Tuesday, January 11, 2022

On The Status Game in Singapore


One possible reason why I turned to the FIRE movement was that I was never the star employee of the department. I do ok at work and get decent ratings, but someone else will always take pole position. FIRE was a way of creating something which I am good at. While my increments were lower than top-rated colleagues in my 20s, it would be quite hard to beat my income if you account for salary, overtime pay and dividend payouts. 

One powerful way of reframing anything in Singapore is to see it as status games. In the book The Status Game, Will Storr discusses and illustrates with examples how jockeying for status is something really fundamental that human beings really do. If you think about it, the field of financial advice is basically taking folks with minimum A-level qualifications and bestowing upon them high-status labels like MDRT, COT or TOT and then convincing them that their wonderful advice is as valuable as that given out by doctors when, in essence, they are commissioned sales people. 

This book is one of my better reads this week and I think it is time to look at the kind of status games we have in Singapore because the first step is identifying the kind of status game we are really playing.

a) Games of Dominance

These are status games people play in the past and largely evolved from the games where physically dominant males coerce others to do what they want. Games of Dominance can arise from violence and threats of physical harm. Expect games of dominance in the Mafia, but I found a game of dominance in NUS Engineering School - a classmate who was a specialist in the Commando Battalion told me that punching someone up is often a great method of resolving disputes in his unit. According to him, a fight is often the best way for men to respect you. 

I always found this guy unsettling and I'm glad he was not my sergeant. 

b) Games of Virtue

If you cannot physically overcome someone, maybe you can position yourself as being holier. A Game of Virtue is all about attaining a higher rank based on morality. Obvious examples are hierarchies within a religious organization. In Singapore, games of virtue are often played on social media when an angry self-righteous mob cancels someone. 

2021 was a great year for the cancel crowd as folks like Kenny Leck of Books Actually and Sylvia was targeted by angry Singaporeans. 

c) Games of Success

Games of Success is a more modern invention where you can attain a higher status based on personal achievements. Climbing the corporate ladder is a game of success. If you think about it, labelling someone BBFA is basically a humiliating appellation to lower the status of an EDMW denizen to imply that they are not successful in their lives - which is why they are fat, undesirable and hide behind their keyboards all day. You will find that in every society there is some kind of incel or hikikomori who are folks, often male, who is at the bottom of the Games of Success - incels may fight and actually kill women, but hikikomori usually takes flight.

Personally, one of the best insights from the book is that a person cannot avoid playing The Status Game. 

But he might be playing a different game from you. 

In the FIRE movement, we play the game commonly as a Game of Success where we measure our dividends and calculate what it takes to attain a lifestyle without utilising our monthly paychecks. However, there are groups of folks who play FIRE as a Game of Virtue, where they attack capitalism and promote a more freegan lifestyle that is more environmentally friendly. 

You may be wealthier than the dumpster diver, but he's holier than you. 

If we cannot avoid playing some kind of Status Game then everyone benefits if we have access to more diverse games in society. Maybe I can't qualify to take H3 subjects in JC, but I am charismatic enough to lead the Student Council. If society insists on academic excellence, then there is little room to manoeuvre and no one, especially single males, will willingly accept a low status in the environment they are in - some will migrate, and others will turn to violence. 

At a personal level, to protect our mental health, we should also cultivate multiple interests to play multiple status games simultaneously. Young lawyers quit in droves because it is simply not feasible or logical to play that one status game where lawyers race towards becoming an equity partner.  

So the book does have a self-help dimension - Maybe there is a status game or some subculture out there that we can do well in so that we can bolster our self-esteem and not have to be tortured by the idea of being at the bottom of the shit heap.

When I hit 50, I will qualify for Golden Age Talentime! 

Maybe they'll accept a heavy metal entry.

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