free to choose

September 30, 2005

Dinner tonight was with my uncle (paternal, dad’s younger brother), during which I realised that my family is excessively different and diverse. In the midst of the stilted conversation I came to a rather surprising conclusion (well, surprising because I rarely think about thinking and/or like to think and/or the accompanying good grades): I’m really the only one in my extended family who’s done well academically, and it’s rather surprising when you consider that there is a strong tendency, in Singapore at least, with the family unit so strong and the parental upbringing so roteish and similar, that academic performance runs in the family.

But this isn’t a post about how I don’t feel close to my family. It’s more about the differences which can exist between us and how people should be free to choose the life that they think suits them best. My cousin hates Chinese, Math and Science. He pretty much hates everything to do with school. He is, however, brilliant at drawing and drum-playing, two activities which he loves. He should be allowed to do whatever he wants to do with his life. Which is really what my boho uncle (who once quit his media job to work as a rockwall designer. Come again?) and his wife (who really is quite a cool mom who buys the nicest clothes for the children) have let him do, which is fantastic. They’re really the ones who have looked past the narrow definition of success that has come to haunt the landscape of Singapore. (On the other hand, my parents are the embodiment of the Singapore Dream. Assiduous, thrifty, moralising, authoritarian, pro-establishment. They’re like the Tampines GRC chairpersons on crack.)

For there is really no such breadth of mind or broadness of spirit. It is all about realising your dreams! Your bourgeois nouveau-riche doctor-lawyer-banker dreams which will lead you to buying a piece of land and a car. Your boring middle class dreams where the hardworking succeed and those left on the shelf are benevolently matched together by the SDU. The end of the road. Greater than Marx’s predicted revolution is the colossal ossification: not the overthrowing of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat, but the mass hollowness that will drive them like desperate housewives into the arms of dangerous liaisons and suicide.

That is why the government’s attempts to promote not only a ‘single peak of achievement’ but a ‘mountain range’ will ultimately fail. How can the government succeed, when it is the greatest promulgator of that single peak of achievement, prosperity with its attendant progresses? For no regime which whose only claim to legitimacy is stable and continued economic growth can ever promote other forms of success than the one it does now. Come to us, they say, all ye who labour, and we shall give you peace, progress and prosperity. (And my parents have bought into this dystopian nightmare.)

But not. Their peace is not peace. The progress is not my progress. And the prosperity does not belong to everyone (have you seen recent estimates of our Gini Coefficient?). Until the government learns political pluralism and that people have a right to do whatever they damn well fucking please without harming other people, there will be no mountain range of success. There will be no success other than the president’s scholars, who sell their souls to the government so that they can go on to perpetuate themselves, like incestuous Urobori, snakes swallowing their tails. There is no success. We are not free to choose.

Postscript: it’s really not all about the money. Quick quiz: Ashley Isham and Col Tan Chuan Jin probably earn the same amounts of money. Who’s considered more successful, the Singapore-boy turned London haute couturier(e) (that was below the belt, I apologise), or the one who’s chased his own dreams to eventually become someone or other in some minister’s office or other?


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