Our society is in trouble. Except it doesn’t feel like trouble.
This country is a land of consumption and consumerism. But what can be wrong with wanting to make more money and spending it on nice things for ourselves? I mean, after all that work, nothing’s wrong with indulging in a Rolex right?
I’m no hypocrite. I’m not a monk. And I’ll be honest: If you give me a million dollars, I’ll spend that million dollars, mostly on myself.
I am a part of the problem, yes.
How is it that, not too many generations ago – maybe those in their 50s and beyond, found it almost a sin to flaunt wealth. Sure, there is the odd Gucci and Prada bag favoured by aunties. But on the whole, their houses are furnished humbly. They shop at Fairprice. They ate simply. When it is time to spend, they preferred spending on things that the whole family could enjoy, like cars, holidays and making children happy.
My uncle called me just the other day, telling me there is a really cheap sale on branded shoes… at a wet-market in Kallang. I wondered why I couldn’t bring myself to go take a look.
My mother was horrified when I told her my peers loved “chilling out” at hipster cafes and the bill usually comes up to about $40 between two people.
A politician I used to know, wore a Casio watch, Bata shoes and drove a small Toyota for years until his retirement.
Two weeks ago, whilst hosting an event, a rich Indian businesswoman told us, “Look at these pearls I’m wearing – fake, all fake. Look at this watch, it is cheap, only $15 dollars” she revealed, “…but this cheap watch was bought by my granddaughter and it means the world to me”. Then she questioned us, “…will you look down on me because I wear these cheap things”?
I envy their generation. They grew up in a time when Singapore wasn’t all Ferraris, skyscrapers and billionaire bankers. When social pressure to keep up with the Jones’ weren’t so high.
Ours? Ours is a generation of possession and purchase. To collect, to wear, to buy and impress our friends with what we have, and who we know.
In one person, it is no big deal. Collectively as a nation, however – then you begin to see an erosion of traditional values.
This, my friend is what is at stake – if we lose the value in our values, then Singapore will plunge into moral poverty because of wealth.
The symptoms are emerging – a couple spending $100k on their wedding and disappointed their “ang pow” collections aren’t enough.
Another couple, between them earning $10k and saying that is not enough for them to have a baby.
A celebrity couple saying their motivation for having children is because of Government’s baby bonus.
Where once upon a time, it was a very big deal to spend a few hundred dollars on a bottle in a club, today it is nothing. You want to impress, you buy champagnes at thousands of dollars.
Where once it was a dream to be a millionaire, today our pop songs moan about wanting “…to become a billionaire, so fricking bad”
This is why I felt guilty at having made my living in the field of marketing and advertising: You think you’re in control of how you manage your money and your desire? Your control is futile when we design material that amuses your mind.
The economy works on creating demand and that is what corporations exist to do: create demand and then reap the profits. The moguls, conglomerates and businessmen that drive this demand engine become so powerfully rich.
In between them and the rest of society, is a wage gap and it is a chasm boiling with molten anger.
Anger that gets stoked hotter whenever a person dies because she can’t afford to buy medical help. Anger that rages whenever rich men exploit young girls. Anger that burns stronger whenever you see old, helpless people struggling to make a few hundred dollars to make ends meet – and society just keeps churning more and more millionaires who don’t care about the people at the bottom strata.
Anger, especially when fellow Singaporeans, hypnotised by the lure of wealth, become the conceited monster they hated to begin with.
The machine of economic demand has already been grinding.
It is a machine that had lifted many out of poverty. It is a machine that mints new millionaires. It is a machine that is devoid of human emotion and has zero moral value.
This machine will do what its masters tell it to. Today its masters are telling it to broadcast messages such as this:
“Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi and Adonna,
Karen, they be sharin’ All their money got me wearing’
Fly gear but I ain’t asking’
They say they love my ass n Se7en Jeans, True Religion
I say no, but they keep givin’
So I keep on takin’ And no I ain’t taken
We can keep on datin’ I keep on demonstrating: My love, my love my love my love” – Black Eyed Peas, My Humps
We need this machine to sing a different song, a song that awakens the goodness of humanity, a goodness that had been lulled into slumber. Values such as modesty, humbleness, generosity and concern for the people at the bottom strata needs to speak up loudly once again.