Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Cost of 21 Grams

There is a popular scientific theory that our soul weighs 21 grams. That which determines us as human beings weighs only a slight 21 grams. It is a fragile thing. But encompassed within this 21 grams is infinite potential, if the potential is allowed to develop.

Have read and re-read the unedited interview Yadav had with David Marshall. And one theme he touches on is the lack of soul in the lives of Singaporeans. The refrain of empty lives repeats itself throughout the interview. The co-optation of our soul, and its infinite potential, to a blind worship of the Golden Calf.

Make no mistake. David Marshall has tremendous respect for the achievements of the Singapore Government in delivering us to where we are today. But his only question is at what cost this delivery? 15 grams of our soul? Or maybe 20 grams? There is no doubt that Singaporeans are armed to the teeth with pragmatic abilities due to our education system. And thus armed, they are supposed to enter Singapore society and fight. Earn money. Be successful. Climb and climb away from the abyss of failure. From the threat that threatens them always. But no matter how they high climb, they still hang by a thread. And when you live too long on the precipice of disaster, your sanity frays.

There is a point to be made for deferring the individual to the society. When the survival of society is hanging by a thread. But how long can we be hanging on a thread? There is a space between complacent mediocrity and being perpetually located at the precipice of disaster. Can we even name this space in Singapore? When you tread politically into this space. You are hit with defamation. Hit with OB markers. Hit with regulations. When you tread into this space artistically, you are hit with censorship. You are hit by the Conservative bogey. And so what is left? You can have this space only at a personal level. This is the freedom that the Singapore Government accords Singaporeans. Without which we will all be insane. At a personal level only. No politics, no expression which impacts society at large. A personal voice only. No community of voices. It is a personal space, and it is empty because I cannot share this meaningfully with anybody. Because 20 grams of me is still hanging by a fucking thread. And many still go insane in this personal space of alienation.

This is what they mean by democracy in Singapore. The young in Singapore have futures but lost lives. The red in our flag is bleeding. Soon only white will be left.

There is a discussion in Singapore Angle about the costs of protests. If we read David Marshall, than we understand why it is Singaporean to even argue about costs of protests. If we are pragmatic and practical, street protests make no sense. But street protests are not about being pragmatic and practical. You need a failure of reason to understand a protest action. You need empathy, you need compassion. You need to know about human relations and how capitalism impoverishes substantial segments of the world population to make people come out from their cocooned lives and protest. Protesters are not bums without jobs. They sacrifice their time too. Time they can use to make money.

But they suspend their worship of the Golden Calf.

Nay, they refuse this worship. Because they believe in something. People who see the importance of having all 21 grams of their soul. And not defer 20 grams to be redeemed with interest later. Especially when redemption is a perpetually deferred condition. Or when you are allowed to redeem only at a point in time when all 21 grams is due for expiry anyway.

Use the cost-benefit analysis, employ Reason to dismiss all my words. And it will be dismissed. Continue eating out of our overflowing jade rice bowls, with golden chopsticks. Because sometimes Reason leads us there. Leads us into this State where 20 grams are held as collateral for Singapore. Because we, Singapore, society, population are always hanging by a fucking thread. So be practical. Be pragmatic. You are schooled like this anyway. You have a personal space. Everything is reasonable.

21 grams of soul is all we have. How much for this 21 grams?

Quote of the Day --

The only dream worth having, is to dream that you will live while you're alive and die only when you're dead ... "Which means exactly what?" ... To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget. -- Arundhati Roy, The Algebra of Infinite Justice


Anonymous boon said...

You used "pragmatic" to describe the Government's approach. I'm not entirely sure it's appropriate. One definition of the word is "guided by practical experience and observation rather than theory".

One trait of the current government is an unwillingness to experiment and try out new ideas. It sticks to the status quo, to the current way of doing ways. It paints many gloom-and-doom scenarios if their policies were not carried. Their actions therefore do not appear to have any grouding in practical experience.

Perhaps "lack of compassion", "high-handed", or "arrogant" are better descriptors. It sees each Singaporean as a unit of the economy. We are anonymous and inter-changeable cogs in the great Singapore Inc. machinery. Everything we do is rooted in how much money we can earn. Even promoting the sports and arts is justified by how much returns the activities can generate.

Since we are just mechanical parts, how can we have feelings? There is therefore no need to empathise with the people or sympathise with the weak.

We may be treated like soulless machines, but we needn't respond like one. My feeling is that things won't change until LKY passes on. In the meantime, let's do what we can to fight for the things that are important to us, whatever they may be.

5:23 AM  
Blogger sei-ji rakugaki said...

i just love your writings! keep it up.

5:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Profoundly complex issue in the simplest words. keep writing!

6:45 AM  
Blogger KiWeTO said...

We are Hamsters
bought into this country,
through thinly disguised attempts
at eugenics,
and even thinner protestations
about, the need to maintain a racial balance of 77/17/6/x

Trained from birth, to run,
relentlessly, as fast as we can,
exhorted to sprint,
to stay on the hamster wheel that sits, in the corner of our cage
and keep running all day.

Hamsters, to be entertained,
once a year, with pretty explosives,
A choreographed show
reminiscent of a North Korean
extravangaza, for our Dear Leader and his merry men.

Full of pomp, and the message to continue running.

To run from birth, till death,
for retirement is a pleasure,
that must be put off, for we must
help the men-in-charge, save for
our rainy day, which when it arrives, is still woefully insufficient,
due to the need for higher wages.

Running in a city, that calls itself a nation, wither a countryside, for used hamsters to rest in.

Hamsters. Be all that we can be,
for the only thing that is desired of you, is your body at work. Your soul, is an unnecessary component, in this economy that they call

7:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh come off it! Stop being such a whiner. Your persistent whining drives me up the wall. You’re like someone who likes sores so that he can lick them and gain sustenance out of it.

Of course, Singaporeans have sold their souls. But who hasn’t? You think its different elsewhere? You think Americans and Europeans are any different? People everywhere are more interested in Zidane’s head-butt than they are in innocent people being killed in Iraq and Lebanon. And Singaporeans are no different.

If you must whine, at least come up with some “pragmatic” solutions as to what we can do to make the world a better place to live in. But do refrain from using the negative aspects of the world as a platform to enhance your own importance. It’s an insult to your intelligence … and to your soul.

8:05 AM  
Anonymous ted said...

Well, I've watched the movie 21 Grams, yea, it was interesting to learn that 21 grams is lost from a person's body weight at the exact moment of death. Weight of a nickel, weight of a chocolate bar.

9:37 AM  
Blogger xenoboysg said...

anon 8.05,

I am glad it drives you up the wall. I am glad you see the sores as well. Regarding the point that everyone has sold their souls, that I have reservations. I will not debate that because there will be no resolution.

I am more interested in you and your reaction because in that, the clue to the solution you seek lies. Try to remember, what were your emotions that prompted you to pen the comment. Tell me, enlighten me, what was the trigger. Is it this post? Is it the sum of my posts? If the latter, ask why do you keep coming back?

You ask empathy of me because you imply I am reifying the sores and glorifying from them. I ask empathy too from you to help me understand.

What was the emotional trigger? What took you beyond the edge of lurker into anon 8.05?

Was it anger at me? Outrage that I am using pain in a shallow way for self gratification? Or outrage simply at me for affronting you and your sensibilities?

I will not guess or try to judge you, instead I will tell you honestly, I am glad you penned the comment and crossed the threshold. In so doing, perhaps, you redeemed some of your soul.

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually i thought the solution is staring us in arundhati roy's words? good writing xeno, its rare.

1:07 PM  
Anonymous boon said...

btw, the notion that the soul weighs 21 grams is pure science fiction. Calling it "scientific theory" endows it with more credibility than it deserves. It can't be a scientific theory (i.e. hypothesis) simply because it is untestable in practice.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous 805 today's TNP column by Alvin Yeo expresses your sentiments exactly! ur good fren ah?

12:09 AM  
Blogger *The Lunatic Fringe* said...


Ambrosia to the mind, truly!

The whole idea of expressing ideas and opinions about things is building connections and relationships. Human beings are social beings.

To Anonymous 8:05 am:

Whining is a particularly human trait. Children learn to do it without too much coercion or education by parents. It is built into our DNA.

You have articulated unconciously all that is wrong with Singapore. We have to "do" something and come up with "solutions" to anything. What can't individuals wallow in their own thoughts and opinions and see if it resonates? So does Xenoboy have to ask people to commit suicide to be seen as offering a "solution". Technically, dying is a solution so that we can get out of the hamster cage permanently.

That is the very essence of what is wrong about Singapore. Everything has to be a project leading to some "productive" outcome. Such utilitarianism really dehmanises us by reinforcing the mindset that that we are mere economic digits. It reinforces the feeling that you are what you contribute to the economy.

Yes, other nations also have citizens who sold their souls for mammon but there are also many of them who took the path less travelled.

I for one thinks whining keeps us sane, especially when it is so succinct and just makes me feel that little bit more alive!

Xenoboy: We need more of souls like you!

12:51 AM  
Blogger Whispers from the heart said...

We cannot laugh; cannot be sarcastic. We cannot give feedback unless we offer a solution.

Now, it seems we also cannot whine.

You know what, I have a funny feeling that Xenoboy had made many Singaporeans very happy that they had gotten a damn good deal from trading a mere 21 grams of themselves!

Imagine the ROI of this simple transaction?! new lifts on your floor, progress package and National Day parades ...

Don't whine, they'll say. Where else can you get such a good deal?

12:06 AM  
Blogger Charissa said...

anon 805,

Somehow I didnt see this post as whining but more of a yearning for a better society. Things might be similar elsewhere (to varying degrees) but must all Singaporeans be simliar to them? Why cant our society be better?

The points of view expressed by this post might not be what you like but please do not label us as whiners. How then are we to be the "open and inclusive society" that our current PM preached? In my opinion, that means a society that respects diversity in everything.

1:21 AM  
Anonymous qrh said...

In reply to Anon 8.05, no it is not true that people elsewhere also have no souls. I used to think that was the case. I used to hate all of humanity because I thought they were all like the Singaporeans I grew up with. Then I spent two years in America, and now am planning to emigrate. There are lots of Americans with no souls. The difference is that those who have souls are not labelled as dangerous dissidents who should be crushed. Naturally, this means more people are willing to live soulfully.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 8:05

This is Xenoboy's sand box and he can whine if he wants to. Shoo, go back to your own sand box.

Your generalization is so pathetic. How did you come up with this generalization? Have you lived in the US & Europe, be assimilated in those societies/cultures to come up with this generalization? Or are your conclusions drawn by movies that the Hollywood studios put out and the tabloids that sensationalizes thrash? Perhaps you believed all the bad stuff you read about the Western countries that the MSM put out in their rags & Singapore is perfect because of the pap.

I live and work here in the US for over 20 years & I think I'm certainly qualified to let you know life is much more meaningful here. Over here we do have Americans who care about innocent people being killed in Iraq, Lebanon & Israel. Guess what, we have the freedom to demonstrate we are against the war, our beliefs, our passions. Even the KKK can gather together & have a public demonstration if they want to. This freedom of speech is guaranteed in our US COnstitution.

Why do you think that the US is generally the top country of choice for the world's migrants? Why do you think that the mainland Chinese immigrants are willing to pay the snakeheads to smuggle them into the US, inspite of the knowledge of hardship if they are successful to get into the US?

3:04 PM  
Blogger ken said...

personally i think you are right on spot about certain points. especially regarding the soulless society many countires have become.

their souls have been traded for wealth, comfort, ignorance, mindless toils for material pleasures. and i think the scary thing is, some of them did so willingly.

soul, does not weigh 21grams. no matter what movie said it does. it's not proven, it's a movie. used to drive home a point, but please don't quote it as reality.

at some juncture, everyone decides what to do, what to accept and what to believe everyday. some are oppressed to the point where being different is a crime.(an extreme example) here, we have a somewhat less extreme society, it's the cost of being who and where we are as a country. to continue this line, is not only soul-less, it's dangerous. oppressed people have a tendeny to be vocal, violent and volatile. i would think no government can miss those lessons in history.

but..time will tell..

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yo xenoboy, i've posted some for your entries here:

Fans, go vote for it so that it will appear on the front page!

5:09 AM  
Blogger The Associate said...

you're assuming that childish political martyrdom in the pursuit of some delusioary "greater freedom" is as relevant as the worship of mammon.

7:07 AM  

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