Friday, February 22, 2008

The rhetoric of the Youth Olympics

I don't normally make two posts in one day. This is neither an indicator of the amount of free time I have on my hands.

Singapore have won the bid for the Youth Olympics in 2010.

It can on the last day of Chinese New Year, the day the $10 million dollar Toto draw was announced and the day I got a miserable queue number (8000+ out of 10,000) for my HDB bi-monthly application for a flat. (well, if I got a good queue number, I'll be celebrating as hard as the people at the Padang, and I will believe that dreams do come true in Singapore. I'm just a bit sore and sour at the moment.)

One blogger has already greeted it with cynism.

Now, here comes more rhetoric. The "small size" rhetoric. The "heart/pride of Southeast Asia rhetoric". The "anything can happen in Singapore"/"dreams can come true in Singapore" rhetoric. When you spend lots of money on something at the national scale, there's bound to be a lot of rhetoric to divert attention away from it.

I was thinking I should start a content analysis of the mainstream media and see how the rhetoric was built up, and how the agenda was set. Maybe I can do something about it and write a paper on it.
Do Singaporeans really care, or even know or want to know about this games bid?
What about news of recession, high cost of living and all that? Is this merely a distraction? Hopefully I can get the paper done by June and share my findings here.

Not "gays" but "gay people"

In my research, I've been told that gay people often have an eagle eye for detail when it comes to articles and speech made about them, sieving out the innuendos, implications, suggestions, tone and intention of such texts.

They want to see the situatedness of the text, the context from which it came and the context in which it is presented. From here, the text becomes political; the text becomes a battlefield. There are masterminds and generals (the authors) in this battlefield.

When you subvert dominant discourses, you need to know the direction and the frame of reference from which you will create your subversive discourse. If you want to confront gender inequality, which may be championed and perpetuated by one text/narrative, you have to first extract the aspects and signs of gender inequality that lie within the text - i.e. that particular narrative that suggests gender inequality. The dominant narrative in the text is made salient by the frame of reference you used. And of course, in comes the convenient usage of binary opposition, where you go against the grain of the dominant narrative and create your own subversive discourse.

News in Singapore often refer to sexual minorities as "gays", "lesbians" and "bisexuals". These words are nouns. This is in contrast with the usage of the words as adjectives, as in "gay person/man", "lesbian person/woman" and "bisexual man/woman/person".

So, why do the mainstream media use these words as nouns?

Before we can answer that, we need to know the implications of such usage.

To call a gay person just a "gay" is to conflate, dumb down, dilute his identity, reducing it to just sexuality. "Gay" as used as an adjective, describes only one aspect of a person's identity. After all, one's identity does not only consist one trait.

It is a mechanism for heterocentric society to categorise and label the "other" or the "outsider", which translates to the naturalisation of language, for example the naturalisation of "gay" and "lesbian" as nouns. When society becomes comfortable with such a use of language, it will think in a certain way.

Language is not neutral, and neither is its usage. Language creates reality for us, while its usage frames its. A host of narratives is present in its usage. When you refer to sexual minorities as "gays" and "lesbians", you are selecting a narrative, a framework for your discourse, whether consciously or unconsciously.

What sexual minority rights advocates should be concerned with is the unconscious usage of these terms, rather than the conscious. The unconscious consumption and subscription to ideology pose the most difficult obstacles for self-reflexivity/reflection. A person will, due to ignorance, buy into the narrative and its accompanying ideology and eventually internalise it. "Gays" and "lesbians" then no longer become people, but dehumanised things, and this shapes discourse to a large extent. How then are you going to discuss equal rights for a "people" that do not exist?

Visibility (for minorities for example) is always an important ingredient for civil rights, but I feel that visibility has to be carefully articulated by a careful selection of vocabulary/language. The visibility of sexual minorities is enframed by the rhetoric of the economic imperative and the kind of language as mentioned above, where "gay" and "lesbian" are used as nouns. Such a frame that has been created, will be inevitably adopted by civil society and rights advocates.

If the institution uses and prescribes a certain set of rhetoric, narratives and socio-cognitive/ideological frameworks, society will follow suit. This is how "common sense" and logic become moulded. To connect with society, you will have to use the same framework and language to communicate, and in the process internalise the rhetoric.

I brought up this topic in a recent conversation with Alex Au. He said he favoured a more conservative usage of the word "gay", as in etymologically "conservative, where "gay" is an adjective. By using "gay" as an adjective for a noun like a person/man/woman, you are consciously describing one aspect of a person, rather than reduce him/her to a mere sexual identity/orientation if you used it as a noun.

The "gay" is homosexual. That's it. Very simplified. Using "gay" as a noun, legitimises sanctions, disincentivisations, disciplinary mechanisms against gay people. The "gay" may be a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen, but such a label will allow for such discrimination, as if he/she is inferior, a lesser being, a criminal, worthy of ridicule, ostracism, marginalisation and maybe recorrection. You are punishing the "gay", not the person/citizen/human being. The "gay" person is a person who is among many other things/interests/descriptions, gay.

I feel there needs to be a shift from the usage of "gay" and "lesbian" as nouns to adjectives for sexual minority rights to be properly recognised and respected. By adding man/woman/citizen/person/people after "gay", you are implying that these people form part of society, the economy and culture.

People will think differently, as according to the linguistic framework they are part of. A conservative use of language in this case will lead to a change in the socio-cognitive framework of individuals in society.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Trial by media

Jonathan Choy Weng Yew has been trialed by the internet community.
(links obtained from

He happens to be the reported god-fearing relief teacher in Holy Innocent's Primary, responsible for posting on his blog the essays of his students. He did post that he found it amusing.

Enough about Jonathan. Let us focus on the internet community. To call it a community in the first place would be too flattering. Rather, I see it as a mob, ever ready to whip out their torches and pitchforks. They are the "heroes", on the "good" side, fighting for political correctness, sweating the virtual sweat, so that justice can be done.

Self-righteous and self-absorbed, the mob becomes no better than the person they have cyber-lynched and flamed. It seems to me there is always the anticipation for the next "Wee Shu Min" to appear like the mole in the mole-whacking game at the amusement park. Out pops the mole and the whacking starts.

Who cares about the internet reaching critical mass? And who cares about savviness? People have a false sense of responsibility in cyberspace and some actively seek to maintain order as they deem fit. There will always be persons who say the politically incorrect things, but is this the way to go for everyone who gets out of line? The illusion of democratising space that is the internet is just a cover for the totalitarian attitudes and tactics make up it. Any one who toes the line is simply not tolerated.

There are always boundaries that society makes for itself. If you want to laugh, please proceed this way. That's why we have "Gotcha!" and parodies. There are also a few websites by anonymous teachers that laugh at the works of students. This is taboo, because society sees children as innocent.

True enough, but children are a reflection of society, of the value that have been shoved down their throats, of the attention and nurturing they are getting from the family and the institutions that seek to shape their lives, thinking and development. I call what Jonathan did as "journalism". He reported what he experienced, and also gave his opinion, as he is entitled to.

When society blames people like Jonathan, the problem becomes isolated. Attention is deflected and diverted away from the responsibilities of the family and school is nurturing the children. We ignore the social problems that surround these, because lynching one person is better than digging up the foundations and structures on which the problem stands. We have forgotten where "bad English" came from. The schools, the media, the family, all have a role to play in this. Furthermore, the government has a role to play too. Why are families having children such that the generation gap is larger? Why are both parents working? The child doesn't get the attention nor the opportunity to communicate. Think about it.

A problem on the surface is usually treated by solutions, the knowledge of which are obtained from the surface, because it is too troublesome to dig beneath it. You establish a comfort zone for yourself on this surface. To perform such an excavation, you have to move out of your comfort zone and start digging. How many people are willing to do that? Furthermore, society has incentivised you to stay in your comfort zone, so why step out of it?

What Jonathan said in his blog was of brutal and inconsiderate honesty. He posted what he experienced and what he thought of it, and these are sufficient indicators of problems that society has to confront, instead of just using the cyber-noose and pointing the finger of accusation. You may say, "this guy is too much", but you have forgotten that society itself is "too much".

Society is ugly because ugly people make it. Ugly society is always ready to identify scapegoats, to divert attention away from its inadequacies. We are always too ready to isolate problems and ills to individuals, resulting in for example calling Jonathan names and criticising his personality, but we are never ready to see the larger phenomena that brought about such a situation. And this is not helped by the domination of psychology and hard sciences, which prime positivist information over the research made by the humanities and social sciences.

Think about "emotional scarring" owing to humiliation of children as warned by psychologists. What about actually rectifying the situation in which children will not be placed in a position where they can be emotionally scarred? Shouldn't we pay attention instead to how the education system, the family and the government are nurturing them?

I shan't go further. You know what I'm trying to get at. Problems that we experience are indicators of larger societal problems. People like Wee Shu Min and Jonathan, are not even footnotes, but society has crawled out the easy route and chose to focus on them.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gay is okay

Is gay okay?

Well, straight is okay. But "straight" is a term/slang created by gay people. "Straight" also informally refers to sobriety, law-abidingness and a subscription to convention and tradition.

"Straight" never existed. It is a name or a term given to an attribute of a common taken-for-granted reality in which we live. By naming it, it becomes noticeable and salient. By extracting, isolating and naming an attribute, or a unit, of a whole, we begin to segment, divide and organise our reality.

Some people(s) segment, divide and organise reality in a prescriptive manner so as to maintain their status of power over those who in turn become oppressed. By naming something, you have actually made a reconfiguration in the language you have been socialised into and ascribed unto it properties which you think that best fit this reconfiguration.

For example, what arises from such a process is the logic of binary opposition, as illustrated by the natural/unnatural dichotomy. The concept of natural/unnatural never existed. It isn't as universal as we deem it to be, although cultural, socio-religious, political and scientific boundaries have been erected over time to ensure its universality. The power to identify something also translates to the power to oppress and suppress something. When you prime one form of sexuality over others, you attribute terms accordingly, which justifies your political position and predispositions. Systems of discipline, (dis)incentivisation, rewards and punishment are created in the image of these predispositions.

Gay-ness, in such a framework as constructed, moulded and determined by heterocentrism, is often seen as unacceptable. In the times when there was no such thing as gay, or perhaps prior to urbanisation, society had a different concept of gay-ness. It was understood as sexual behaviour manifesting in acts which deviated from conventional man-woman procreational sex.

The concept of the family is also derived from most polytheistic religions, where the gods and their hierarchies of power and roles, all reflected that of society. The patriarch god would be the father figure, determining the economy of the cosmos, namely in the division of labour among other subordinate gods and everyone's duty to maintain the status quo. The female goddesses were more likely to represent society's view of femininity, which encompasses the role and function of the mother (milk-giving child-bearer), the lover, the daughter. For some monotheistic religions, there is more authoritarianism in the form of one ruling deity, who does all the work which would have been clearly designated to various gods in polytheistic religion. Gone is the autonomy of the subordinate gods and deities, which also translates to a more abstract understanding and prescription of rules to society.

The traditional family is a privileged entity of the microcosm that is society, for it consists of and fulfills all the necessary functions that are required of it as in the macrocosms. It is also economics that bind the family together given their various functions and roles toward maintaining and sustaining life. Society has come to institutionalise and normalise the family, ascribing layers and layers of meanings which eventually sanctify the family and marriage. The family is essentially an economic relationship that is later incentivised by modern states in modern economies. Of course, to digress, the liberalisation and economic independence of women has threatened the formation of the family.

Homosexual behaviour on the other hand, was the "recreation" to the heterosexuality's "procreation". Friendship and love between men for example, served no economic purpose, even in the times when women were still commodities and objects (like sea monkeys, just buy and add water and you get your sea monkeys).

By creating categories, some of which fall into another creation that is binary opposition, we implicitly discriminate. The imagination of the finite and limited resources in a social space has led us to device a system of distribution that best fit the needs of the dominant class. Armed with specific knowledge or intelligentsia which creates specific categories for the understanding and control of society, distribution is skewed towards certain categories.

By distribution, I mean rights and resources. Why should the distribution of rights and resources be discriminatory, unequal and imbalanced? Or rather, why do some people not even think about it and assume it is fair, equal and balanced?

The decriminalisation of male homosexual sex is seen as some as wrong, as upsetting a certain "balance" and "stability" that society is currently enjoying. People are living on an undulating plane, on which there exists many slopes of different inclines, such that one's concept of "balance" differs from others. Unfortunately, the criminalisation of homosexuality exists on a plane in which there are laws that ensure nobody is discriminated or marginalised. If heterosexual sex is allowed and not homosexual sex, isn't there embedded discrimination and marginalisation?

What complicates matters is the politics of the "majority", or basically, politics in general. It puts a lens before the eyes of society, such that society is viewed from a heterosexist and patriarchal point of view, among many other possible readings. For example, there is discrimination based on age. Maybe it has its economic roots. But more importantly, society is able to articulate and confront this form of discrimination because it is a common problem which affects the ruling elite.

Homosexuality on the other hand does not pose that common a problem. Hence its sparodic appearance provides society with a (mis)understanding of homosexuality as an illness or a lifestyle, which can be unlearned and discarded. The laws of the land and science too were governed by this belief. And in the process, embedded in the structures and institutions of society are such specific (mis)understandings of reality, and rather prescriptive in nature too.

How we come to understand humanity is also shaped accordingly. Most people are comfortable with the clear-cut, defining, yet limiting concepts of what makes a "man" and what makes a "woman". A "man" has to possess certain "universal" properties, abilities, mannerisms and functions to be recognised as a "man", and the same goes for the "woman". Any idea that falls outside what has come/grown to be accepted, will result in dissonance and anxiety on the part of people who devote their minds to defending and protecting this ideology.

Deviant identities and character traits become isolated, de-socialised, de-politicised. The gay identity has been reduced to genetics, as well as rational choice/behaviour. Such isolation, medicalisation, pathologisation lead to the allocation of resources to correcting these "reversible" and "curable" problems. The "ill" person undergoes re-integration, recovery and re-institutionalisation, so he/she becomes well again, as in well enough to be accepted by the moral majority.

Identity, being fluid in nature, becomes rigid when mechanisms, apparatuses and institutions come into the picture to establish and sustain a certain desired order. An order established over time and immortalised in literature, becomes taken for granted, acquiring the status of "natural", thus being prescriptive. And it's because of the belief that the "natural order" is the default, the status quo, measures are in place to ensure no transgressions. Deviant sexual identities are resultantly viewed as trangressions against "nature", and thus require policing, and to a large extent the deprivation of civil liberties.

When the homophobic moral crusaders speak of the slippery slope that is gay rights, they forget that they too are equally complicit in the political discourse - they are the snowball (no pun intended) that is gaining size and pace as it tumbles down the slippery slope.

Each time the sexual minority rights movement is silence, invisibilised, rebuked and challenged, the moral agenda of the crusaders is pushed to the fore, along with their political and social ideals. I do not see the sexual minority rights movement in Singapore as the hand that pulls society down into the moral abyss, but a movement that tries to create another lens for the rest of society to view - and in the process, confront the existing biases and predispositions and taken-for-grantedness we have. It is so comfortable looking through the same lens, the very one we think might lead us to the truth, but might in turn make us dependent and myopic.

Sitting on the fence is neither a golden position, but the most political. Some "neutrals" have come to fold their arms and entice both camps/poles/ends to win them over, as though without the support of the "apathetic" middle, there will be a stalemate, creating no influence in the political and legislative domain. The fence-sitters see themselves as objective and arm themselves with a "go ahead and try to convince me to believe you" mentality, similar to the snooty "customer-knows-best" worldview. The people who do not really care about the issue at all, are the ones who see no side and no fence.

Every side is a side. To choose no side is also taking a side. Why "normal" people like myself have to speak up is to provide a check for society. Using the rhetoric of the moral crusaders, we have to be wary of the threat posed by moral crusaders, with them pushing their moral agenda, wanting to mainstreaming a certain worldview and legitimate lifestyle, and it is a slippery slope to moral totalitarianism.

What people fail to understand is that sexual minorities, not only gay people, but bisexual, transgenderred and transexual people just want to be treated equally. Maybe it's time to revise how we privileged straight people come to understand "equality" - isn't it already rather skewed, slanted, limited and enframed within a certain heteronormative discourse? Gay people don't want special treatment or relatively more rights and superiority, as posited by the moral crusaders/police. And of course, gay people do not harm our children. The black sheep among straight people are as dangerous to children as the black sheep among gay people, but it is sad some people think that all gay people are black sheep.

We are too used to questioning people and outsiders, sizing them up and criticising them. It is about time we turn the spotlight onto ourselves and question our beliefs. Then again, there may be mechanisms that prevent such self-reflexivity. Then it's up to us to confront these mechanisms.

There's inequality in society, what are you going to do about it? This is no MRT train where you can fake a nap.

You don't even need to stand up for sexual minority equality. All you have to believe is: Gay is okay.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Religion and accepting sexual minorities 101
Anonymous Mom-o'-Success said...

Quoting Solo Bear: "Pro-gays appear to say that anti-gays see homosexuality from the religious perspective. Maybe it’s true."

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, which I too concur with. Now, my two-cent's worth of thoughts:

I shall not be apologetic even if my view on homosexuality is perceived as very much a religious perspective or even if I am accused of fanaticism. And if it is true that pro-gays find it unacceptable that religion is an element in a discourse on gay lifestyle, how then does one explain gays wanting to be part of a religious outfit - like being ordained a priest, or being married in a church, or practising a religion which by tradition equates homosexuality with the commission of a sacrilege and a scourge...?

If pro-gays or gays themselves deem it unjustified to argue along the line of religion in wanting to justify their stance, it is only fair not to link their cause and their battle to any religion which preaches otherwise, nor should gay proponents make attempts to convince and influence heterosexuals or offspring of heterosexuals into embracing their way of life, and penalising those who choose not to play by their rule.

This had happened where I work when certain gay educators were proven to have given preferential treatment towards effeminate male students (who are not necessarily gay) they wanted to 'convert' to their lifestyle, or students who seemed to be inclined towards a gay lifestyle. They failed to observe professional work ethics, put the students at ransom (some succumbed to their veiled threats to ensure good grades). In so doing, they have blatantly imposed on the students' beliefs and convictions to satisfy their baser needs. And that is certainly disgusting.

Yet gays and pro-gays would often see themselves as victims, helpless and discriminated against. As illustrated through the above account, they are very much the predators. In wanting to satisfy their carnal desires, they compromised on the vows they were supposed to uphold as educators.

I share your view when you said "They can engage in their relationship for all I care..." as I take the stand that we should agree to disagree. Yet in my faith, the status of a gay is even lower than that of a prostitute. One may have heard of how the devils would rejoice at an illicit, out-of-wedlock carnal relation, but those same devils would distance themselves from being witness to the same act involving two of the same sex.

As stated earlier, I shall not be apologetic in presenting a religious perspective on the issue of homosexualism. If God had wanted gay lifestyle to be the accepted way of life, would there not be Adam and Adam instead of Adam and Eve; or would not one son be married to another son of Adam, or a daughter be married to another of his daughters. And would God not have created a womb in the man as well as the woman for the purpose of procreation through same-sex intercourse ...?

Even in the animal kingdom, mating would involve two, each from the opposite gender. As a believer in the Creator, I would say that God has designed life on earth such that the opposite attracts and the opposite complements one another.

And we would talk of the natural thing to do in nature, as opposed to an unnatural thing to do, like engaging in a lifestyle that is traditionally, customarily, generically, unnatural. And something which is unnatural is abnormal, bizarre, preposterous, pseudo, outrageous, perverse, perverted, made-up, freaky, deviant, gross, weird, irregular, sham, queer, man-made, phony... the list goes on and none too pleasing to hear.

The gays and pro-gays are fighting tooth and nail to force down the throat of their detractors their world view of a world devoid of time-tested morality and social mores - whatever the faith or religion; yet cry "Foul!" when faced with views which oppose their idea of an ideal lifestyle.

If the animals (which are devoid of humanistic thinking skills) can understand the need to complement, be attracted by or be attractive to the opposite sex, then where would gays be placed, really, in the hierarchy of living beings...? Below that of creatures in the animal kingdom...? If that's the case, is it right then to take society down with them to a level below that of creatures in the animal kingdom...?

For sexual minority rights to be a more legitimate issue in Singapore, a new set of discourses, approaches and focus should be explored.

Gone are/should be the approach to "religious fundies" that they are bigoted, blinkered, biased and other unkind "B" words. When you confront anti-gay religiosity, you have to address both elements and not remove religion and religiosity from the discourse.

At the same time, when you confront absolutist thought and teleological reasoning/explanations, you cannot simply bring in relativism and skepticism. In modern political society, you have to enter the framework within which the absolutist thought resides. You don't seek to disprove absolutist thought, but seek to discover the limitations and inconsistencies that form part of it, and make them explicit and known.

Identities, as in different identities and diversity, always pose a challenge to authority. Authority is a dictionary, with words, definitions and symbols to determine what society and meanings should be. The notions of diversity and identity, good/bad, right/wrong, natural/unnatural, purity/pollution, human/animal are also moulded by authority. For anything that falls outside the categorisation of an authority, there are mechanisms in place to prevent or arrest this problem. This is internalised by people who subscribe to this authority, and sometimes subscription is not only based on irrational faith, but also economic dependency, emotional leverage and socio-political integration. Binary oppositions and dichotomies are constructs that inform of the dominant narrative that underlies a society.

In political discourse, it's not about philosophy or deconstructionism. You cannot make someone feel apologetic or sorry for what he or she believes in. As mentioned, you either discover the inconsistencies or contradictions in the system, or the flaws perpetuated by the system.

So, how does one deal with another who believes "gay" is a lifestyle, a trend, a fad, something that can be adopted and discarded, learned and unlearned, a phase? In linguistics, as in anthropology, a person's understanding of "gay", for example, is shaped by the symbols provided for them by authority and socialisation. In psychoanalysis, the person internalises the meanings, as well as the anxieties, of his/her social environment. In culturalism or symbolic interactionism, and even in social constructionism, these meanings and anxieties are made up of cultural ascriptions, through time and space.

In political discourse, you cannot bring these perspectives in. Political discourses deal with immediate problems and their "immediate" causes. There is also an economic agenda. So there isn't really much space for social theory and critical discourses.

For a better understanding, politics is also a language. In the language, there is a logic which determines how reality is perceived and lived. The language is inclusive as well as it is exclusive and isolating. In a society, a person is currently gay because he chose to be gay, or he is ill. As he is ill, he can be treated with "medicine" and "therapy", be institutionalised and re-institutionalised, integrated and re-integrated into society and the "natural order of things". In another society, gay-ness is just one who many other identities. If you don't have a language for homosexuality, it becomes framed a disease, a trait that can be eliminated, just because it doesn't figure in what is prescribed to be the natural order of things.

So how do we address heterocentric/homophobic religiosity? You have to enter the field on which this form of religiosity is playing and engage it. You have to pick up the same holy book the person reads and you have to talk about it.

Religious homophobia is prevalent and normalised. You don't take religious homophobia out of its domain for debate; you have to instead enter its domain. Homophobic religiosity is the body, while diverse sexualities are the virus. Homophobic religiosity is the pillar of society, while diverse sexualities are the termites. That is the dominant thinking. Homophobic thought sees introduction of change and its possibilities as subversion, as criminal, disrespectful, antagonistic.

Majority of society will never see homophobia as a disease crippling society. Their definition of diversity is limited to what serves their political purpose and economic agenda. If you want to talk about sexual minority rights, you enter the domain as the ill, the virus, the disease, the unwanted. You start from the bottom and you work your way up. This necessitates a different approach: one that is assertive, but not aggressive, antagonistic, alienating, arrogant. You need to be, as one prominent public official mentioned, gracious, nevermind if others are not.

Once you have accepted that you are fighting a losing battle, you have finally made the first step to fighting the losing battle. While others might "agree to disagree", you should "disagree to disagree" because you believe in something, because you have the same right to believe just like your opponent. You don't question the beliefs of others, but you will have to work a lot harder to create a situation or an environment in which others will question their own beliefs and absolutism. If the base for their absolutism is more absolutist belief, you might think you have hit a dead-end, but you have done a lot more than before. Make sure not only the function, but also the form and substance of absolutism is questioned.

Questioning is not about destablisation or displacement, for it paves the way for a deeper or wider understanding of something. For example, we should always question why and how absolutist thought defends itself. Sometimes, absolutist thought defends itself from being questioned, and you have to question why so. At the same time, you shouldn't make assertions that certain thoughts are fake or bogus.

How do you deal with a person who sees the world in blue because he/she wears blue-tinted glasses? You leave a pair of yellow-tinted glasses on the table, maybe a pair of green-tinted glasses too. It's up to the person to decide whether he/she wants to wear them, but you already have done most of the work by making it known that the world can be seen in different shades and perspectives. If the person chooses to say the world is "blue", it is up to you to wear the same blue-tinted glasses and engage him/her.

Any way, in my opinion, diversity should not be exclusive or limited. If there are privileges to be given and taken away, it reflects how society/religion views and defines diversity. A certain definition of diversity can create a society of selective listeners who subscribe to a certain notion of logic and reasoning. You cannot transcend it but rather have to tackle it by creating space for questioning.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Tying and the Tie at ROM

The darndest thing happened in the wee hours of Sunday.

I logged onto the internet to do an online application at the Registry of Marriages website. It went down in the middle of the application. Utterly outrageous. Tried Firefox and Internet Explorer. Downtime still, but finally got the application going at 4am.

What’s interesting to note is some of the details ROM requires. Occupation, qualification, race, religion.

My girlfriend told me that it was for statistical collection. How true. This can be a good gauge for the government to know how many ethnic Chinese graduates are tying the knot, and whether their numerous campaigns and policies have effected any changes. My marriage is just a statistic.

Why not increase the incentives for newly weds in the domain of housing through priority schemes and larger grants? Why not further decrease the duration of national service? Why not make work more family-friendly? You will get the statistics you want.

I want to move out on my own and be able to afford it. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my parents and don’t want to support them. Government policies are crafted in a way to shackle sons and daughters and confine them to their mums and dads even into the first decade of adulthood. I would advocate a more interventionist move in the housing market to make sure sons and daughters can leave their nests without suffering financially. It’s not as if this son wants to move into a condominium and install HD television and buy sports cars.

These are my private troubles, situated in a society with which I have become disaffected. The barriers to marriage and independent living are high in Singapore. People prefer to be single till a later age. When you want to start a family, you will already have dependents/persons to support before you can even have kids. It’s work work work, sometimes beyond your retirement.

It is personally very sickening to me to see people in their 60s and 70s still working. Is it their fault? Our system has made us think so. The government has created mechanisms to ensure that we all live healthily and happily, in exchange of course for our votes. This is a system of equal opportunity, although it is tiered according to income groups as categorised by our leaders. When the citizen fails in this system, this is where the rhetoric/ideology of meritocracy kicks in. The citizen who fails is isolated; he/she has failed to maximise the opportunities given to him/her.

“We have good healthcare, campaigns and with foresight too. If you fall ill, you have brought it upon yourself.”

“We have a good education system. If you are unemployed because you’re not sufficiently qualified, it’s your fault.”

What is scary is that these are not values espoused by the government, but views internalised by us citizens. We are all Wee Shu Min’s, in some way or another, so put down your torches and pitchforks. We tend to isolate the troubles of others and delink them from the larger social, political and economic forces that influenced the troubles in the first place.

People who marry late are not always people who couldn’t find love earlier. There are numerous structural impediments to them marrying early. But we are a technocratic society governed by positivist thinking and it has become so convenient that we isolate problems to the individual. Policies and the economy do affect how people live their lives, and how they marry.

Most of us internalise structure. We internalise socio-political and economic processes, and internalise the accompanying expectations and materialism. Based on these expectations, we set ourselves goals that we will earn this much, be this old, live in this house, have this many kids, and so on. I feel our behaviour is just a proxy, a reconfiguration, simply just a spoke in the wheel of global capitalism and less-than-benevolent governance. We internalise the anxieties and risks of modern political society, and we live our lives accordingly. This is the middle-class disaffect. Can we be saved? Can we choose not to run the race, and just lead the simple lives we want?

On another note, I don’t quite like the idea of wearing a tie to the solemnisation at ROM. There are rules at ROM, but what is the basis for these rules? Whose marriage is it? I have already given the government the statistics they need, what else do they want from me? Taxes, sure. Sons for national service? Daughters for civil servant wage discrimination? Me working beyond 70? The government may win the working class vote, but they’ll have to do something for the middle class. If you want to be a socialist democracy, do it wholeheartedly, don’t just create infrastructure and leave us hanging.

I may (soon) be legally married, but I will probably never live the independent married life until I get myself my own place. Some couples wait years for that, saving and tightening their belts. By the time the chick leaves the nest, it’s one fat old bird. It’s not the nest, neither is it the bird, but it’s the sick environment that created it.

Thanks for the subsidised education and healthcare any way! Thanks for subsidised housing, though it is still pretty expensive. Don’t expect anything in return, because you already have taken it. You’ll know it the next election, and the next, and the next…

I don’t want my children to live in a society that is ugly, fiercely competitive and hate-filled (for example, no respect for sexual minorities). My wife-to-be and I have only tasted a bit of this and we don’t like what we’re tasting. If the government is the servant of the people, why are people like myself unhappy? Is it because we expect too much? Or is this servant not doing his/her job? Why does the master fear the servant?

Any way, the bottom-line is that I don’t want to wear a tie for my solemnisation. That’s probably why I’m so irate. Maybe I will ask ROM about that.