Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Snob Snob! Who's There?

Ooo, a friend told me about this. http://forums.asiaone.com/showthread.php?t=20903

In it, some blogger by the monicker "Intellectual Snob", whose blog is at http://theintellectualsnob.blogspot.com/, wrote what is considered inflammatory and politically incorrect. So, the moral police and owners of the evergreen 10-CD compilation entitled "Politically Correct Greatest Hits Ever", wielded their righteous pointy cyber pitchforks and do their best to address this post.

Any way, the post is pretty old, and it concerns the inferior intellect, and ah well, general inferiority of local graduates. I see terms such as "intellectual shortfall" and "buffoons", which is quite amusing actually. But of course, we live in Singapore, where we can't stand criticism, and where we believe criticism from privilege positions are less favourable and less credible and relevant than criticisms from the "ground", or in this blogger's terms, from the "intellectual underground"! (I just cracked an elitist joke!)

Yes, the criticism (that local graduates, a community of which I am part) is valid. But I believe we have to assess the socio-political and economic conditions that led to the proliferation of inferior brain cells.

Nothing beats having an education outside your homeland, and more so if that education is at well-established and renowned colleges and universities around the world. You are firstly in a different cultural environment, and if you were not still sitting comfortably in your cultural relativist bubble, you will definitely be able to reflect on your previous and current social and cultural condition. For instance, being an ethnic Chinese Singaporean studying in a place that is either predominantly Caucasian American, or a healthy heterogeneous mix of nationalities.

Secondly, with better funds and a stronger alumni, a powerful stakeholder our local universities cannot seem to attract and reasons for which will be later discussed, these established universities are able to attract top teaching talent. The creation of a stimulating intellectual culture is self-perpetuating, just like how self-perpetuating stupidity (c.f. Singapore Armed Forces).

Next, the local universities' main role is to create employable minions. On occasion, they attempt to empower undergraduates with life skills such as project work (a.k.a. skiving, leeching, butt-covering, ass-kissing, ball-carrying, scrotum-licking kind of activities) and critical thinking (a.k.a. knowing what is within your job scope and what isn't).

Graduates that come out of the assembly line obviously will have little sense of belonging to the factory.

To be fair, the government is doing their job - i.e. make graduates employable. When people are working, they won't starve. When they don't starve, they won't have nothing to lose and start riots that mind derail the economic imperative that singularly drives and sustains our survival and not to mention, the longevity of the People's Action Party.

When it comes to earning a living, which appeals to many lower to middle-class folks, not rich enough to accumulate wealth and not privileged enough to make their money work for them, I think many of us are willing to give up critical thinking.

Because when you think, it sometimes compromises the orders your boss gave you. That is why I feel the oxymoron of the decade (and for more decades to come) is our Army's motto of a 'Thinking Soldier'. A good and effective soldier is one who follows orders, mate!

To be politically correct, I strongly believe happiness matters more than intellect.

Of course, the usual street-savvy rhetoric to deal with intellectual snobbery is best encapsulated in the forum post:

The STOMPer, in his response to the blog, said "While I do not deny that local grads have limited experiences compared to theintellectualsnob, I feel ultimately that success in the working field is more important, not which school you came from.

Actually, if a person is really smart, he/she need not be judged by his/her achievements in the working field, because he/she would not need to be in the field slogging it out with other "inferior" talents. I see a mismeasurement of the world-savvy by the street-savvy.

Stereotypically, some working class folks will associate respect with having that street smart and savvy. They will challenge theories based on their relevance and practicality. They will use "in the real world..." and "what it is out there..." rhetoric to gain a higher moral and discursive advantage over you.

The world-savvy folks have a different rhetoric. They are opportunity-seeking. They see beyond wanting to gain respect in the 'hood. They may still talk about the "real world", but theirs exist beyond geographical boundary.

I think it is slightly unfair to diss people who just want to earn an honest living. Sure, some people may appear to be uncomfortable in front of intelligent folks, and some might not have the critical thinking a top college graduate might possess, but they are just out to earn something sustainable.

I do agree that intellectual curiosity and critical thinking in Singapore are not what most academics will want them to be. They are not without an economic agenda. So long as our Singapore leaders continue to bathe in the milk of pragmatist ideology, intellectual curiosity and critical thinking in Singapore will always be geared towards economic viability and goal-oriented developments. But that is not to say we are not intelligent, or buffoon-like for that matter.

Maybe the government had expanded the universities to accommodate the 1988 offspring of superstitious frisky parents, such that we will have a fair percentage of university graduates per batch. With an absolute increase in the number of students in a school, there will be a fair increase in the number of good thinkers, and those who are buffoon-incarnate. (I like the word buffoon, and have never thought of using it until the blogger used it)

Sure, there have been many professors in the university who have often questioned their existence in such an environment, e.g. "Why am I marking/reading this piece of..."

Mind you, our universities are not to blame. Most of the undergraduates have come from 12 to more years of the formal/public education system. There are some who have the privilege (and merit) to be in schools whose syllabuses are more extensive and critical than what is planned by the Ministry of Education.

When we have a culture where we silence criticism either with a wave of the iron hand or with bullying tactics (like how political commentators/critiques are "invited" to enter the domain of the politics to do their talking), we will have a cultural lacking the necessary and critical level of critical thinking (me so very tautological).

Most intelligent people need creative spaces and freedom to explore and develop their potential. Singapore is not one good place, at the moment. Politically, culturally and economically, it is not the best place, although the island-state is considered by The Monocle as one of the most liveable cities in the world. Maybe if I had at least a million Sing dollars, I will find Singapore liveable too!

There is no market for intellectualism except in the domain of education and research with economic agenda. There will never be a place for critical thinking so long as most of us continue to measure ideas and jobs based on how much rice they put on the table - which is a very legitimate measurement by the way.

When people complain about the lack of critical thinking in Singapore, I feel that graduates and teachers/professors are not to blame. We have to assess the culture from which we live and thrive, and from which spawns the self-perpetuating cycle of discourses that prioritises economic survivability, sustenance, development, growth and other characteristics of a Chinese elite wet dream.

That said, we cannot be labelled as "soulless", because our soul is in the discourse of 'pragmatism', no matter how misguided and single-minded. We also cannot be labelled as "stupid" because our goals are simple - we want lots of money!

Most of us do not fancy prioritising self-actualisation above leading a comfortable and sustainable material lifestyle. Once in a while, we feel happy we are helping others, but most of the time, we are part of the bandwagon of selfish and highly rational folk (you do not need critical thinking to be rational, I believe).

And when there is a specific work ethic that discursively dominates, some stuff done by the relatively privilege (intellectually, socio-economically, etc.) may more likely be taken with offense. For example, parody, humour, sarcasm, and honest opinions are seen as snobbish, snooty, insensitive and so on. On the other hand, it is okay and harmless for the hawker stall aunty to snort and roll her eyes when a "potato-eating" "street-dumb" English-educated Eurasian-looking kid like myself politely tries to order some food by speaking Mandarin. (There's no credit for being nice or trying to speak Mandarin, by the way)

I think the experiences and opinions of the blogger Intellectual Snob are valid and legitimate. But it is our culture of political correctness, injected with the a couple of vials of Christian-Confucian puritanism, that continually silences this. If the working class can wear their bling and strut their respectable street-smart swagger, why can't the upper and privileged classes run their mouths? (By the way, I wished I had the bling, the swagger and the know-how to run my mouth.)


-ben said...

I may be wrong here (I really hope I am) but my experience with local undergraduates and graduates seem to suggest a higher incidence — and tolerance — of plagiarism. I am not sure if it is systemic, a cultural mindset, or just plain laziness, on both the part of professor and student.

That said, judging the from painful call for attention and self-glorification in the content, I would be surprised if "The Lady Melissa" isn't "The Intellectual Snob" rehashed.

Sam Ho said...

interesting observation. i think most of us do have the mindset of "wanting to get the job done" and "using tried and tested formulae".

sandycharm said...

I like your post.
I dislike the Stomp culture and what it engage in so I rarely go there.
But the Stomper's response was darn funny.

The glamor of a working man. Who sweat it out and who actually gets the work done.
May be he might be highly physically fit, too (alas, one can dream).