Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sacrebleu! Singapore is classed

When I read the Straits Times Life! article featuring Tan Yong Soon, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, and his family vacation, I could not have imagined the impact it would have on the envious "lesser mortals" of Singaporeans, especially those who have sufficient education and internet connection to make a nice French meal out of it.

My first thoughts of the article was about how nice a family man Tan is. I always have an interest to know what goes on in the lives of top officials, what they are like in the company of family and love, and so on. More often than not, omnipotent and infallible depictions of top/senior government officials are fed to us. We are under the impression some of them are superhuman, talented and capable and rose up the ranks in such a competitive system that is Singapore.

I don't speak for fellow Singaporean citizens, but I would like to see, to use an example, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a family moment (They had one during one of his son's National Service officer commissioning ceremony reported in the newspapers), or talk about his love life and courtship. Hierarchies and strata are created by the system they call meritocratic, but that does not mean harmless private information like "the softer side" of the politician/official should be hidden from the public. After all, showing that you are human and a family (wo)man gets you connected with the hearts of people like myself.

I mean, after all, we are a voyeuristic culture, so why not have a Singaporean politician/government official equivalent of E! Entertainment. I have had enough of the demonising, dehumanising, pathologisaing and trivialising of opposition party members and political dissidents here. I would want to know more of what "people at the top" do in their free time (hobbies and all), and what are their families like (activities and dynamics), and perhaps how well they sleep at night knowing that they get paid a salary some claim to be obscene.

I watched Singapore Rebel, a documentary on Dr Chee Soon Juan, and was amazed to see the familial side of the man. We are far too acquainted with Dr Chee as someone whose "family" includes merely an equally politically dissident and misbehaving sister, Siok Chin. The film, banned because it was deemed by the authorities to be party political propaganda, reveals the father and husband that is Dr Chee.

Of course, my second thoughts after reading the ST Life! article were something along the lines, "Life is not fair! I want that kind of money too!" I personally do not think Tan was boasting, nor that the article came across as a boast. I'm sure the guy has paid his dues (hard work, apple-polishing, or whatever works) and got to where he is, and the same applies to the most of us, although the outcomes may vary.

There is always the dream, I call it the middle class dream, to be continually upward mobile. We want to have luxury and more money, because we believe it correlates with lesser suffering. And when we attain this position, why are we obliged to keep it secret even if we do not have the intention to be loud and proud about it?

It is the influence and trendiness of political correctness culture and the oppression Olympics that has made us side with the margins and lesser privileged, where we have created a double standards for ourselves. We glorify and celebrate the low income, but when it comes to the higher income, we join the Robin Hood gang and demonise and dehumanise them, even though some of us aspire to be in that position, earning that income.

This is a classed society where all the classes below the next class aspires to rise to the next (upper) class, the higher socio-economic status. In view of this, I think there are no individual/unique sets of values/ethos that define each class, since everyone (a bit sweeping though) is aspiring to be richer.

The alleged "boast" of Tan was deemed inappropriate given the economic context and that Singaporeans, thanks to Wee Shu Min, are well oriented to the idea of elitism. The only boast I saw in the article was Tan "boasting" that he was a family man, that he wanted to do something different with his family. He may have the means to do what he did, but we should not discount the fact that he took time off to do it with his family (never mind the many minions in the civil service who are able to cover for him during his absence). Like in the Adam Sandler movie, Click, "family comes first" (that of course depends on whether you want a family). It was journalism (ST Life!) that tells this story.

There are a lot of people who are working their socks off and have no time for family. These people should be represented too, and I am sure they have been. The newspapers have done a decent job, but can do more by telling their stories. They are silenced because they do not have the means to tell their MPs they are in trouble. They are probably working their second/third job during the meet-the-people's sessions.

For the rest of us, who are considerably privileged (and argumentative and sometimes picky), we should at least welcome the representation of the upper classes like we welcome the representation of the low classes.

The newspapers are (indirectly) doing society a favour, making us reflect on our classed society. Previously the extremely rich and extremely poor did not get their due representation, leading everyone to believe we're all (more or less) in the same boat. Our harmony and progress depends on the lack of the knowledge and awareness of how stratified our society is. We are farm animals with government-built blinkers, and we move on the instruction and whip of our political leaders, plowing their land for them.

It is thus a disaster for the government when the newspapers reveal such social stratification. "The people are not supposed to know, because they can be angry. They will remove their blinkers and we will be fucked. Let us be secretive. Let us lead our lives silently."

The newspapers' job is to feature role models that reflect what the state want its citizens to be, for all of us to embrace and internalise the dominant ideology and values. Tan is not your normal role model, and people (who are also voters) will come to know what they should not know.

The state may distract its people with materialism, so that they would not interfere with its political affairs. But this materialism has made people more class conscious, and it might undermine the state's power in another way.

The only thing a people who have told to "STFU", "be grateful", etc. by the government is to vote and either say yes/no to STFU.


brick said...

It is most interesting to read this blog with your recent posting (letter to the press):

Sunday Times: MDIS should focus on education, not fashion

Afterall, the civil servant and his family went on an intensive study tour and masterclass to learn a life-long skill from masters of the culinary trade.

It is most ironic that it is a former Education Minister who ends up using harsh words to make a decent learning experience sound like a shameful, immoral and socially irresponsible affair.

Some Singaporeans would rather not focus on life-long learning when it is, but prefer to engage in wishful imagination on the pleasures of leisurely travel.

Hasn't history shown that education always been one of the prime investments to narrow the class divide?

Jaunty Jabber said...

Education definitely do not inculcate name-calling.

Education, however, improve one's language skills to be able to pronounce the names used in name-calling sharp enough to cause hurts.

Along here, recommend this post: