Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Absurdity of the Singapore Dream

As National Day is around the corner, I just want to share one or two points about the absurdity of the Singapore Dream or what most Singaporeans accept as the right way of living.

My objective is not to demoralize you but to get the you to begin thinking about your life.

Here are some of my points :

1. There is an increasing evidence that living in the right district can get you into a better primary school and put you on better footing that everyone else. Rich folks already stay along Bukit Timah Road. Some parents become poor just to buy a home in those areas.

2. If you accept my argument that an education qualification is largely driven by signalling, then the only reason why you are making more money than your peers is not your skill but the branding of your university. You realise that your qualification gives you your higher income at the expense of others.

3. In 21 years, a medical degree at its current inflation rate can cost up till $480,000. It would be naive to not to believe that the cost will not be borne to the patients. Some folks want their children to make a lot of money as doctors and lawyers but complain about legal and medical fees.

4. You may want to pick up a university elective which teaches you something interesting but in the interests of grades, you stick to what you already know so that you will not blow your GPA. Its safer to learn new things on Coursera than SMU even though SMU cost me $70,000 and Coursera is free. ( I speak from personal experience )

5. At work you focus on experiential goods like travel, but the reason you need travel is because you are so stressed out by work. You become financial independent so that you can travel more. After becoming financial independent, you have no more work stress, so there is no need to travel anymore.

6. The CPF feels more like a tax than a source of security in your 20s. It gets better in your forties, but by then your OA is gone because of that HDB flat.

7. Also you can buy gold with your CPF-IS which does not yield anything, a crappy ILP with high management fees and commissions, but not a high-yielding counter like Asia Pay TV (This is not investment advice ).

8. You keep getting asked to be innovative and take one risks in your career, but because of home loans you need to manage, you cannot but choose the more secure path. If you are single, you can take risks, but Singaporean women will not take a risk on you.

9. You can become obsolete in your field even while you are being employed in it because its too expensive to invest in your training. You use your personal time to study, but you risk underperformance at work because you cannot use personal time for work.

10. Herbivores withdraw from the marriage market. Women react by being more open to Tinder relationships to meet the fewer men left in the market. Successful men get enough sex from Tinder and see no need to get married.

11. You buy a car so that you have greater speed. In practice, your friends who take public transport are more punctual than you because you need time to find parking.

12. Some children are security at old age. But they are also the cause of old age.

13. You lament about your life and want your kids to succeed where you have not. You then put them in a study regime which robs them of a childhood.

14. You are rich when you are old. But all the assets are tied to your home, which depreciates over whatever is left of 99 years. Government asks you to reverse mortgage it after you spent an entire life trying to own it fully. And you think you own your house and declare it an asset.

15. You read Angela Duckworth to work on your resilience and grit. You work really hard to increase your capacity for suffering. You suffer discomfort because it hones your resilience to take on more discomfort and suffering. This is so that you will enjoy the future more.

The points I raised is not a gripe. Some of the points come from personal experience and I would do it all over again if I were given a chance to relive my life again.

We still live in one of the best societies in the world.

But these points raises existential questions about the meaning of life and the Singaporean Dream.

Should we always go for the best schools, best jobs, good marriage and kids ? Why does society work so hard to misunderstand you when you try an alternative ?

Questioning the Dream too much is also not the best answer because it can lead to nihilism and can make you a cynic. That is not the objective of this article.

If there is no true purpose in life, then why even bother ?

I welcome readers to add to these points which I have raised.


  1. nice one, I can't stop laughing at point 15.


  2. Good one. Like it.

  3. well said & well thought. Singapore dream was meant for nation building, but no longer relevant. the govt is no longer with the people as we ages & become a national burden that must be borne by them. there is really no meaning in life for ordinary folks over age of 55, with just enough to stay alive.

  4. That is somewhat an extreme view but I urge readers to find solutions instead of fixating on my article which really an exercise in problem definition.

  5. There is a purpose only after you have defined a self.
    Thus the question: Why am I here?

    I think all this chasing is the incessant need to re-enforce the identify of "me".

  6. Interesting insight. But the self is not an isolated concept.

    We exist within the context of our society.

    There is no independent me.

    Some judgment from external parties will affect you even if you do not wish for that to happen.

  7. Hi Chris. It seems that those people in the situations do not see the problem that you see.

    Hence to them, there is no problem and no resolution is required.

    The first step to solving a problem is to agree one exists.

    You are moving too fast haha

  8. "If there is no true purpose in life, then why even bother?"

    People want their lives to have purpose, but they also expect the purpose of their lives to be handed to them on a silver platter. Too many people don't realize that for their lives to mean something they must first think about the kind of impact they want to have on the world, the kind of legacy they want to leave behind, then work hard to achieve that.

    If they're not even willing to expend the effort to think seriously about this, then it's no surprise that their lives won't have the meaning they want it to have.

  9. Actually if more folks realise the utter meaninglessness of their existance, we would have a better grip on the Singapore Dream and can redefine ourselves according to our own personal vision.

    The problem is the over eagerness at which other people would impose a purpose on someone. Parents are often the most guilthy of doimg that. The government comes a close second.

    This might be the reason why this article resonates with so many readers.