Monday, May 23, 2022

Soul vs Structure - Singapore's Faustian bargain


One of the small tiny superstitions I subscribe to is that shit awaits someone once he or she says that "Singapore has no Soul". It's almost as if LKY is now some kind of Guardian Angel that will exact vengeance against anyone who says we have no soul.

Sharon Au said that when she moved to Paris years ago and recently her apartment in France got robbed and the robbers took everything except her pussy. Days later, she complained that French authorities were too busy to help her retrieve her property.

Even during my KL trip, my aunt complained that Singaporeans have no soul. Then, in the latest SEA Games, Malaysia's medal tally was so bad they ranked behind us - a country that has an insignificant population that does not even have an emphasis on sports. 

I'm going to now try to unpack and develop this idea further with a few mental models.

The first thing we're going to do, is to figure out what having a Soul trades off against. We have to give up our Soul for something right? 

Off the bat, I'm going to suggest that Soul trades off against Structure. 

So if you go by my logic, Singaporeans have no soul, but our traffic system works because of an oppressive ERP system and traffic rules that do get enforced. In KL, you can wait 3-5 minutes for the pedestrian lights to turn green only for 15 seconds. As a consequence of that, no one obeys traffic rules. My mum almost got knocked down over a zebra crossing that has faded stripes in KL Sentral.

The larger intellectual challenge is to show that Soul and Structure tradeoff against each other like inflation and unemployment. It is possible that they are not mutually exclusive. 

To deal with this, we will apply another mental model and examine who likes to complain that Singaporeans have no soul. 

I'm going to just guess that on the MBTI these folks belong to the FP or Feeling-Perception spectrum with a low score in Conscientiousness. It's largely their inability to deal with folks on the TJ or Thinking-Judgement spectrum who have high conscientiousness so the most convenient way to avoid cognitive dissonance is to just claim that they are soulless. 

At this juncture, do note that when TJ guys make a mistake, it's often buying the wrong stock and misjudging probabilities on investments going up. However, when FP folks make a mistake, it often involves venereal disease or large doses of heroin. Almost all Legends talked about by alumni group involve someone who is an FP. FPs lead a dramatic life full of ups and downs, but more downs as they get older and TJs start climbing the ladder.

Another reason to support the trade-off is that those places that emphasize soul would normally have serious issue arising from a dysfunctional structure. Parisian police are too overworked to deal with folks getting robbed. Malaysia cut their sports budget and headcount by half and still acted surprised when the SEA games results were so bad. 

So there you go. There is definitely a case that Singapore lacks a soul, surveys have shown that we exhibit the least amount of emotions in the world. 

But is that such a bad thing? 

We get a decent structure in return.

Our system works, we get decent healthcare, low taxes, and a great REIT regime that supports retirement planning. When the FP artistic types were hit by COVID-19, our structure provided them a $1,200 - $1,500 stipend so they can continue to complain that we have no soul instead of doing food delivery worker or a prostitute. 

Now let's see whether the structure we built up can deal with banned chicken imports from the North. 

I got pals celebrating because it means more decoupling in the future, but I'm looking forward to more vegetarian meals in June.




  1. interesting ideas!

  2. Finally, a blogger who writes well and with original ideas!