Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Time to make marry in Singapore!

Marriage rates are declining in Singapore. No shit, Sherlock!

Thanks to decades of result-oriented education, growing materialism, rapid industrialisation, and a heavy touch of economically driven social policies, we've become a highly rationalised society. But it's more convenient to overlook sociology and just isolate the problem to individualistic selfish ungrateful generation of Singaporeans we have today. It's after all less complicated if a generation of human beings (Gen Y, in this case) is identified as the problem, as compared to looking at policies and their social ramifications.

It's reported that global economic uncertainty is one reason for singles not wedding. That is interesting. It is even more interesting that no political leader has taken ownership and responsibility for the policies he (yes, it's a rather male-centric one) has passed that has dis/empowered a generation of Singaporeans into embracing a very rational and economically-driven approach to life.

This is a classic case of paying the price for decisions made by the previous generation of leaders. We clean up their poop, just like how the next generation will clean up ours.

Our over-rationalised kiasu nature is a product of a socialisation that is strongly steered by a series of incentive and disincentives. Love and marriage are now more logical and rational, rather than emotional and irrational (in a good, romantic, romanticised sense). Love and marriage are incentivised with perks thanks to policies.

Love and marriage are also extended and externalised as it constantly remains couched in the rhetoric of policy, politics, "national service" and so on. Marriage is now defined by its function and the ramifications if its numbers are insufficient. As such, we fuss a lot more over its form - we focus on age, race and composition (e.g. heterosexual composition) - and when we're happy with a certain form, more policies are crafted to favour it.

Speaking of "national service", isn't it very demeaning to women who make the choice to stay single or married or not to have kids, and we're telling them making babies equates to doing national service? "That's your biology, so do it." Thanks for representing women in Singapore that way. I'm sure sex-negative feminists like Thio Su Mien will be appalled by such logic, so shut up and sit down.

There's where the tyranny of youthful heterosexual procreative lawful union kicks in. You can add "educated ethnic Chinese" to that because the issues of a specific stratum of a specific ethnicity seem to matter to specific people in power, especially so in a political ecosystem historically dominated (very thoroughly) by a Chinese (business) elite. We can talk about race another time.

Back to marriage and of course, kids.

Let's put some of the pieces together first:
People are marrying later.
People want to be financially independent as early as possible.
Flats are more expensive.
Flats are smaller.
People have elderly folks to look after.
Elderly folks face limitations in medical subsidies and access to medical help.
Cost of living continues to increase.

So, what would rational Singaporeans do?

Take care of the people who are already in existence (elders). Makes sense.
Earn as much money as possible, be financially independent. Good way to feel in control in such a politically disempowered society.
Financial independence seem to be the new "sexy" in a materialistic age. Good way to hook up.
Speaking of hooking up, isn't it more rational to enjoy sex as a commodity (recreationally consumed) than having commitment which is emotional and less logical?
Since we have sex for recreational consumption, there's really no need to have marriage when polyamory empowers individuals with choice.
Well, we could have marriage to enjoy the perks provided by the state, but that may not necessarily result in procreation.
A childless marriage makes sense for those who want to enjoy their brand of independence and comfort. That's economically stable, and it's rational, right?

The point is, don't try to blame Singaporeans for being over-rational or individualistic. Let's look at the context and how we have been socialised into becoming this way, into feeling this way and into believing it is normal to feel this way.

The news report need not interview sociologists and give a watered down assessment of the situation. Our leaders just need to have a little sociological imagination, and they'll be less prone to blaming the products of their own policies. But some people think their shit doesn't stink.

So Singaporeans aren't marrying. Selfish.
Not having enough kids, prefer childless lifestyle. Materialistic.
Bring in more immigrants. Xenophobic.

Not bad, and we've a paternalistic state that some how wants its children to have low self-esteem with these labels, or at least the association with such labels. Sociologists will be giggling at this.

If the government wants to have a holistic approach to policy, it should first take greater responsibility of its policies and genuinely accept that its decisions, past and present, create the means for a society to exhibit such tendencies. Don't blame globalisation and westernisation and any other phenomena you think doesn't involve you.

A holistic approach also incorporates sociology. I'm very sure many sociologists will be very happy if a major segment of our politicians have a little sociological imagination or develop some sensitivity to the social aspects and implications of policies, rather than have impaired leadership driven by the economic imperative and a press that tokenises them (sociologists).

I think we're come to a point where our leaders have difficulty leading by example. While I personally prefer our leaders to show their personal and family man/woman side (have the press depict them as family guys), they'll probably be dismissed as socio-economically privileged folks living in comfort and have the means to have big happy families. That's political cynicism, which is on the rise, unlike our birthrates (no worries, next year's the dragon year and we'll get our ethnic Chinese babies).

I personally like to see Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hold his wife's hand and show he's a family guy. It's symbolic, and it shows that despite the Lee household's rather comfortable combined income, family has a place. We are far too obsessed with professional performance and buttoned-up public personae, we forget about how marriage and family can have a place in this heavily rationalised mess.

I wanted to say "If you want to connect with people, you have humanise yourself and show you are just like everyone" but I think Singaporeans are generally less forgiving and expect you to be so much better than them in order to be a good political leader, but not so damn good to the point you're despised for being disconnected. Then again, how did we come to cultivate this expectation?

When a leader speaks poor English, we feel he/she is not good enough to lead. When a leader speaks good English, we feel he/she is unable to connect with everyone else. Don't blame the fickle electorate. It's time to do an after-action review of the policies that have caused us to see the world this way and given us this appetite for perfection and of course, our characteristic impatience.

Ah well, perhaps we'll have more "throwing the baby out with the bath water" metaphors from the Prime Minister next National Day Rally when he's talking about policies.

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