Want to beat the recession? Then start by finding beauty in the small.

January 15, 2009

Small is beautiful. I know, you probably wouldn’t think so. Especially,  if you had to square off with one of those 2 metric ton soviet tractor sisters of perpetual hesitation (SPH) who you just wrote something nasty about in your blog.


But seriously: is small really beautiful? I mean don’t get me wrong; this isn’t an essay in defense of dwarf throwing or why we should all suddenly consider collecting miniature elephants and everything cute and dainty.


Only, if we are to really buy into whole notion, small is beautiful; then we would do well to pin down the reasons why and how it serves people and planet.


One clue can perhaps be found in small shops. As some of you already know. I am a big fan of small shops. I don’t particularly like fast food and much prefer slow food. Don’t care very much for off-the-shelve bicycle components either. Prefer to cut the deal with the friendly uncle who runs a small tool & die business.


Even all my produce comes straight out of the pasar where I have a direct relationship with the veggie uncle to the auntie who regularly sells me my chops. I even eat regularly in this family runned restaurant in Katong, where I happen to know them so well; they even allow me to stroll into the kitchen and mess it up from time to time, to whip my friends something that’s sumptuously; je ne sais qua (how do you think Missy Dotty allows me to write in her blog otherwise?)

In a nutshell,  if you really want to know why small is beautiful – its because it’s a reliable way to provide you endless variety, choice and the freedom to consume under your own terms. You’re for one not beholden to the law of averages.


I don’t doubt for one moment. all these goodies, may come at an additional cost and even penalties . But that’s far better than having to put up with the whole of idea of Henry Ford consumerism – where we’re all just statistical faceless dots – if you really want a dystopian peek at what I mean by the faceless evil power of big – then just hop down to Carrefour or Giant;  it doesn’t take you very long to figure; something is terribly wrong when your apples and oranges suddenly look like supersized beach balls – are they genetically modified produced? Dunno. But you get the general drift of what I mean by no choice, no variety and no freedom of choice – at the end of the day,  big simply boils down to take it or leave it.


That’s one reason why I never ever get any of my regular reads from self replicating code chain stores like MPH or Borders. My monthly copy of the Atlantic Monthy, New York Book Review and PBK American Scholar still comes from a little known mom & pop stationary shop that I’ve been using for the last decade; why? Well, you could say I just like it that way; I also like the way the owner makes it a point to hunt down lost publications which chain stores can never ever find. See my point now? There is a god in the small that even allows you to hunt down that one elusive publication which you would never be able to do; if you were dealing with a chain store. They will probably just Amazon it and if nothing comes up; they’ve just say, we don’t carry it. But with this small one man operation, he would furrow his brows, make a quick note of it and when I next come it; hey presto, it’s there!  Besides the practicalities of dealing with small shops – I also happen to value the relationship – in chain shops, you’re just another statistical insignificant. In a one man show, you’ve always be a valued customer, a friend, a human being – we talk, exchange notes and I really cannot imagine anything more satisfying than shooting a few beers and bitching about the demise of an age when literature no longer commands the same cultural authority it once did with someone who is really passionate about books – makes brides head revisited look like a day out in the Disneyland.


I guess if you really want to know why I am such a firm believer small is so beautiful; just take a long look at juggernaut corporations. And ask yourself what’s their raison? i.e why do they even exist? Who do they really serve people or profits? What sort of persona do they usually have? How do they regularly serve the local community? You get the general drift – they don’t score well on the people metrics.


You see the way I see it; whenever big anything dominates the playing field. And it really doesn’t matter whether it’s big political party; big newspaper; big cult church; big bureaucracy or even big blogs (who keep on reminding us all 24/7 that we are the smallest crumbs on this planet like the online citizen ) – then what invariably happens is, it also squeezes out what I call the happy middle kingdom i.e the good currency out of the system and in no time the field of possibility gets leveled down to zero.


Instead of diversity; variety and choice; we end up with you take it or do without.


If you really want to know more about how big as an idea, logic or school of thought can go awry; then just pop down to McDonalds or try pick up the phone and try to speak to someone from the customer service department of any big company; you’ve probably end up having a conversation with an automated agony aunt or someone who is polishing her nails in some call center in the Philippines. As she rattles off standard answers from a laminated instruction manual – I am reminded big anything just doesnt cut it – it just doesn’t hit the spot – it doesn’t bring it all home – not all the time at least.


For one whenever we buy into the  whole idea of big anything; we may even inadvertently destroy the whole idea of increased variety and diversity in our society without even knowing it; and given time, we may even have to  settle for something less than the authentic.


I am reminded the rot is usually slow and the saddest part is most people don’t even know how much harm they are doing to the whole idea of levelling the field of possibilities – whenever they buy into the whole idea of big anything. 


My point in this essay is  simply this. We need to be more sensitive, mindful even of the corrosive effects of limiting our choice to just the big and how that may even drive out the good in what the  small has to regularly offer –  if we are not mindful of our actions and simply remain bovine and bochap consumers instead of proactively thinking  about how we may be actively shaping society by the choices we regularly make. Then don’t be surprised, if instead of creating a better social environment; all of us may even end up fashioning something very close to a dystopian social Chernobyl.


This whole idea of small is beautiful and big is bad; even extends to the whole idea of shaping the online social narrative.


If you want to know; what I mean by having no choice, no variety and no opportunity to shape the ongoing social narrative; then just pop down to the online citizen and type in Singaporedaddy – SD – or the brotherhood press – what happens to your comment? Viola! Go and blow your mind out. Then ask yourself how does that even serve the greater good? (You have to decide whether that’s such a good thing – please go and verify it for yourself – don’t ever say, I never gave you anecdotal prove why big is evil and small is beautiful)


I am reminded big at the end of the day is just bad for people and planet – big firms for instance; rarely circulate money into the local economy. We never ever see it percolating through the system; working the good through people, lives and community; what usually happens is; the money is digitized and spirited away like cold sushi to some place where it’s probably invested in banks somewhere in Alps who used to bankroll Adolf Hitler.


Even big Byzantine sized solutions such as Philip Yeo’s great plan to grow a bio intelligentsia doesn’t  fair any better either; all it does is reduce education to something closer to the Henry Fordism of churning out cyborgs who have Phd’s, who don’t seem to have the imagination to prosper in the competitive bio tech industry.


The same goes for big newspapers who seem to do nothing these days except to forward their mass version of contrived reality that regularly causes pain to thinking folk. And what about big food chains who keep on extending their reach like some evil weed like Starbucks and Burger King, who keep on passing off chemically enhanced fast food as the best thing since Prozac? The same goes for big blogs, who claim to reflect the collective consciousness of the internet; they don’t propagate deep spirited understanding as much as distance states of minds and schools of thoughts; by regularly meat grinding variety and diversity up into a pulp; where like KFC it’s served right up as finger licking food; when we all know the flavors came right up of a test tube made by scientist in white suits.


My point in this essay is simply this whenever we invest in the big and decamp from the small; then we run the real danger of inadvertently fashioning a world that’s increasingly distanced from and devoid of spontaneity – in the face of such dizzying post modern living where big has somehow managed to overtake all of us so completely and thoroughly; we should simply pause and think about our actions and what we’re really doing to ourselves and our communities.


Do we really want to wake up one day only to find that we are suddenly living in some dystopian nightmare where only big soviet firms and corporations dominate the business landscape? What happened to all those thousands of mom & pop sundry shops that used to provide something more except, “Our policy is yada yada yada yada…” Is this the new realism of the sign of our times? What are its demands and how will it shape our future lives and mould our understanding of who we are and how we might one day stand in relation to our communities?


And what does it mean to be truly free? Yes, now you know why, I am going to support sites like the Singapore Daily, Molly Meek, Tomorrow.SG and probably continue to buy my chops from that irritating auntie that never ever seems to give me a drumming down on why I should eat my veggies.


Breathe… yes, I know many out there may even refer to us as trolls  (To be perfectly frank with all of you. I can’t think of a better compliment. As it simply means; we have nothing to do with the mainstream super sized big anything) even…. but trust me; providing, we con’t to offer a beguiling vision of hope for the future  in our small way – we the fraternity of the small may yet hold out the prospects of a better tomorrow – somewhere in the small, there is a  god. 



Darkness 2009


(The Brotherhood Press – 2009 / EP 923745-23947 EFO – FILB)


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