Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Social:Do Singaporeans have culture?

Do Singaporeans have culture? (part I)

In the true Singaporean sense of ignorance, one of the least understood phenomenons is culture. Just as how Singaporeans love to simplistically define things, the word culture is also more than often defined so crudely to be something that involves arts, ethnicity etc. Though culture can be defined in many ways, a consistent definition will be as below

"What we mean by culture, is all the ways we as humans communicate with each other, whether we're producing culture by writing a poem or by building a community space where people are free to interact." (UBERCULTURE) http://www.uberculture.org/home/faq.html

When I pose the question whether Singaporeans have culture, I basically mean whether Singaporeans are able to interact with one another as humans. The sense of interaction involves all kinds of environments such as between colleagues within a work environment, with the spouse within a matrimonial union, with a fellow motorist on the road, with fellow passengers on a mrt/bus, between relations and kinsmen in the extended family and community, between neighbors in the neighborhood and between friends close and far, between customers and seller etc.

The question “Do Singaporeans have culture?” is actually a generalized, qualitative question. Indeed the answer it will indeed be a generalized answer. Undeniably one can reasonably assert that the majority of Singaporeans have no culture i.e. Singaporeans are truly handicapped to interact with one another accordingly and positively as humans.

I am sure Singaporeans, being Singaporeans who are ultra-sensitive to self-criticism, will be defensive about this claim. They will deny in vain.

Indeed the rising divorce rates indicate some truths to the fact Singaporean couples are unable to interact positively and accordingly with their spouse as how humans rightfully ought to do. Boy-girl relationships are increasing failing as couples are increasingly unable to interact accordingly and positively with each other. In short in these aspects Singaporeans do lack culture. They lack the culture of being in a marriage or relationship.

The Chans in Everitt Road have demonstrated Singaporean are unable to interact positively and accordingly with their neighbors as humans. Indeed during my NS days, I have seen numerous Chans, who do exist in every neighborhood and increasingly increase nowadays. When I was growing up in the 1980s I was acquainted and well aware of each and every neighbor who resided along my long corridor. Today I have no clue who my next door neighbor who refuses to interact with me or anyone. Indeed nobody can deny that the old sense of neighborliness that used to exist in the neighborhoods are history today. The fundamental reason is nothing more than that Singaporeans lack the culture of being a neighbor.

The constant territorial and bloodbath ridden political struggles we hear and experience in Singapore work environments do demonstrate Singaporeans are unable to accordingly and positively interact with their colleagues as humans. Simple petty disputes are often blown out of proportion. Disagreements often tend to grow into conflicts. Conflict of opinions tend to deteriorate to misunderstandings. Arguments often tend to worsen to quarrels. Retaliation has become a common sense of response. Sabotage sometimes is used without hesitation to react to others. In short Singaporeans truly lack the culture of being a colleague.

Who can actually deny Singaporeans have great difficulty in having appropriate or positive interaction with their customers. Even the prime minister highlighted how Singaporeans lack the culture of providing service.
In all the general problem is that Singaporeans are void of culture i.e. they are incapable of positive and appropriate interaction with others as humans.

Well lets look at the problem the other way. How can Singaporeans possibly have culture when they have never had any means to acquire it? They are handicapped because they lack the necessary skills and the sense of awareness that is necessary for them to practice effective and proper communication methods as humans. The fundamental cause of this is simply because what all Singaporeans have experienced as part of growing up, is rather only textbooks, malls, tv, computer and entertainment. These are insufficient and not the necessary mediums through which one comes into awareness or through which one develops the necessary skills. In other words we are like modern, advanced but primitive Man. What is necessary to cultivate a culture includes ethics, values, principles and understanding of emotions and reality all of which need the mediums of family, relatives, kinsmen, neighbors, priests and teachers to propagate. But isn’t everyone too busy working and trying to pay loans and bills? How then could Singaporeans learnt and acquired culture?

How did we end up here? Indeed there are many forces that have swept us into such detrimental stage. Firstly our education system. Does it really educate us or does it only teach us? Secondly how much of real, positive space in our early life do family, relatives, kinsmen, neighbors, priests and teachers occupy beyond the physical space? Thirdly, where in our society or country do we have conscientious understanding of this and what have we really done then or all along to avoid the predicament we are in now? Fourthly Singaporeans are so full of ego and kiasuism. Singaporeans live in a perpetual fear that the other person will beat them to something. Whenever they actually feel that way, their sense of ego kicks in forcing them to react adversely or defend passionately. Finally Singapore society has sold itself to materialism and capitalism till one inevitably stops seeing himself/herself collectively with others but instead starts to look at oneself alone only in a myopic and selfish way.

Hence these forces hinder Singaporeans from interacting accordingly and positively with one another as humans. What truly is disheartening is that Singaporeans were used to be known for their sense of culture. It was this sense of culture that promoted the masses to work hard and be focused in growth. Today the absence of culture within Singaporeans, is affecting the society in the socio-economic areas adversely. Focus, coordination and cooperation are rare. Instead it has deteriorated to a mad race, where each Singaporean is running faster and faster to catch up with yesterday.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Social: Replacing family relations with money relations in a family

I was reading Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto today on the bus. Even though I am anti-Communist, one need not be one or a sympathizer of communists to read that book. Indeed it is well accepted as an academic manuscript which is being used by many disciplines as it contains some relevant and useful theories.

One of the Marx’s theories is that when capitalism takes over the society, family relations will be replaced by money relations between family members.

This can never be truer than in Singapore which is one of the purest forms of capitalist society in the world. Indeed for Singapore to be a capitalist society, it needs to have the following key features.

Firstly the whole population must fall into two distinct classes that is defined by ownership of factors of production i.e. land, labor and capital. The bourgeois is the class that owns these factors of production. The proletariats are the one who sells their labor to the bourgeois. In a quasi-capitalist or non-capitalist, there will be more than these two classes or a single class. In the past when Singapore pursued socialist policies at least there were a few classes namely, the rich class comprising those who owned the factors of production, the middle class whose high literacy allowed them to sell their labor at a higher rate and a working class who had to depend on selling their labor at nominal rates.

Secondly in a capitalist society the question of what to produce is determined by pure profits. Hence where there exists positive externalities for society at large in utilization of certain goods and services and where its also not profitable, such goods and services will not be produced at all or at necessary levels. Likewise as to the question of for whom to produce, its purely determined by the ability to pay by consumer.

Thirdly in a capitalist society, competition is purely through price or more often market power. This is chiefly through extensive advertising campaigns, mergers, acquisitions etc.

Though these three features are not the only features to consider Singapore to be a capitalist society, they are indeed the key features. Moreover nobody quite denies Singapore today is a capitalist society. It is something that even some are proud of.

However as Marx pointed out, family relations today in Singapore is indeed being replaced by money relations between family members. The decision making process with regards to family is more than often dictated by the consideration of money. For instance money plays a very significant role or the most significant role in the decision making process when couples consider going into relationships, couples consider getting married, couples consider having a baby, couples consider having an additional baby, couples break up, children face the obligations of looking after their parents especially when they are very sick etc etc.

Traditionally family relations dictated money relations in family and was influenced by considerations, filial piety, sense of dedication, sentiments, morals, ethics, values and emotions. Today instead money relations dictate and is influenced by estimations of opportunity costs and benefits. Therefore in the earlier case, even when family is impoverished or limited in its resources(as in earlier days of Singapore), it was able to meet its wants and there was a positive and sustainable growth in the family aided by the force of the engine of family relations. Likewise in the latter case, even when family is affluent and has more than limited resources, family is unable to meet its needs and naturally declines and deteriorates.

It is disturbing for me to see the social transformation in Singapore in the last two decades. Back in the 80s where I grow up as a child, I saw the beauty of family relations amongst families that lived in my HDB block. It established and motivated the continuity of at least one economic driver, the breadwinner, who served the economic interests of the whole family unit. Family relations also established and motivated the continuity of at least one social driver who oversaw the social demands of the family unit. Family relations was always the underlying factor that trigger rehabilitation intervention or relief efforts whenever some member in the unit requires some form of rehabilitation or relief assistance. The same family relations often over flowed to the extended family, neighbors and community hereby having a macro effect on them.

The 90s boom in Singapore promoted the growth of capitalism and gradually replaced family relations with money relations. This was accelerated by the society’s desire for material prosperity and perpetual quest for 5Cs. However this transformation was a sub-conscious one to which today Singaporeans are waking up to realize.

Since Singapore is at the cross roads of development sitting on the fence of an industrialized economy and facing the prospects of possibly growing into a developed economy or stagnating into a less developing economy, it still has time to put its house on order. Indeed it is still not too late to replaces the very forces, which eroded family relations and replaced it with money relations, such as secularism, westernization and capitalism with spirituality, culture, traditions and ethics.