Friday, April 18, 2008

Let Them Eat Cake

It is not merely the price of rice and it is not nearly so simple a solution as to switch to cheaper rice. Around the world, from Burma, to Nepal and to Haiti, there is a sweeping anger at the ineptitude of the incumbent governments in guaranteeing this simple basic commodity. There is an implicit anger at the governments for failing this most basic convenant of governance, the provision of affordable rice. Nearer to Singapore, our brothers and sisters in Malaysia have exercised also their anger and the incumbents are noticably shaken.

It is not merely the price of rice nor nearly so pat a solution as switching to cheaper rice.

Cheaper rice cannot be the only solution when even cheaper rice have become more expensive. What about the next citizen who has always bought cheaper rice and realises that he cannot buy rice any more because there is no other cheaper rice. When he is at the end of the grain chain? When he is left no longer with any choice, no longer with any options, as perhaps we are all invariably headed? Maybe then, we will have to devise another means test to find which grade of rice we belong to. Rice just like healthcare. Mean tests. And all this while we lower the taxes for the corporate suits as they they milk the rising price of rice and our means to get the rice.

It is a global phenomenon, the Government says, with an unseen wry shrug, its not their fault. Forgetting that their repeated claims of captaincy, of the mandate to lead this nimble ship called Singapore, steering it always away from an imagined danger, is based on their ability protect Singaporeans from these global vissicitudes.

And when they fail, its not their fault. With a pained look, they simply say "switch to cheaper rice". And my aged mother dutifully obeys, taking a feeder bus and another bus to another town and another feeder bus to the nearest Sheng Siong, ten kilometres away. To find the cheaper rice. But public transport hikes will come again soon. Its an annual affair now, they have promised this. To raise bus fares gradually, yearly,to even out the pain of a sudden steep increase. And when you cannot afford the bus, switch to walking then. Its the cheapest, just like cheaper rice. Same logic. Simplistic logic.

What happened to the unbridled optimism and ebullience when we announced the GST hikes last year? When the newspapers were emblazoned with shiny happy headlines proclaiming with such truthful conviction, such persuasive factualisations that raising GST will help the poor, raising GST will help you, raising GST will keep prices down, raising GST will bring us to heaven? What happened to this optimism? Where is the promised outcome? How have we been helped?

Switch to cheaper rice, you say.

Perhaps it has reached a stage where the citizens have to imagine that we can no longer afford this so expensive Government, perhaps the citizens should consider switching to a cheaper Government? That is political naivete, the Government will say. You can switch to cheaper rice, but cheaper Government? Are you crazy? The government has to be paid, to retain the talents, the very same talents that make sweeping proclamations such as to raise GST to help the poor and advise us to switch to cheaper rice when we cannot afford rice.

Marie Antoinette, queen of France, was once attributed with this response when told that Parisians could no longer afford the rising price of bread, she said "Let them eat cake!" Regardless the veracity of this assertion, it resonates through history and time as an indictment of the spectacular schism between ruling and the ruled during the heady days of the French Revolution.

It is not nearly so simple a solution as to switch to cheaper rice nor so nearly a simplistic solution to a simple problem; it is what the solution signifies, what it represents in our political relationship with those who rule us. It is how they think and the convenience with which political logic and language is shifted with an almost flippant, arrogant impunity.

In China, an artisan carved 115 Chinese characters from a famous poem onto a single grain of rice. Perhaps this simple grain of rice will present us the hope, the opporutnity to carve out some fundamental differences in the pages of Singapore's political history.

Quote of the Day --

"Rice must be the best sleeping potion in the world, he sensed, certainly more effective than a woman's body. And it was right there beneath him." -- Su Tong, Rice


Blogger ringisei said...

Let Them Eat Cake. Indeed. The gahmen can, of course, have its cake and eat it too. Tasty just desserts after feasting on (definitely not cheaper) rice in an iron rice bowl. Which, I'm afraid to say, we put in their hands either actively or allowing it through our own inaction. We let them eat cake. And oh boy, it sounds delicious.

P.S. Welcome back. You've been missed.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous fckfashion said...

Here's to your comeback post :)

4:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you are back! Don't leave us again, ya!

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Molly Meek said...

Nonsense, Xenoboy (though you have been missed)!

When rich gets too expensive, switch to cheaper rich. When cheaper rich gets too expensive, plant your own bloody potatoes using your own blood as fertilizers.

When life as a human being gets too expensive, become a cheaper life form. The Singapeasant, already the lowest life form, can downgrade no further. But that's why they should just bleed for a few NTUC vouchers and crawl in kowtow position under every ERP gantry.

7:58 PM  
Blogger xenoboysg said...

lol :)

6:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey welcome back. been looking out for your next post after so long. overseas?

4:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...
There's something about PM Lee here, is it the same people you are talking about?

1:09 AM  

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