I recall, about a decade ago, being told by a few ‘professional’ housing agents in quite a condescending manner – the only kind of professionals that exist in singapore, in my experience, are ‘professional money-makers’ who use professions to maximise gain at minimal expense of thought, effort and honesty – that with our combined income, we would be able to easily ‘afford’ a particular and exorbitantly-priced flat. I asked the agents if they could guarantee my employment for the next 50 years – as an instalment plan of 25 years for two is 50. They were taken aback, as are 99 out of 98 Confucianised ‘singaporeans’ – who are adept at going by the book for everything and none too adept at out-of-the-box thought – in the face of logic and wit. In the non-cogitating pause they afforded my question, I said, ‘well, given that you can’t, and that the only real union we experience here is one that unites between 6.30pm to 8 pm every evening at coffeeshops throughout the country, your idea of ‘affordability’ is an extremely short-sighted one.’
The thing about Chinese pragmatism, or more accurately, ‘Confucian pragmatism’ - as not all Chinese are Confucians and not all Confucians are Chinese…associating ‘Chinese’ with ‘Confucianism’ is just a ploy used by racialist governments to engender support via cultural identification amongst those who resemble those from China in looks – is that they make sense of reality after contracting reality to coincide with the persona that remains after the subtraction of the empathetic and politically vibrant from it. Hence, Confucian pragmatism is simply the efforts made to make the best out of a bad situation as opposed to getting rid of its causes.
That is why, for instance, one does not make sense of the security of one’s job along with a consideration of the viability of workers’ unions. Given this, they would be more inclined to invest more brown-nosing, head-nodding and all-round subservient efforts at work. And where authority is kow-towed to for these reasons, you can be sure that enough intellectual and individualistic propensities would have been compromised to create a symbiotic harmony between the worker and the boss, and a thus, wholly Confucianly pragmatic milieu.
From here, ‘affordability’ would mean quite a few things. It would refer to,
- the degree to which one would be willing to invest subservience at work and in the political milieu to maximise longevity and promotion;
- taking up a whole armoury of insurance schemes – I recall coming across one insurance scheme that enables people to ensure an insurance legacy for up to 3 generations…which basically translates to 3 generations of subservience confirmed;
- being reflexively apathetic, opportunistic and self-serving;
- passing on the virtues of ‘filial piety’ so that one’s progeny would be willing to take on the debts of their ‘pragmatic’ parents – I call that ‘familial debt-diffusion planning’ that makes ‘having kids’ simultaneously mean, ‘circumventing the costs of my political impotency’;
- looking for a host of investments to make the most of that portion of their income that is held by the government through a ‘central provident fund’ scheme, but which simultaneously sees an increase in the amount the government thus has for immediate investment and gain….but which is only enjoyed by the individual after the cost of a couple or more decades of inflation;
- leaving unaddressed a whole host of bigotries so as to contract competition (be it in racial, gender, height, fashion, age, size, colour, etc, terms)
- engaging in a host of pastimes such as holidays to migrating from one part of the country to another for Sunday breakfasts in polo t-shirts and Bermudas so as to compensate for the stresses accumulated via all of the above;
- discounting those who bring this problem to their attention by terms and phrases such as, ‘that mama always complain (derogatory term for Indians, akin to ‘nigger’ in view though not in actual meaning as it means ‘uncle’) ‘trouble-causer’, ‘complain queen’, ‘long-winded’, or at best, ‘aiyah, never mind lah, it’s like that one lah, just eat just eat lah’.
I can picture a scene - like those in CSI dramas where an injury to a person is illustrated by the viewer being taken into the body of said individual to visually appreciate its incremental effects - where a Confucianised ‘singaporean’ utters, in the face of a housing agent, ‘Yah, sure! Me and my wife can afford it’, and we’re taken into scenes illustrating all of the above meanings of ‘affordability’ within a few seconds before being brought back to the present where the couple is hosting a house-warming party. Quite hilarious these people. Forgive my condescending approach, but given that the people I’ve encountered either always respond to such a perspective from myself with either a typically Confucian, ‘Aiyah, it’s like that one lahhh’ (I always flinch when I hear that as it indicates I’m in the presence of a child mistaken for an adult simply because s/he is able to f**k & feed’ her/is gene pool into the next generation.), or discount my observations as discountable as I’m not a prominent member of this or that organisation, or because they hold a higher socio-economic position than myself. As I’ve always been inclined to say, one has to swallow a tolerance pill the size of the bollocks of a whole herd of oxen to put up with this - I never cease to miss the relatively more multicultural, and therefore, democratically-inclined/far-sightedly pragmatic/more intelligent singaporeans of the 70s…thus my gross aversion to monocultural Confucianism.
In the final analysis, an idea of 'affordability' that emerges in a state that has seen a severely contracted idea of social and empathetic responsibility basically enables any government to continue to do as it does. It is in this that the symbiotic union between the people and the political is founded.
My personal view of 'affordability' is, 'if you can't pay it off in 5 years, then you can't afford it. Passing on the burden to kids and family, or becoming a brown-noser at work, or taking on an opportunistic and self-serving persona, is not an option as it simply gives the government carte blanche when it comes to passing on the cost of their opportunism to the masses and being the real progenitors of what people think is the fruit of their loins. If anything, such a progeny is more like an ejaculation from a person who’s received a swift and booted kick in the balls.