roles of different racial groups by the colonial government, with Malays as the simple, agricultural native sons of the soil and Chinese and Indians as traders and other units of economic production. The question is, though, although this would indeed be part of the issue, how much and how long is required to lift them as a group out of the mire, if we completely disregard HBD?

Interestingly enough, Malays are also disproportionately represented in the sports scene, if I remember correctly - a good number of our home-grown athletes (as opposed to "foreign talents" we import to win medals for us) who have risen to some measure of regional or even international fame, like Fandi Ahmad, have been Malays.
The fact that Singapore pulls it off is simply because Indians and Malays psyche’s balance their notable inferiority towards the local Chinese with their outstanding superiority towards their tribal cousins in India and Malaysia. Low status sucks but it trumps deprivation.
First off, a minor correction: Indians in Singapore are not a socioeconomic underclass; proportionally, they do just about as well as the Chinese.

I will to agree with this to some extent, in that not just Malays and Indians, but every single Singaporean has been suckered in by the great machine state devoted to economic production regardless of race or ethnicity. It's a source of perverse pride for some of us to point at the Malaysians and laugh, saying "ha ha, we were right all along, you were wrong to kick us out of the federation".

But I'll agree that so long as you keep Singaporeans dosed up on material wealth, they'll be content to stay asleep. One of the major problems that Singapore is facing now is that the sweet, saccharine high-fructose drip of economic growth that had kept the population numb is coming to a halt as the world economy circles the drain, and people are starting to wake up to how miserable and devoid of meaning their stupid lives are. Sure, people may claim to be less materialistic than their parents' generation were, but let's face it: that's because they already have everything already. Take away their Facebook and smartphones for a day, and let's see how they deal with it.

Thankfully, we have foreigners to blame for all our problems.

Wonderful, isn't it?

As Aurini points out, part of a society is knowing the little mores and customs - so while a Singaporean places tissues on a food court table to reserve it, a Chinese national placing one's shoes on the same table is derided.

It's quite interesting to see Singaporeans of different races banding together as a single in-group against the perceived out-group of "foreign talent", as the government is fond of terming immigrants; brown and yellow living together in harmony and ganging up against green. In terms of genetics and cultural roots, the mainland Chinese, Filipinos and Bangladeshis arguably have more in common with the local Chinese, Malays and Indians than average Singaporeans have to do with each other. Perhaps just like the Stop at Two policy, the government's scheme worked too well, and now the tribe isn't that willing to let anyone else in anymore. That wouldn't be terrible in and of itself, but with our current society where smartphones are valued over kids,'s not looking good.

But so long as Singaporeans have something to keep them distracted from each other, I think the social house of cards that the government has built can actually be self-sustaining.


To conclude, the sucess of multiculturalism in Singapore is by no means prescriptive of multikult in western nations. One must realise that not only is Singapore a massive outlier, it also is the result of careful and calculated social engineering on a pliant populace over a couple of generations. It will not work with victim or lobby groups around mucking things up, it will probably not work outside a benevolent dictatorship willing to do what it takes to enforce the approved narrative, and while it might be self-sustaining once integrated into a society, it will probably not take root where people ask questions and like to think for themselves.


  1. This destruction of cultural enclaves - while good for the short-term cohesiveness of the country - results in dropping birth rates, and an unsustainable future.

    Communities produce children and real wealth, while atomized individuals only produce GDP and consumer goods.

    1. Agreed.

      "And the king said, 'see! We've put Humpty Dumpty together, and made him even BETTER than before.'

      But those who looked closely noticed the cracks running through Dumpty's shell, his inability to speak in complete setneces, and the fact that he smelled quite foul.

      And they wondered if this was an imposter."

      This community we have in Singapore is quite convincing, but a fake at its heart. Imposed from the top-down and enforced, rather than built from the ground-up and organic.

      The difference between aspartame and sucrose.