055 Moderate This Entry!

I spent another day in front of the laptop, with a bandaged foot, typing out my Independent Study and playing games on orisinal.com. It’s a wonderful website with beautiful Flash games, the most lovable animal characters and the most enchanting music I’ve ever heard for any game. This beats all those other online games, which only gives you entertainment, but leaves the aesthetic beauty out. The games in this website actually relaxes you, albeit the occasional stress you get when the animals die and its game over, but let’s not go there…

I’ll don’t want to get to carried away about particularly cute games, but it provides a nice introduction to an entry. So, now to the gist of the post, which is the issue of moderation. Moderation… let’s see what the dictionary has to say about it… ah yes, here it is, the limiting or controlling of an action such that it does not become too excessive or unreasonable. Well, sounds like a reasonable definition to me. For those people still remember their “Nilai Murni” from school, moderation is “kesederhanaan”. Let me tell you, it is an irony that “moderation” is an included moral value in that godforsaken list, the amount of work required to memorise the definitions of the value, word-for-word, and then regurgitate during the exams is both excessive and unreasonable. But the days of complaining about the intelligence of the Malaysian education system is behind me, and I’m not keen on evoking any memories about one of the worst subjects I have ever taken in my life, but it was compulsory anyway, so I can’t complain.

Back to moderation, like any moral principle, stating out what it is about very easy and like they say, it’s always easier said than done. I guess we are all familiar with the concept of moderation, don’t give too much money to charity if you can’t afford it, you can help others but don’t neglect your own needs etc. These are the commonsense limits of altruism, I think, mostly quite instinctive, because ultimately we human beings are mostly self-preserving, never wanting too give out too much. These are also the textbook examples that we are always given. However, there is one type of moderation we always forget, that is, moderation in our thinking.

Of course, moderation in thinking shouldn’t be taken to the very extreme, which is the case of mental instability, like the fellow who shot 32 people in Virginia Tech. Well, he was really, really, very extreme in his thinking, to the extent that he was irked but the “rich snobs” (which could just be a little over-flamboyancy in part of the Americans), but this is just an exception to the case. The moderation I’m thinking about is the extremes we go to achieve a goal. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I say that we are becoming more and more Machiavellian (i.e. going to any extent to achieve a goal) as we technologically and socially progress into the future. In fact, some may say that it’s a social regression, but that’s a whole new debate altogether. We have been brought up in a “New World” (figuratively speaking), which is buoyed by capitalism, and this has lead to increased emphasis on materialism.

Materialism is the devotion to possessions and assets at the expense of spiritual and intellectual values. Now, if this isn’t an example of the decadence of the values of moderation in our society, I don’t know what is. I am, by nature, a very Spartan person, asking for nothing else but the occasional emotional support when I need it and the fulfillment of some of my whims and fancies, and I find that it is easier to understand materialism when you’re not embroiled in that rat race to make more money. Back home, it didn’t occur to me that materialism is an increasingly dire problem. It was more like something that you know for the sake of using it to write good essays on ethics and morality for the Malay or English papers. But, after going to Singapore, I noticed that there are two vices in society that erodes the values of moderation. The first, which I have mentioned is materialism, and the other, meritocracy. I might touch on meritocracy later if the entry doesn’t become too long. But first, on materialism…

Singapore, I think, is a capitalist state pretending to be a socialist state. Sure, the government gives out tax rebates, assistance money packages, GST offsetting packages (right after increasing the GST to 7%), and cheap health care (which I don’t think is a cheap as it is made out to be), but the list ends there. The ever increasing cost-of-living in Singapore is phenomenal, as compared to Malaysia, I mean; we are talking about close to dollar-for-Ringgit conversion for everyday items. While the salaries that are paid out are high, and the economy booming, the amount of work is needed to put in to achieve a personal “economy” as great as the nation’s, is so great that is has literally become and obsession, or like in the definition of “materialism”, a devotion. While devotion to work is not a sin in itself, ignoring everything else is. OK, we’ll leave family issues out of this, but do not mistake it for being negligible; it’s an issue in itself. We look at societal values. Although Singapore is known for its low crime rates (which is, by the way, and effect of the authoritarian view the government adapts), it is not known for its courtesy. Why, it was so hard to make them smile when the IMF-World Bank had its meeting in Singapore last year. In fact, the problem is not only the lack of courtesy, but also the problems that lie on the other end of the spectrum, rudeness to the extent of physical abuse and violence. In the Star Newspaper yesterday, Singapore columnist, Mr. Seah, commented on the increase of violence in the city-state, he cited several examples of bus driver abuse, maid abuse, and other public assaults. What is happening to this sterile, and looks-perfect-from-the-outside country? He opined that was the increasing stress levels in Singapore, I say it’s increased emphasis on materialism and less on moral values. When your life is all about being successful and making money, the people around you are either tools to get you there, or irritating little ants that deserve to be smacked with a copy of the Straits Times. Increased ignorance, and detachment from society are all symptoms of materialism. Let me tell you, most Singaporeans are as interested about current affairs and general knowledge as Bush is interested in helping the needy in Africa.

If only some people spend some time to stop and smell the roses, or the orchids in the case of Singapore, there would be less people whose only goal in life is to work the finger to the bone, and more people who actually care about others, it is a matter of moderation and a matter of morality. We must balance work and money with living a meaningful and happy life. If only one knows how many people are suffering out there, he would not be so self-centred. Well, as the French saying goes, “c’est la vie”.