Saturday, February 13, 2016

Microagressions - The breakfast of champions !

This is a very special Chinese New Year for me.

For the first time, Millenials have come together to crowdsource the micro-aggressions that were thrown their way for this New Year. I think this is a very useful dataset which should excite any armchair social scientist like myself.

You can access it here.

I want to assert that micro-aggressions are the breakfast of champions !

Micro-aggressions encapsulate all the dreams and nightmares of Ethnic Chinese families in Singapore. Once you create a taxonomy around these micro-aggressions,  you will be able to find the Singapore Dream and the Singaporean Nightmare hidden within it.

Some readers may remember that I have written about a model called Colonel Blotto some time ago where I theorised that living in a competitive society is committing your time and energy into various "battlefields". These "battlefield"s can be about getting workplace promotions, improving your social economic status, playing board games competitively or starting blissful families.

My thesis is that in a CNY gathering, you are in a game of Colonel Blotto against peers of your generation. Lose a battlefield to a cousin and their parents will toss a micro-aggression at your parents. The stakes in this game is your personal self-esteem and the pride of your folks.

My model then predicts that those with very little attention, focus, energy and resources can have a winning strategy by dabbling in many obscure hobbies. They can easily find niche that nobody else really cares about to occupy and become the master of his "battlefield" or domain. Doing this reinforces a person's self-esteem and gives him some way to one-up another person in another social situation.

There is an inherent problem with this strategy of finding an unoccupied battlefield - We still live in pragmatic Singapore that does'nt give a shit that you are the global expert on furry BDSM fiction. In Singapore, only a few "battlefields" matter and the CNY power plays give us a hint as to what these battlefields might be.

Based on my casual observation this is what matters :

a) Education

" You study at University of Buffalo ah. What kind of degree ? Bovine insemination izzit ?"

Many micro-aggressions are centred around education.

Professional courses like Law, Finance, Engineering, Medicine and Accounting trump general degrees. Ivy League and Oxbridge universities trump local universities which in turn trump private universities. I think Polytechnics so far have largely reached parity with JCs, but ITEs are still ranked below them. And the old discrimination against the Normal Stream still stands as it is ranked below the Express Stream which is now ranked below IP.

b) Career choices

" Whaaa your boyfriend is in the design industry ah ? I'm sure he is a leng zhai and a nice person. "

It looks slightly better here with some shade thrown at media and fine arts career tracks. The emphasis seems to be a lot of humble-bragging rather than throwing shade. And once again, only a select few careers are worthy of respect in a Chinese family.

It always goes back to Law and Medicine.

c) Conspicuous consumption

"Welcome to humble home.Please excuse my small car." * Gestures to the Maserati parked at the front porch of his bungalow *

Kate Spade has a good run during the 2011 elections. I sort of predicted that LV's will fall out of style as I think secretaries and personal assistants have started buying them so they are no longer aspirational. Perhaps the Hermes Birkin should be fully weaponised this year.

 d) Starting a Family

"No girlfriend ah. You've got a Tinder account ? Swipe to the right. So simple ! "

NB : I actually did that to tease a cousin ! But I did it before CNY.

This never changes and is so common, singles are not even showing up at CNY events because they don't want to be fingered as latent homosexuals. Married folks without kids are barren and invited to go for artificial insemination ( I was childless for quite a few years after marriage and understand the pressure  ).

 e) National Service

" See my son so dark and ugly because of jungle training. He just book out from OCS !"

This is something new to me. I've never felt that National Service would ever be weaponised in Chinese New Year because officers serve a longer tenure. I was also never inflicted with micro-aggressions over my lowly Corporal rank.  Some uncles who were cooks bragged about feeding sock-water Milo to their officers.

This is interesting because NS has been enhanced so much that people are now prouder of becoming an officer. Can't be all that bad for nation building.


How you deal with micro-aggressions will affect your own personal life outcomes.

As on only child, I have less of a personal choice because my parents have no other source of pride and have to stake their esteem on my personal success. But I am quite happy going through the laundry list of power plays and slowly ensuring that my ego will not be dented by the more common ones relatives tend to inflict on the younger guys. So I certainly played by the rules and made sure things looked good on paper.

For the others there is always the option to run.

At the end of the day, the game may be futile. I know that for Chinese families in general, retrenchment, infertility, dyslexia, autism, people coming out of the closet, divorce and criminal convictions will make the winners of one generation losers of another. This is normal.

So even if I do well, my children may undo the good work I did to look good in front of my relatives.

The wonders of a traditional Chinese family is this - If my kids screw up, everyone will make me account for the micro-aggressions I myself have inflicted in the past. So I put quite a large premium on raising my kids well.

But more importantly :


We all revert to the mean.

Therefore, micro-aggressions should be wielded judiciously every year.

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