I was brainstorming one of the worst titles an author could come up with for a philosophical piece of work with a friend and we settled on something that can piss off a significant part of the ethnic Chinese population. The working title he came out with was "Confucius is a bastard."
We were, of course, being deliberately immature. At that time, we did not work out the central thesis of the work, and we settled on some small-time critique of Confucius' love for ritual and music.
Little would I know that cultural anthropologist would complete the task for us.
Before you read the rest of the article, I strongly suggest that you follow this link and read this article on involution.
Involution is a powerful idea that should animate all Singaporeans. It is the concept that encapsulates the problem that plagues all Confucian societies. There comes a point in a Confucian society, that people become imprisoned in such a narrow definition of success, that they give up hope because they cannot find a way to get out of this narrow mindedness.
I'm a product of such a society.
When I got my third degree in SMU Law School, even with my financial independence, I felt constrained by the GPA system in SMU. For every law subject that I felt interested in, being of average ability in class, I had to pay a heavy price with my GPA score. This was fine until my GPA started hitting the low 3.4s. Any slip-up could mean losing one Honors classification. So, subsequently, I started playing safe, and took subjects I had a serious competitive advantage in. The final outcome was that I did not really stretch myself to learn areas of the Law that gave me the most intellectual growth.
Involution also affects our career choices. This CNY I expect questions from relatives why I wasted a law degree and did not get into practice even though I make relatively good dough on my career choices.
(This topic is so interesting the Rotary Club may invite me to speak about NOT taking up a legal career next month.)
Sometimes, I would imagine my financial independence being the sole reason I can tell folks to fuck off and leave my career choices to myself. But deep inside I know this - without my dividend payouts and magical middle-finger made of my investment portfolio, I may not have the strength to resist societal expectations and I would be pretty depressed dealing with divorcing couples today. Every decision I make relating to career and family will be scrutinised and criticised by nosy relatives.
All the Confucian societies pay a heavy price today for involution - No sane mother would give birth to a child so that he/she will lose or play second fiddle to other kids. Worse, the trend is now assortative mating that entrenches genetic advantages to the child of two working professionals. I am now no longer surprised that the fertility of Confucian societies is now trending down compared to other societies with more Protestant roots.
I don't think anthropologists have found a solution to this problem. Confucianism has been around for thousands of years and this rules out a mindset change. China may collapse because of this.
Here are some ideas I have:
- Universities should just award Pass degrees and give out prizes for best dissertation and maybe subject performance. This allows every candidate to be assessed based on their merits and personal interests. HR departments cannot use a shortcut to cut down the candidates they interview so they need to assess everyone individually.
- Secondary school, one of the largest sources of inequality, need to be debranded and every student is routed to a nearby secondary school.
- Instead of minimum wages, institute legislation to cap maximum time spent on work. 996 culture will just induce a rebellion against corporate culture. If you want to stand out, get more work done within 10 hours.