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I am Singaporean IV – Never Good Enough July 5, 2010

Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean Vol. III.

Long time no see! Our Labour Chief’s shenanigans (linguistically and, well, politically) have brought me out from my cave of learning. So what did he say? As quoted by CNA, he said…

“If you’re the best today, strive to be better. If you’re better today, strive to be ‘betterer’ and if you’re ‘betterer’ today, strive to be ‘betterest’ so that over time, Singapore’s service standards can just keep getting better, ‘betterer’ and ‘betterest’.”

So, Singaporeans are never good enough. Of course, no one will ever be good enough. It’s very easy to see it with an analogy. Say you work hard and earn 2 grand a month. Of course it’s not enough, you work harder and try to make 3 grand, etc. Progress functions on not being good enough. Right?

Well, yes. But what is it that makes Lim Swee Say’s comment sound so wrong?

What is wrong is the very reason why he should not be a politician. Lim Swee Say is a straight-talker – he shoots off his mouth without sending his thoughts through Central Processing. What he has said ia something which everyone actually knows, i.e., that one can always be better, but never wants to hear in cleartext, since it reduces happiness.

Especially if it is said by an authority figure like our Labour Chief. Because what he says is probably what our Gahmen wants to tell us.

Why? Let me venture a guess. It’s because this good, better, best thing has no longer anything to do with the development of the individual. All it has to do with is bringing in the moolah (see the analogy above.) That means that this so-called “Heartware” is missing. When everything is about dollars and cents, you can be damn sure that your personal worth is going to be measured in dollars and cents. So those of you who want personal development but not in the sense of growing your (or the country’s) financial portfolio, Fuck Off. You guys are parasites and the scum of the society.

Probably the official stand which should never ever be put in clear text as well.

Now, seeking for personal development in the sense of wisdom, knowledge etc is very good. In that sense, Never Being Good Enough is actually very good for you. That kind of self-knowledge is what keeps science, philosophy and literature alive. Everyone wants to be a better person. But who wants to be a better cash cow? So, once again, here, it’s not about your personal development, you fool. In a Singaporean sense, personal development can be termed “skills upgrading”. Which means, in Singaporetalk, making yourself more useful to society.

It sounds great. But is it good for the person? You see, when society starts to chase Wealth as her only God, the individual becomes devalued. You don’t use society, society uses you. Your happiness never counts, the society’s happiness counts. The only worth you have in society’s eyes is that of how useful you are materially to society.

Are you a businessman? Welcome to Singapore! Are you a table-tennis player from China? Welcome too! Are you an entrepreneur? Welcome! Biomedical scientist? Sure! Are you poorly-educated, unwilling to integrate but are willing to produce babies and work here for a good pay? Yes! In short, Can We Milk You For Cash/Prestige/Survival?

Historian? Uh-uh (you may find out the dark truth, so you are not only useless, but dangerous). Author? Will anyone read your books? Philosopher? No! DANGER! How about filmmaker? Well, depends on what films you intend to make. Linguistic researcher? Singapore’s not a zoo! These jobs are not so materially useful to our little island economy, but they are useful in that they make people think and they contribute to what constitutes Heart Ware, namely, identity.

Fortunately, Singaporean identity is bigger than the identity of The Party, which tends to see itself as being equivalent to Singapore. And, it should be clear that the Party, which seems to be obsessed with numbers, has no place for you, the person wanting to be a simple good human. Because you are reducible to digits and numbers. And here comes the shocker: Digits and numbers have no inherent meaning. The Party thinks that they have a meaning, because “much” is understood as “good”, “more” is easily understood as “better”, etc.

On the other hand, “happiness” is a term overflowing with meaning. If you put your mind to it, you could write books about Happiness. Can you write a 2,000 word essay about digits and numbers and what they mean in the everyday world? Two worlds collide and are perhaps, for now, co-existing in a precarious balance. Want more meaning? Then maybe the digits have to lose some ground.

And oh, by the way, Mr Lim, “best” is a superlative. “Better” is a comparative. I think what you really wanted to say was “better than best.” THAT is grammatical correctness. You get an A for your linguistic creativity, although i strongly suggest you leave that word out in your next GP essay.