Unmaking the Singapore Dream

Study hard. Get good grades. Get a good job. Work hard. Live a comfortable life.

The essence of the Singapore Dream. The tried-and-true formula since 1965. Everyone born and bred in this city was waned on it alongside their mother’s milk. Stick to this path, and you will never go wrong.

Until the dream shatters.

Thousands of Singaporean workers have been barred from returning to the workplace. Many of them have been terminated outright, or else placed on no-pay leave in preparation for termination. They face the prospect of never being able to land another job until the pandemic ends.

Their only crime: choosing not to get the Covid vaccine.

Those who fall under the nebulous category of ‘not fully vaccinated’ are second-class citizens. They cannot dine in. They cannot visit malls, nor access essential services in malls without paperwork. They cannot hold a job that requires physical presence in the workplace—and Singapore’s working culture prizes face time over remote work.

They invested decades of their life chasing the Singapore dream. But when they want to live the dream on their terms, it was taken away from them.

To enjoy the Singapore Dream, there is one more thing you have to do: comply.

For decades, this has been the Singapore way. The government delivers a comfortable life, and all you need do is comply. Trust the government to take care of the politics, and you will get a job, a flat, and other such creature comforts. Deviate from this, and the Establishment will take away your comforts and conveniences, and brand you a troublemaker, a member of the ‘lunatic fringe’, an anti-vaxxer. Cross the line and the government will file lawsuits or press criminal charges.

And you don’t know where the line is until you cross it.

Most Singaporeans will comply. They have complied their entire lives. The mythos is part of their worldview. They are happy to trust the government until the end. They see no problem with shutting out everyone who disagrees. They want their conveniences, their comforts, their sense of belonging, the feeling of righteousness through obedience. They are afraid of the attentions of the authority, and what penalties may come.

What is left for those of us who cannot live like this?

We must unmake the Singapore dream.

Unlearn Dependency

Freedom, Silhouette, Woman, Backlighting, Heaven

Singaporean politics is centred on the government.

Parliamentary debates can be summed up as such: the government should do X, the government should do more of Y, or the government should do a little less of Z.

Almost never do you hear, the government should not do something. The few times you do, the motion never passes unless it originates from the government.

The government is everywhere in Singapore. The civil service is one of the largest employers in Singapore. Over 80% of the population lives in public housing. Employers and employees alike contribute to the Central Provident Fund, the national government-mandated savings program. Banners and billboards in every corner of Singapore carry government messages. Government regulations cover everything from food hygiene standards to workplace policies, business registration to the flying of the national flag. The government touches nearly all aspects of life, one way or another.

The government sets the frame of the Overton Window. It is the axis around which all discussions of politics in Singapore begins and ends. It is deeply embedded in society.

It is government taken to the maximum.

Maximum government creates maximum dependency on government. It starts with the mind. When a subject sees that the government is the source of all solutions, it does not desire an alternative to government. The subject chooses to place his trust in the government, and contents himself with being a tiny cog in the machine, secure in the belief that compliance brings comfort.

We cannot live like this.

The government claimed that the Omicron wave has peaked. Yet it has also extended the law allowing the imposition of so-called Covid ‘control measures’ to 2023. The implication should be obvious: expect vaccine discrimination to continue indefinitely. Even if measures were lifted soon, should a new variant emerge and take hold, we will likely return to a state of widespread restrictions.

Do not hope for a swift end to the pandemic.

Do not hope for a permanent end to vaccine discrimination.

Do not hope that one day society will welcome you back.

It would be nice if these events come to pass, but do not rest your hopes on them. Instead, brace yourself for the worst-case scenario: that there will be no foreseeable end to vaccine discrimination, that society will remain divided against you, that you will forever be treated as a second-class citizen at best.

When all of society has shut you out, when the Singapore Dream becomes the Singapore Nightmare, you must unravel the foundations of old beliefs and create new ones suited for your situation. Start with these three statements:

No one is coming to save you.

No institution will help you.

No one cares.

The government has no reason to change its ways. It has been wildly successful at securing compliance from an absolute majority of society. Do not hope that the government will reverse course. Do not beg for mercy and magnanimity. Do not seek the approval of those who condemn you.

The opposition has no means of directly pushing for change, those opposition members that even care. The Workers’ Party called itself the ‘co-driver’. The Workers’ Party sees no problem with allowing vaccine discrimination against thousands of workers and thousands more of their constituents. When the driver and the co-driver agree on the same destination, there is no difference between them.

Smaller parties have even less influence, and cannot be counted on to achieve anything more effective than making symbolic statements in Parliament. However one may feel about them, they lack the resources and influence at present to achieve any meaningful impact.

The activists and the bloggers don’t care. Singapore’s civic society is overwhelmingly left-wing. They have no problem with increased government power; they merely wish that power to be used against their enemies. They only oppose increased power if they believe if it will be used against them. Those who do oppose vaccine discrimination are few and far between—and they have even less power than an Opposition MP to effect substantial policy change.

The media won’t speak for the minority. Do not count on them to report any news that contradicts the narrative. Case in point: how many Singaporeans are aware of Pfizer’s vaccine adverse event report, including the 9-page list of ‘adverse events of special interest’?

You cannot depend on an outside organization to swoop in and save the day.

You must save yourself.

Unmake the Iron Rice Bowl

Brown Wooden Spoon With Grains on Red Table Cloth

Singapore’s labour relationship is based on a tripartite model. The National Trades Union Congress, the Singapore National Employers Federation and the Ministry of Manpower partner to discuss labour policies. The idea is to create a harmonious environment, unlike the adversarial labour relations seen in the West, based on negotiation and respect.

This also means that NTUC and SNEF approved of the vaccine mandate.

NTUC is supposed to represent workers. They have no problems with the government forcing workers to lose their jobs if they refuse the jab.

SNEF is supposed to represent employers. They have no problems with the government turning employers into government enforcers.

The only people they represent are the people who comply with the Singapore mythos. For those who need representation the most, they serve the least.

The iron rice bowl is broken.

You do not owe loyalty to those who are not loyal to you.

Any employer who treats an employee is a discardable resource is not owed loyalty. Any employer who fires employees as a first resort following the imposition of the mandate is an employer who will fire any employee they think is a troublemaker.

The vaccinated are not immune from such treatment. The mandate merely revealed what lay in the hearts of these employers. Non-compliance with the mandate was merely the excuse they used to get rid of who they perceive as troublemakers. Once they find another excuse, they will act on it.

The issue at hand is not the vaccine. It is compliance, and how readily an employer will play the bad guy to ensure your continued compliance. Employers who delight in forcing compliance do not see you as a person, but as a resource, to be squeezed dry, then thrown away once you become a liability.

Employment is no longer a partnership, but a transaction.

An employee exchanges his labour for money. An employer exchanges his money for productivity. No longer are they bound to any higher code, any semblance of deeper relationships, any notion that they are humans contracting with other humans.

If an employer can discard an employee without even attempting to defend him, then an employee can and must do the same to the employer. It is the only rational move to ensure his continued survival.

Antifragility and entrepreneurship are no longer optional for the unvaccinated. You must cultivate these qualities in yourself. Alternatively, you must partner with people who have these qualities.

Do not hope for steady employment. Instead, strive to maximise your own value, and demand employers to match the value you offer. Employers who can no longer do this must be left behind in favour of those who can.

The iron rice bowl is broken. You must make your own living. You must act.

Unlearn NATO

Sheep, Bleat, Communication, Communicate, To Speak

When the West sees ‘NATO’, they think of the military alliance. In Singapore, it means, ‘No Action, Talk Only’.

Talk is cheap. But talk achieves nothing.

Sharing truth and counter-narratives is just talk. While it keeps morale up, it is still talk and nothing more than talk.

Singapore is not the West. The mythos of the West is that information galvanizes action. People spread information with the expectation and intention that action will follow.

The mainstream media barely investigates controversial counter-narratives except to ‘debunk’ or to smear them. The Swamp does everything it can to suppress inconvenient information. However, the people at the ground level are still motivated to act. Sometimes they even succeed. This is why sharing information works over there.

Over here, people do not act.

For people who have complied their entire lives, self-directed action is an alien concept. The government decides policy, and they obey. When in doubt, defer to the authorities. Three generations of Singaporeans have grown up with this mythos. They have chosen the chains of comfort and convenience over independent thought and deed.

You cannot hope that by sharing the counter-narrative enough times, people will finally wake up. You cannot hope that by talking enough, people will finally act. You cannot hope that the opposition, the bloggers, or the media will talk enough that something will finally happen in your favour.

You cannot hope that someone else will act for you.

All this is nice if it happens. But do not make it the centrepiece of your strategy. Do not even cling to the idea of a single person changing his mind. Do not count on society somehow backing you in the near future.

You rely on yourself.

You must act.

Start new businesses. Learn new skills. Create mutual support networks. Understand what you want and need out of life, then work every day to achieve those goals. Build a parallel economy.

Talk alone achieves nothing. You must act—even and especially if you are afraid to act.

Unmake Your Fears

Anxiety, Fear, Mystic, Mystery, Ghost, Spirituality

Growing up in Singapore, fear is hardcoded into the local culture. You hear it in the way elders speak to misbehaving children.

‘The police will catch you.’

‘You must be careful.’

‘Cannot be helped.’

Fear keeps you entrenched where you are. Fear is the reason we are living in such times. Fear is the obstacle that stands between who we are now and who we can become.

Fear exists only in your mind.

Can you point to fear? Can you summon it on demand? You can feel it, but it is not a thing that exists outside you. It is something that comes from within. It is something that begins with the mind.

And the mind is also the end of fear.

In the Singapore mythos, fear comes from deviation from the norm, and the end of fear comes from compliance with the norm.

You must leave this programming behind.

You no longer have the luxury of fear. Societal approval or ostracism no longer matters. What matters is ensuring the continued survival of you and yours. It doesn’t mean you should stoop to outright rebellion and criminal activity, but you must understand that you should no longer seek approval from those who have condemned you. The answer will always be no. You must do what is right by you and yours—not what is popular.

You must cultivate the courage to act. To create the life you want. If you do not overcome your fears, then your fears will overcome you. 

The moment when you feel most afraid is the moment you can be most courageous. But this requires conscious choice, deliberate action, and intense preparation.

Your fears tell you where your weakness lies. What you are afraid of even contemplating is your deepest fear. Therefore, seek out the skills and resources necessary to overcome these weaknesses.

If you find yourself prone to over-exaggerating your fears and catastrophizing every little thing, then your weakness lies in giving up reason and clinging to fear. Let it go.

If you find yourself downplaying actual threats to life, limb and employment, especially because you are afraid of the true impact on your life, then your weakness lies in willful ignorance. You may wish to shield yourself from the emotional impact of knowledge, but in so doing you merely guarantee a harder fall at the end. You must coldly and rationally assess your current situation, then develop an action plan—and execute.

If in your analyses you come up with a series of realistic scenarios that could potentially play out, then you must pre-empt them through training, gathering resources, making contacts, and other such actions.

Compliance sprouts from deep-rooted fear. When compliance leads you to life outcomes that you cannot abide by, then you must uproot fear and plant new seeds.

Understand what you want out of life. Set your goals. Develop an iron code of values and stick to them. Identify your strengths and weaknesses, then develop the former and patch the latter.

When fear rises its head, you must cut it down and push on. It is how you create the life you dream of.

Unmake the Singapore Dream

Mountain, Volcano, Peak, Summit, Countryside

For the unvaccinated, the Singapore Dream is dead.

They will be shunned in school. They will never be gainfully employed in a position that requires physical presence. They will be treated as pariahs, even after the pandemic is over.

They bear the mark of the troublemaker, and there is no redemption from this most grievous of sins.

The Singapore Dream is only for those who buy completely into the Singapore mythos. For those of us who exist outside it, we must find a new way of life.

We must create a radically decentralized future. A future that does not require trust in nameless, faceless organisations, but where people can trust other people. A future founded on personal character and reputation, smart contracts, privacy, ironclad algorithms, and transparency. A future where anyone can transact directly with anyone else, anywhere in the world. A future where authorities must treat people not as subjects, not as resources, not as cogs, but as humans—or risk being rendered utterly irrelevant.

The Singapore Dream is dead. Thus, we must create a new dream for ourselves.

We have no other choice.

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Unmaking the Singapore Dream

2 thoughts on “Unmaking the Singapore Dream

  1. Benjamin,

    The biggest obstacles I see are psychological. Most Singsporeans are exactly go getters but the circumstances will compel them. The other one is the fetish for face time and the dearth of remote/freelance work. What’s available has wages worse than an HDB cleaner.ĺ
    I see a really difficult transition for the country because the nature of work has completely changed and officialdom has narrowed work options with irrelevant categories. And don’t me started with Skills future

    xavier

    1. The biggest obstacle is most definitely psychological.

      We can’t count on officialdom to lead the way out of the current situation. It’s up to the people on the ground to overcome their conditioning and make this change possible.

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