Viral Racism & Singapore’s Hoarding Mentality

What’s even more infectious than the Wuhan virus? It’s the panic buying “virus”. Immediately after DORSCON Orange was announced, the “virus” spread throughout Singapore afflicting thousands who thronged the supermarkets to clean the shelves for 3 month’s supply of rice, instant noodles and toilet paper. Make that 1 year’s supply of toilet paper. Queues reached the ends of the supermarkets and latecomers were greeted by empty shelves. Yao mo gao chor ah?

It was a similar scene at Prime here at Punggol. I went there on Saturday morning even before the sun was out and there were already long queues. The shelves were empty. I didn’t have to buy anything yet and luckily, they left some things alone – like the raw, unprocessed chicken. When others can’t cook while you can, you have an advantage.

The next day, I checked my rice supply and realised that I had only about 2 days’ supply left. At first I was worried, not sure if there would be any rice left in the minimart just across the road from my block. I went over to check it out. Indeed, all the small packets – up to 5kg were sold out. However, there was still a large stack of 11kg packs.

The moral of the story? Relax in times of panic buying. Most people can’t cook and the aunties can’t manage rice packs over 5kg.

According to Mayo Clinic, hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.

No, this is not what the “hoarding” we’re seeing here is all about. First of all, it’s not an illness and there is no treatment. It’s an instinctive reaction to a crisis. The first level to aim for is extra supply. They may already have some instant noodles at home, but in times of crisis, a sense of security is derived from acquiring an extra supply of basic needs. After reaching this level, they progress to the next level. They get competitive. They start looking at their neighbours’ shopping cart. Then comes the strong need to win and be better off than others. The more they can grab at others’ expense, the greater the sense of victory. Trust me, I’ve known these folks for half a century.

Everyone wants a wide margin of safety for himself. They don’t care if others have to wait for them. They make sure they don’t have to wait for others. And like the CO-OC-PC example I gave, it all trickles down from the top. Why should people be so generous when they see and experience hoarding just above them and the habit extends all the way to the top?

Going by GDP, we are a first world country, but as Prof Tommy Koh pointed out, we have third world citizens. We have amassed great wealth by making welfare a dirty word and that dirt has spread to obliterate compassion and consideration for others as well.

One issue lies with our unfamiliarity with crisis. Because we are so well sheltered, many of us see any sort of anomaly outside of that protective umbrella as a challenge to our existence. No thanks to all the that exaggeration of our vulnerability to justify control so as to achieve absolute security and stability. We have been cocooned and sensitised, not exposed and immunised. Throw in a fire cracker and we’ll think it’s a grenade. The margin of safety is never wide enough.

Yes, Singapore is vulnerable, but not in the way that justifies censorship, media control and one-party rule. We are vulnerable because our calculative, competitive, unforgiving, non-nonsense environment has cultivated a population that sorely lacks compassion and generosity. Waive GST for basic essentials? No, this will bankrupt the country. Take advantage of low birth rate to improve teacher to student ratio? No, this is unsustainable. Give each family 2 boxes of masks? No, you’ll just be wasting them. 4 is enough. Free masks for our PHV drivers? 1 time, 1 mask, no more, good luck. Thanks, but no thanks.

Should we even be surprised that there should be so much hoarding at others’ expense? People make you feel guilty for not being stingy. If you show some generosity, they remark “wa, you so rich ah?”. If you do volunteer work, they remark “wa, you so free ah?”. It’s either that or you’ve carelessly and stupidly breached your own margin of safety.

I’ve checked all the online grocery stores. At this time of writing, they are all unable to deliver. Old and disabled folks who can’t grab fast enough or queue long enough are eliminated from this survivor’s game. If it gets bad enough, even those who are just slightly slower will face shortage or even starve. We don’t have the luxury of blaming foreigners. Indeed, we don’t need a foreign threat to bring this country down. Inject a crisis that makes those with third world mentality (the majority) broaden their own margin of safety for strategic resources at others’ expense and we’ll be doomed, our powerful military and high tech weapons notwithstanding.

Kuwait has advised its citizens not to travel to Singapore. Should we be worried? Yes, we already have people worrying about the economy, but it’s more respectable to call it racism or cultural bias. Should we be offended? Amid all the complaints about “racism”, cultural and political bias etc, there has been calls for “perspective”. But how should we look at the issue of “perspective”?

Why was there no “panic” or blocking of American citizens from entering another country when H1N1 killed half a million people? Yes, we must put matters in perspective and the devil is in the details.

Swine flu or H1N1 (2009-2010) was a global pandemic. Up to 1.4 billion people have been infected (with many not even knowing it). The numbers infected were even higher than that of the notorious Spanish Flu.

Based on the projected death toll of up to 575,000 maximum, the highest conceivable mortality rate was about 0.04%. Based on official figures, it’s less than 0.02%.

Furthermore, the virus is also susceptible to Tamiflu. Severely affected patients with access to the drug and superior emergency medicine almost invariably survived. That’s why it was not as aggressively managed as the current novel coronavirus episode. There is no cultural/political or racial bias/conspiracy here.

The mortality rate for Ebola infection ranges wildly from 25-90%. It’s 90% if you caught the virus and remained in West Africa. It’s 25% if you’re an American healthcare worker who got flown back to the US after contracting the illness. Finally, almost all Americans who caught it in America survived, but the numbers are too small to affect the overall mortality rate or 40%.

During the Ebola epidemic from 2014-2016, many countries stopped flights to and from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. China initiated its own lockdown of cities and nobody knows what the real figures coming out from there are. What do they expect the rest of the world to do? Treat people arriving from China in the same way Americans were treated during the H1N1 pandemic?

Sure there are ignorant and bigoted folks out there who are responding with racist remarks and actions, but are Wuhan residents not feared and ostracised in the rest of China as well? People get offended when they are shunned. For sure, those earning tourist dollars are in deep trouble. But I suspect that over here, a far bigger threat can be found in our own people and their selfish, inconsiderate behaviour.

© Chan Joon Yee

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