Friday, July 29, 2016

What does Trump, Brexit and NUS Freshman Orientation have in common ?

Wow ! The last article broke a major record with more than 1500 hits within the first 24 hours. I will need some time to follow up on that topic as we head towards National Day.

This weekend's article is about Trump, Brexit and NUS.

What do they have in common ?

What the events have in common is that all three events are animated by the same force : Tribalism.

A lot of investors and political commentators do not really understand Trump and Brexit voters. To help illustrate my case, here is a personal story.

When I was a government officer, we held a software competition for secondary schools and some tertiary institutions and I was sent to be one of the judges to determine who should win the contest. The entries have all been stripped of student names and participating schools so that judges can make a decision as to who should win.

After choosing 3 entries for the winning teams, I was asked whether I could change my selection. Apparently, all the three entries me and my fellow judges chose turned out to be from the same elite school. I held my ground saying that my decision was final and that meritocracy has to prevail. It was not apparent during judging that all three entries came from the same school.

After the announcement of the results, some ITE lecturers came to speak to me. They explained how difficult it was to motivate the ITE students and it was miracle that they could even create software using this tool called MIT App Inventor. I agreed with their stand but I said that unless the competition organizers created special awards for the best ITE and polytechnic team, I would have to do my part and award the prizes to that ONE school which won all three prizes. The lecturers were disappointed with my response and said that they would want to review whether they would participate in such competitions in the future.

How does this story relate to Trump and Brexit ?

The Trump and Brexit supporters are not irrational idiots as the mainstream press has portrayed them to be. In fact, collectively, they are doing what any logical player would behave.

Once you lock a group of people out of game and they have no chance to win no matter what they do, they will find some way to stop participating in the political process. Push them too far and they will find ways to destroy that system because a lot of volatility will give them a chance to be ahead of the pack.

Chaos becomes their only ladder.

Brexit and Trump gave these voters a political voice. For the first time, someone is fighting for their rights and way of life. White men who do not have degrees still have a sense of pride. The American South has a strong culture of honor.  They want to work to earn a living to support their families and will not be happy living on handouts.  When members of a majority ethnic race are sidelined this way, the reaction can be felt in the polls because these people are not minorities. Tribalism pulled the UK out of the EU !

Tribalism as an animating force also influences NUS Freshmen orientation culture except that the roots of this may not economic in nature.

I was an NUS undergrad once, we came in fresh from NS and I also felt anger being a year older than some girls and Malaysians in Raffles Hall and yet being made to greet them as seniors. Imagine all that sexual tension felt by NUS males, but the feeling of impotence as they have no decent jobs, no sign of a bright future ahead, and no financial security. 20 years ago, there was a story about this ex-Commando who, after being talked down by Malaysian men and women a year younger than him, eventually lost it and challenged fellow hostelites to a fist fight. I never figured out how the story ended but in the end, all Singaporean NS men in Raffles Hall were given pre-orientation counselling and told that they could walk away anytime. As for me, I walked away after 1 week.

In no way am I condoning the activities in NUS, but the roots of a lot of ills in this world comes from male insecurity. A lot of swaggering and posturing from NUS male undergrads comes from personal helplessness and insecurity. I would call this pathetic but I was also pathetic myself when I was younger. I think this leads to the over-sexualized activities because it's all about compensation for their flaccid masculinity.

I'm just going to end by giving advice to that creepy undergrad who asked a girl for sex over Whatsapp. The reason I do this is because I could have been that guy if I were in my 20s lah.

I think undergraduate males do not really know their true value in the dating market. If you are in your 20s, you are a NINJA. No Income, no jobs/assets. If you are engaged in your studies and build your resume, you can play a late game of attrition against your female "opponent".

Your assets will only appreciate in time. Her beauty fades. This is not a fair game.

Don't surrender to your insecurity. You will be able attain some status in Singapore with your degree if you diligently apply yourself and then you will be ahead of 75% of the rest of the male population. Hold back.

When women hit their 30s, they will be much more kinder to you and you can potentially win this game.

In fact, right now I'm going through this phase of life seeing all my old friends get married after their 40s.

All their wives are young and hot.

Congratulations ! As we say after a board game session - Good game !


  1. You don't find it problematic that men are valued based their achievements, which they have control over, whereas women are valued primarily for their looks, which is to a large extent genetically determined?

    I don't know if you have a daughter, but assuming you had one and she turns out to be no beauty - what would you do? Advise her to get cosmetic surgery in her teens / 20s so she can maximize her chances of snagging an older, successful man while she's still "young and hot"?

    This is a serious question - I have nothing against cosmetic surgery and think it's a useful tool in some circumstances to level the playing field, so to speak. But I am curious about your thoughts.

  2. Good question.

    I dont have a lot of faith in men of the future. My advise to ky daughter is to find a conscientious guy. The alternative is to stay single.

    If my daughter has thought deeply about getting cosmetic surgery and asks for it. I will grant her request if I can afford it.

    In a world of Tinder and MMORPGs, there is no level playing field. Graduate men have an overwhelming advantage.


  3. Interesting. Yeah, I agree that staying single is much better than getting married to the wrong person just for the sake of getting married.

    When I mentioned cosmetic surgery to "level the playing field" I wasn't talking about the dating / marriage market though, I was referring to the job market - e.g. if one is a good singer or a good actor but wasn't born good-looking, I think cosmetic surgery could be a sensible option to consider since if done well it has the potential to vastly increase one's earnings, enough to cover the initial cost of surgery many times over. Just look at the numerous examples of K-pop idols today who likely wouldn't have achieved a fraction of their success had they not gone under the knife.

  4. Plastic surgery to get job is a very depressing scenario. I will ask my daughter to consider entrepreneurship in such a case.

    But in some cases, like a horrific accident, it may be justified.

    I cannot imagine the corporate culture which would hire only if the female candidate gets plastic surgery but I cn definitely imagine this happening in China.

  5. Can I ask for your permission to reproduce this post on our education portal Explicit mention shall be made of the fact it first appeared on your site, and we shall cite Christopher Ng Wai Chung as the author. Hope to hear from you again:)

  6. Your friends in marrying in their 40s all have car? Their young hot wives local? :D