By Aloysius Chia
The Maximum Singaporean looks something like this: a little off the cuff, somewhat concerned about his or her image, is quite obsessed about the neatness of things, but first and foremost, beyond all things else, loves to calculate.
This Singaporean, who has always been a development in progress, is one who has been trained to look at everything from the point of view of gain and loss, where concepts such as space, time and people are increasingly specified so as to gain a sense of security about the nature of all things. The goal of the Maximum Singaporean is to put a numeric figure to everything.
There are two aspects of this concept that can be differentiated here: the ordinary person who strives for the ideal, or ‘maximum’, versus the Maximum Singaporean who wants everybody to be the same.
The difference between the ordinary person and Maximum Singaporean is that the latter has all the power and the former has none. The former strives for the ideal the latter decides.
For the Maximum Singaporean with all the influence to shape society, the ideal looks somewhat like this: there are no intrinsic goodness in anything, unless it can be compared to another – once it can be compared to another, then one can know the intrinsic goodness of things.
Thus, concepts such as citizenship, personhood, friendship, aesthetic beauty, love, tolerance and time can only be understood if it is measured against something else.
For instance, the value of a forest has to be measured against the benefits of a road or building if it to be appreciated. The value of time has to be weighed against its opportunity cost in order for it to be important. The value of the person has to be decided by output for the person to be useful. The value of education has to lead towards maximum returns if it is to be valuable.
This has been the guiding principle concerning the tearing down of Bukit Brown, the old National Library, healthcare policies etc.
Any other way of looking at the issue is deemed intolerable. For the ultimate goal of the Maximum Singaporean is to make everyone else an image of what the Maximum Singaporean thinks is important in order for it to be considered meaningful.
The Maximum Singaporean is not just interested in making everyone else maximum, he or she is interested in making every single thought and behaviour maximum. This is the hallmark of the Maximum Singaporean: to make every other person a reflection of one’s self in order to be completely satisfied.
Thus the Maximum Singaporean has to impose all sorts of rules, regulations, laws, and powers in order to be contended. It has to be assured that its own control of behaviour, sentiment, idea and feeling, can be conformed in every single way. It will not stop until its goal is completed.
But why does the Maximum Singaporean feel compelled for a need to be the maximum? Why does it feel a need to be certain?
Well, because the Maximum Singaporean cannot but help feel an inevitable sense of its own smallness. It cannot but help feel itself inferior and completely lacking in resources. Therefore, it has to make up for this feeling of inferiority by requiring the maximum possible, the maximum out of its people.
The Maximum Singaporean wants to achieve something, thus it compares itself only to selected indices of competitiveness so as to give itself a confidence. It completely ignores other indices because those cannot boost, but soften, its sense of confidence, which must come only from those that it can measure in specific, concrete quantities, which can then prove itself and relate back as evidence of its progress.
It is unable to understand concepts of intellectual growth, creativity, culture, invention, discovery, and tradition, because those are simply too abstract, uncertain and intangible.
The Maximum Singaporean wants to make everything in life maximal, in a particular way. Its result is that the subtle forces that govern life is reduced to a mere figure as if it was everything. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with this way of living, its result is to stifle the kinds of flourishing that may come about if such thoughts were not so completely encompassing.