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.

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