Will Singapore be destroyed by the looming culture clash?

February 19, 2012

For the past 20 years Singapore policymakers have relentlessly embraced globalization as the ONE and ONLY organizational principle to deliver the good life for most Singaporeans and residents. The cult of globalization has become so powerful that it has even permeated the ground water of how we usually define personal and organizational success – it has even colored the parlance of officialdom, catch phrases such as “faster, fasterer and fasterest,” along with the regarding the pursuit of GDP as the gold standard to measure the well being of a nation has become so pervasive. This logic has even been used to render sensible everything from unmitigated immigration, paying out sky high ministerial salaries – to even forcing many of us to reconcile ourselves with the idea income inequality along with leaving everything from housing to employment opportunities to the vagaries of the free market is a necessary cost, that has to be paid –  if we are to enjoy the fruits of utopia brought for by globalization.

But this happy picture misleads. As while palpably true, globalization has been responsible for promoting economic development – it has also been responsible for the rich getting richer, while the poor continue to get poorer. To understand why globalization has been responsible for income inequality along with widening the GINI coefficient – along with sharpening the divide between the have’s and the have not’s, requires one to renounce the idea the poor are exploited by the forces of globalization. In truth, there is no evil man like one of those James Bond movies where the baddie is stroking a cat while he plots to enslave the poor – the poor are not so much exploited as neglected and forgotten as they command no intrinsic value in a globalized world. Neither is the lamentable state of Income inequality the result of policymakers pursuing macro economic apartheid as it remains the sad case: the poor stay poor as they have very little to offer that the rich are willing pay, want or need. As a result, income, job opportunities and career advancement for the poor can only diminish inversely to the bludgeoning wealth of the rich, who are best positioned to reap the benefits of globalization as traditional national borders continue to melt away – hence highly skilled people whether they are in Mumbai, Shanghai or New York race ahead while the poor stay poor as they watch helplessly.

Hence for most people, especially the poor, the “benefits” of globalization is not a reality, but a mirage. The belief that globalization is promoting mass emancipation for the poor is also delusive. The set pieces that makes possible the engine of globalization have few incentives to equip the poor as stakeholders to reap the rewards of global interconnectivity and market convergence. Neither do I buy into the simplistic pipe dream that when the rich get richer then what will eventually happen is the surpluses will percolate downwards and magically find their way into the pockets of the poor – this is bullshit, as if you’re mobile, high educated and savvy in the ways of the world, why the hell would you even put your money in one time zone  – rich people never do that, wonder no more why tax havens such as off shore accounts exist. Neither can enrichment courses or upgrading of skills directed specifically at the poor be able to augment the deficits to redress the widening income gap. If you happen to be bus driver, janitor or someone who just clears up plates, then in what way does retraining put you in a better position to reap the rewards offered by a globalized community. You cannot. As for automation, that’s another dead end as I can argue while it makes perfect sense to robotize a chocolate plant in Munich, but pursuing the same strategy for lets say a small mom & pop biscuit factory in Boon Lay will just ramp up the production cost in the long term due to the heavy initial capital investment. Fact is technology is very unevenly diffused even in globalized economy – hence the poor will get poorer as time goes by.

To exacerbate the already acute income divide between the rich and the poor – globalization is also responsible for what I can only term as heightening and sharpening the clash of cultures between the have’s and the have not’s – as while the aperture of opportunities for self emancipation for the poor remains constricted; the same cannot be said about the free and uninterrupted flow of information in a globalized world as the global media and entertainment industry continues to drench the poor with images of mass consumerism and how glorious it is to be rich without providing the means to satisfy what the poor yearn for, a better tomorrow.

And in this simple recount unbeknown to many of us, we have the gunpowder, ball and the flint await the terrible explosion called the clash of the cultures.

Darkness 2012 (this essay has been written with inputs from the ASDF, the think tank of the Brotherhood)

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“In the age of reason. A sad chapter transpired in our history. Brother turned against Brother. At one end, you had the Brahmins of the Brotherhood, they had everything; power, wealth and influence. On the other side, we had the peasants, many who had fought the Ascension Wars, only to return home to Primus and to find themselves, powerless, displaced and marginalized. I remembered watching this terrible event unfold even before it transpired in the game – there I was in a cafe, simulating the terrible events that would descend upon us. I wanted to prevent it. But no matter how many times I tried to resolve the equation, the outcome would always be the same – brother would turn against brother. Eventually brother did turn against brother. I was powerless. I was sad. I felt very much like a father watching his son die of a slow and debilitating disease, while I worked frantically to find a cure. I must have gone through 90 or perhaps more pages of equations. But time and again. I failed. Today, I see the same thing happening in Singapore. If the truth be known, what we are witnessing is not, the internet versus PAP, it’s a culture clash. And its inexorable. And again I am powerless. And again I am sad.”

(Excerpt of a conversation in Liberation Square in Primus Aldentes Prime – The Brotherhood Press 2012)

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