We humans are distinguished from the beasts by our ability to think. Like some of the smarter animals, we are also capable of learning. Be it formal education or life experiences acquired through the School of Hard Knocks, learning is essential to everybody’s personal development. But experience; sometimes even learning, can also cultivate prejudice and assumption. One of the saddest ironies of the human race is that very often, the educated people in our society are the ones who fail to think, relying only on assumptions and what they believe is common knowledge.
The bloodied carcass of a sperm whale was found off the coast of Jurong Island on 10th July 2015. The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum says this is the first time a sperm whale sighting has been recorded in Singapore. The authorities wasted no time harvesting the flesh for research. The bones will be put on display at the Lee Kong Chian Museum of Natural History There are plans to put the sperm whale’s skeleton on display once research has been completed. Not surprisingly, the dead whale didn’t attract much attention or comments on social media.
No Fengshui enthusiasts see this as a bad omen for GE2015 and no banana-eating teenage bloggers suspect that the poor animal, obviously a foreign immigrant to our warm and shallow tropical waters, committed suicide because of the stressful life in Singapore. But I do recall reading a travel book about a couple of Americans who stumbled on a whaling tribe in a remote, underdeveloped region. The Americans with their superior education, their far-reaching media and their civilised upbringing told them that they ought to feel disgusted with the whaling tribe’s actions. Whales are intelligent animals. Why are these ignorant folks hunting them?
But the Americans soon discovered that they were the ignorant ones. The whale hunters did not hunt whales every day. A good catch, with some salting and drying, could feed a family for a year. Nothing went to waste because catching a whale is nothing like visiting a supermarket. In contrast, Americans were killing chickens, ducks, pigs, cows, goats, fish every day and throwing away tonnes of edible meat while allowing tonnes to become inedible. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who is causing more damage to the environment.
It’s an irony that if these folks could switch to eating whale meat and treating it with respect, fewer animals will need to be slaughtered. Why am I bringing the whale to the dinner table? Because I want to illustrate a simple fact – that some of the things that trendy and educated people tend to take for granted may not be absolute truths after all. When we think that we have things to teach countries which we believe are more backward than ours, we assume that we are richer or more progressive because we are smarter and wiser. Many travellers are surprised that they may actually have some things to learn from these seemingly poor and backward people.
Now, let’s snoop around highly educated Singaporean Petunia Lee’s blog again for some examples of presumptuous, scholarly assumptions and even a bit of apple-polishing. Here’s an excerpt:
Watching the Greek story unfurl, it makes me thankful and grateful that the new PAP is also good with finances and savvy (maybe not as good as the old PAP… but I know I am biased) in the ways of economic growth. After all, the Singapore economy is still holding up. The new PAP may have been insensitive about social issues. The new PAP may have lost touch with people’s hearts.
It never lost touch with economic growth.
You know, the new PAP was like a husband whose sole way of showing love was to ensure the family had enough money. This husband loved his family deeply. He was serious and gruff, never smiled and did not understand other people’s weakness. He was always working so hard to make money that he did not have time to show love and affection. He also drove his family hard and when his family did not work hard or well enough, he adopted foreign children to help support the family.
At the same time, he was supremely confident that he was a good husband and demanded the respect commensurate with his own self-view.
Yet, through it all, this husband did not stop loving his family. It may be hard to believe, but I think it is true.
Those are her exact words and I don’t know what her values are, but I believe that anyone with even the tiniest bit of self-respect, will not accept this “marriage” of convenience, let alone tolerate a head of the house who has lost touch with the family members’ hearts! I personally don’t trust SNAGs, and we all know what a no-nonsense, unromantic but hardworking, self-sacrificing Dad who toils to make sure every family member is well taken care of looks like. Wait a minute. Self-sacrificing? Every family member well taken care of? It’s obvious that Petunia Lee’s analogy doesn’t describe the “family” or “economy” as seen by large numbers of struggling Singaporeans.
We are not looking at a loving father who is simply not good at showing it. We are looking at a cold, calculative, meticulous and emotionless CEO who hoards every cent, demands maximum bang for every buck and who won’t hesitate to sacrifice any member of the family (except himself) for the sake of financial security and orderliness. Happy family? Or Singapore Inc? Sure, like a thriving company or business, Singapore’s macroeconomic figures look improbably good. But Singapore is also one of the (if not the) most unequal countries in the world.
Are we one of the richest countries in the world? That depends on what job title you hold. If you’re a bus driver, your income would only be higher than your counterparts in Philippines, Mexico, Russia, Lithuania, Thailand, China, Romania, Kuwait, Peru in this list. As an auxillary nurse, your income would only rank above Thailand in this list. How about something a little more white collar? Like computer programming. Even in this profession, we are nowhere near the top according to this list. You can check out the other professions at World Salaries and the inescapable conclusion is that Singaporeans’ incomes do not measure up standards in the developed world. What does “high economic growth” mean to these folks? More fireworks during NDP? A bigger bar of chocolate in the goody bag? Or just cheaper, better, faster? Loving father indeed.
Oh yes, what about Greece? What if the wages of nurses, bus drivers and computer programmers get too high and the wages of our ministers get too low? What if we spend a bit more on the less fortunate people in our society? What if we allow the media the same free rein as that in Hong Kong and Taiwan? All hands on the panic button. Will we become another Greece? There is a scholarly assumption that political dissent/opposition will destabilise society and affect our businessmen’s plans on making their next million. It doesn’t bother them that GE2015 doesn’t bring us any closer to a First World Parliament. Others, like the daughter of some MP, make the scholarly assumption that people don’t do as well as they do because they are not as good as she is and deserve their unfortunate circumstances. In other words, they suck. People like this MP’s daughter may also assume that a professional who has lost his job can get back on track and relive and his former glory as long as he keeps upgrading his skills. I’ve come across one apparently well-educated ivory tower “scholar” who said on social media that beer promoters who had lost their jobs due to new regulations can take this opportunity to go back to school compete with academically inclined youngsters. We take no prisoners when it comes to growing the economy. We make assumptions when we take measures to help those left behind. It’s just like Thai society where there’s a scholarly assumption that sending naughty boys to become novices in temples for a couple of months is a sure-cure for delinquency. In the meantime, long live the king. But after the death of our patriarch, the worry of the day is Singapore becoming like Greece. This may even be a topic at election rallies for GE2015.
The trouble is, Singapore is not Greece – not by a very, very long shot. Our kiasu, kiasi culture dictates that we want to know where the panic button is even when things are looking their best. And regardless of who heads the government, I can’t imagine the possibility of having leaders who might double the number of public holidays on our calendar, let alone provide all citizens with free medical care plus an allowance for wine and … holidays in Greece.
It may not be that difficult to understand our jumpiness, but this culture of hoarding and insistence on a monstrously wide margin of safety for ourselves before we even start thinking of others doesn’t win us too many friends whether at home or beyond our shores. With such scholarly assumptions about macroeconomic figures and the need to guard hundreds of billions in “reserves” (whose exact amount has never been revealed to us), how can we ever expect to have a caring and giving society? How can people ever be happy? The Economist points this out so succinctly.
It (Singapore) can afford to relax politically without inviting chaos; it can afford to relax socially without causing unmanageable tension; it can afford to provide better for its needy and elderly without pushing the country down a slippery slope of welfare dependence; it can afford, in other words, to be less of an exception, more of a normal country; and, yes, it can afford even poetry.
Finally, in spite of all the grim news, Greeks are not jumping off tall buildings. It may be difficult for the likes of Petunia Lee to fathom, but for most Greeks, life still goes on. The people believe that this winter, snow will still fall on the Mt Olympus and the sand on the beaches in Crete will still be as soft. Festivals will still be celebrated and babies will still be made, probably for another couple of thousand years. In this respect, I’m concerned that Singaporeans can’t be a bit more like Greeks.
More as we approach GE2015. In the meantime, keep thinking and for Buddha’s sake, cast those scholarly assumptions aside.
© Chan Joon Yee