Sunday, July 6, 2008


Back from reservist. A lot has been invested into making national service reservist personnel feel comfortable. There is an internet room, gym, swimming pool and other recreation rooms. Still, most of us are affected by the usual Singaporean existentialist dissonance: Why are we doing this? For what?

It is funny how a construct that is the nation tries to force itself into reason and moral ethical discourse.

One commonly present sense of moral obligation, which involves the love for and willing defence of one's family, has been hijacked by the nation, resulting in the rhetoric that links family with the nation.

The state creates a conservative system wherein the family is seen as a microcosm of the nation. We are rewarded, in the form of immunity from discrimination and harassment, if we respected our elders and the people in relatively higher positions of power. There are thus similarities between the structure of the family and that of the nation, worth exploiting.

The family (blood or water) is such a powerful symbol that we become "morally vulnerable" whenever it is evoked. The sense of duty is packaged with the feelings of love, guilt and other powerful and affective emotions.

When brought up and authoritatively discussed by the state to justify national defence, which indirectly encompasses the preservation of the status quo of the state's political dominance and power, the concept of the family becomes monopolised by an entity outside the family, rather than the concerned family itself.

The form of the family, with persons in positions of power and influence and in positions of dependence, is juxtaposed with that of the nation, consisting a powerful government which has the legitimate right to commit murder (i.e. death penalty).

As such, other forms/manifestations of the notion of family are suppressed or invisibilised, making way for a dominant discourse which primes this one type of family as the "correct" one.

Like the nation, the family requires an economic structure to sustain itself. It will be very interesting if ever we could note that the state had ever imposed a particular mode of economic production/sustenance on the family, to ultimately sow the seeds for conservativeness and maintenance of existing power structures.

As such, our "love" for the nation is one that has in a way been carved out of a type of reasoning into which we have been socialised. It will thus seem rational, reasonable and logical to accept a discourse which involves the entities of the family and the nation.

Speaking of family, it appears that most of us modern-day Singaporeans seem to have a common view of the family and what it should constitute. I met one peer during my reservist training and learned that he had been married for 4 years and has a two-year old daughter. That surprised me because he was actually studying in the same university as I was.

Then we start to question, how can students have families?

I think we should start questioning the socialisation processes which have come to shape how and why we ask certain questions (of course, putting aside the perceived and legitimate practicalities of income, financial stability/independence and so on).

Why should the/this rationality for the creation/starting of a family be a monopoly? Truly intriguing.

Any how, I look forward to beginning (again) my studies as I enjoy being a student. With the world and possibly anything as a mentor and teacher, how can one not love being student?

I believe a teacher needs a student to teach; but a student doesn't need a teacher to learn.


quatscherei said...

In more than one way, the state has established itself using the family. The similarity is obvious, and it is easy for the State to usurp the concept of family when trying to maintain its status quo, for what every person wants in the family is stability, is it not? The fact that Singapore is small makes this even more obvious.

Singapore has done this well. Small size, and all, has made it effective, and add to that the fact that we are an Asian society where the collective comes before the individuum. It's difficult to question the socialisation process, mainly because it people see it as being so - the ancient Greeks certainly did not question their myths and their gods.

Also, what monopoly are you talking about? Political monopoly? Ideological monopoly? 'Because it is so,' of course, isn't an explanation, but let me hazard an attempt at guessing your monopoly: is the monopoly one where the individuum is so robbed of identity and worth (the Gahmen says each and every one of us is important, but do we see it?), and placing the group before the individual has led to this particular rationality for the creation of a family.

E.g., the standard questions: how can you start a family when you are studying/have no income/etc? Won't you be damaging your family by not being able to support them? *group before individual* I think there's more to that though...but it is late, and i am sleepy. heh...


Sam Ho said...

good observation.

i still feel suspicious over the rhetoric of 'asian society' and its association with 'group before individual'. it seems to me exploited to further a certain cause.

on another note, i think kiasuism, although negative, is a form of rationality too (very rational one, i might add).

by monopoly, i meant the definition of the family is being monopolised. it is being dictated to us the form and function of the family.

maybe i'm just paranoid, but i'm usually more suspicious of common sense and normal things. but of course, not many of us have the time nor the energy to suspect common sense. But it will make for good tea time conversation