The perfect society

Welcome to Singapore.

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Dizzying mix of old and new…

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whose populace enjoys harmonious multiculturalism (and at 85% non-indigenous)…

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…the world’s best education system

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…the world’s most efficient healthcare system and longest life expectancy

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(yes, that’s a hospital)

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…the world’s highest wages, at  $90,570 average a year

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…where one fifth of floor area in the country is certified green buildings:

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straddling itself as the centre of investment for three major economic regions – the Sinosphere, Indosphere and SE Asia, home to 3 billion. Ranked in superlatives for innovation, start-ups and technology

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…and considered the world’s most futuristic city

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…all set in a wonderland of architectural and historical mix

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…oh and the food, OMG the food. A national obsession

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and the er… airport. The world’s best, complete with spas, luxury malls, bespoke hotels, themed gardens, hiking trails, aquariums, free cinemas and foodie hotspots, that is now attracting millions of tourists, both with and without flights.

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yes, that’s an airport – and a spectacular spot for a James Bond/ Ethan Hawke opener:

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And contrary to stereotype, it’s libertine (witness the legions of smokers around every No Smoking $1000 fine sign), exciting and infinitely mined with interest, opinions, brashness and bohemianism, extant in its mix of culture, history and arts at every turn:

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In short Singapore is pretty much what you get with high education and low crime despite not having any resources, perfecting a society by striking the balance –  getting the populace to behave from its anti-social tendencies while liberating it. You may be fined for littering or smuggling in chewing gum, but you also get to stagger home pissed at 4am, skimpily undressed in the poorest district with complete safety every night. Driving a car may be effectively barred from you ($50,000 start-up in taxes), but you get cheap, reliable and inordinately accessible public transport instead, plus clean air and the best health in the world. It’s that kind of trade-off.

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This is the ‘positive freedom’ camp (‘forced to be free’ as opposed to ‘free to be free’) – but not overtly engineered into Marxism. This is due to it being balanced out by grass roots capitalism (rather than the feudalist, billionaire-generating capitalism culminating everywhere else). Here much more people get to build the pie, and get a piece of it too, rather than the 1% – one can compare the results in no-holds-barred city states like Hong Kong and NYC with their legions of proletariat and precariat. By contrast Singapore now has 1/5 of its population as millionaires and rising, and it shows in the way it’s building its environment and lifestyle with ever higher standards.

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But neither is it completely free in law, with its authoritative government and interfering, nanny state – the kind of house mistress that pokes her nose into other people’s lives and fines them, occasionally getting a cane out to bollock you 6 times too if, say, you got bored and decided to buy a hatchet and some tar and start a 6 month hobby of vandalism over 50 cars (let me remind you of the start up costs of owning such a transportational rarity), as poster boy Michael Fay did in 1994 to global tea-light burning vigils for his lily little arse.

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She will also, try as she might, to throw some ideas into the can, bless her – say discouraging hippy culture and their long haired layaboutism by making the criminally hirsute wait longer in queues, or offering free sterilisation programmes to the poorest percentiles – before the people get all upsy screaming about eugenics and Hitler and all that. After that attempt she’ll wait maybe 20 years and set up the SDU Social Development Unit instead, to couple up the right kind of singletons to boost the birth rates a bit, but then the populace goes and dubs it the speed dating for the Stupid, Desperate and Ugly and noone shows up.

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Anyhoo fast forward to today, and she’s gotten a little savvier with social media, softer, rounder and learnt her lessons, but generally under her you’re free from crime or the threat of crime – you may wilt under her gaze but noone else’s – none of that pesky racism, sexism, homophobia, prejudice, class war or subconscious bias people left to their own devices tend to enforce upon each other. She still keeps a few odd things close to her chest for various uses, but rarely gets em out.

For example the 2 year sentence for gay sex still stands from the colonial era, handy these days for closing down noisy or STD-prone businesses but is overall unenforced with openly LGBTQ establishments common – from award-winning sex saunas, clubs and go-go bars, to legal prostitution and govt funded Pride carnivals, such as Pink Dot.

Good clean fun:

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In short she may be draconian, especially in the past when you pushed back a bit and she learnt a few things too but that mix of S&M bizarrely gives you keys to a free society today.

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Pub Quiz fact: Singaporeans were measured as the world’s fastest average walkers

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Both sides benefit each other – its social protection and socialist policies (notably investment in education and poverty eradication) generate every higher incomes.

Perfect society? Maybe. But a gentle reminder: to get to this stage you have to endure generations of poverty, entire careers of hard labour etc, but without the temptations/ positive alleviation that crime can bring to otherwise fruitless lives. To instate this, it helps if you have a Confucian society that is self-disciplined to adhere towards social harmony, and that puts others before the self (which of course results in a whole new raft of social problems too, such as a prevalence to suicide).

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The final fly on the pie is the fact Singapore is not like other nations. It’s not enough that you have a hardworking, law abiding populace and invest in the people – you will still end up poor (as many Developing countries, who support some of the world’s largest state investments in education, have found).

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Singapore is lucky enough to be placed slap bang centre of the world’s most strategic and largest trade route. Oh and it’s a tax haven. All that money and investment that’s built this gloryland is sucked from the surrounding region that would otherwise have benefited hundreds of millions of its poor – a giant parasite to SE Asia, similar to how Switzerland has functioned on Europe, and now the world.

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In short, visit the place, enjoy that society, the freedom and the wonders it’s built. But don’t admire it. The world is a vast pyramid scheme, as we discovered in 2008, SG just very luckily, very cannily, happens to be on top right now.

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In terms of the future, SG may well be it, but we need a vast ocean of the underclass to draw from to build this summit. It may well come to pass that technology and robots will provide this graft, clammering under the grate. Or it could just be the usual, you know: ubiquitous billions of lives from the indentured Global South.

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Europe’s Greatest Weakness and Greatest Strengths

In short: it’s the borders, but not as you know it.

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A continent loosely summed up as 750 million people in the more northern climes of the world, famous for its history, heritage and export of culture (and peoples).

But let’s look closer at the geography: the world’s sole ‘landmass’ delineated from the rest by physical barrier – mountain ranges and seas (do ignore the Indian ‘subcontinent’, China or Eastern Africa that could easily do the same) – with the Caucasus forming an adjunct against the Middle East at one end, and the more spurious boundary of the Urals at the other. Never mind that this range peters out uncharitably 600km from the Caspian coast, and is low and heavily gap-toothed anyway – infinitely porous for the peoples of the Steppe, and to which White Russia has long suffered and capitalised on, this is the boundary that claims itself a stopper against the rest of the Asian multitudes. That declares itself more than just a peninsular of Asia.

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The idea that all continents are defined by their physicality demonstrates European exceptionalism – insofar that the idea of Europe is in reality more based on ethnicity, thinly veiled. That what defined this continent has long been the triptych of pale skin, Caucasian race and Christian culture, all but glossed over in textbooks to this day and accepted as an unsaid, unquestioned norm. With this idea comes the attachments of history, a richly influential vein that runs through collective peoples who went on to annexe 3.5 other continents (the Americas, Australasia and Russia/ Kazakhstan) as the greatest source of immigration the world has ever known and likely ever will. In short Europe is a sanctum alluding to the ‘old country’ for many hundreds of millions outside it still, and an idealistic narrative on governance  to even more – a cultural source code for successful nations if one may, yet often reduced to a sum of parts. Europe frequently gets boiled down to a list of these parts.

Ethnic map of the world by Haplogroup:

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This veneration is both the winning laurel and Damoclean sword. On one hand its historic urbanity, iconic motifs and exportable cuisines, languages, style and arts continue to draw visitors and investment by the billion, yet its exceptional storytelling can also jar with the demands of a globalised world, and demographic paths toward a more mutually reliant populace on the big spinner. As the per capita incomes of the Developed World and the Developing World (once known as the Third World) begin to converge the eyeliner so long denoting Europe as belle of the ball is increasingly consequential: attracting even more suitors but also a more fragile sanctimoniousness.

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For example, Europe’s plinth-like status brings in 671 million visitors (2017, accounting for 57% of international travel), with $767 billion investment to local economies – by far the largest destination for tourism, immigration and FDI. New housing, continents removed, still delusionally aspire to Tuscan villas, Norfolk farmhouses and Berlin apartments whether they be in the sprawl of the Texan interior, embattled Israeli outposts or upmarket estates in China’s third tier cities. The English language/ suit has become the uniform for global professionals, and Greek democracy, Italian art, French enlightenment, English industrialisation, British and Russian economics, and Swiss modernism have been adopted as worldly norms – sold as templates for governance and modern culture. Looking back on this weight of far-reaching achievement pride becomes an easy reaction, despite cultural piggy-backing, technology transfer strictly limited between brothers-in-arms, and disparate achievements conveniently united by one race (a redrawing of boundaries as and when needed), cultivated under the umbrella term of Western iconography – but subtly redolent of supremacism. Not to mention a more painful eyeballing from history on an inheritance built on colonialism, slavery, incessant power struggles, foreign invasion and hierarchical inequality no different from the rest.

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But Europe today is also a region most angst-ridden about outside influence and historic navel-gazing (or utter lack of, via rose-tinted media portrayals), susceptible to modern day demagogues, where every major economy is now, for the first time in a century, either right wing or in coalition with the far right.

To start, one cannot possibly quantify 750 million people, 130 languages, 50 countries, 87 ethnic groups and myriad cultures and histories as one. Witness the past attempts to do so, whether through bloody world war or cultural hand-wringing when pacts such as NATO or the EU sacrificed imagined sovereignty for greater geopolitical win-win. The continent is still a disparate collection behind the flawless face, with infighting commonplace between countries, and regions within – not to mention many societal pitchforks readied for the stream of newcomers, whether they be from the continent or outside (and despite the welcome also laid out). This is little different from many given parts of the world.

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Separatism within Europe:

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Yet should Europe give up on its institutionalised veneration on what it thinks it is to be European – rather than by dint of pure geography – it would find it can marry contemporary progressiveness with a rich past and continuation of traditions. Look at the record of the Nordic, Alpine and Benelux nations, world leaders in education, quality of life, social justice, economic performance and environmentalism coupled with a rich heritage of culture, architecture and the arts, all within the same breathless sentiment.

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But contrast that with worrying support for Le Pen, Jobbik, the Freedom Party or Brexit, coupled with instances of hate crime, terrorism, media-fuelled xenophobia and a stout lack of charity for the current refugee crises (the vast majority of the worlds 68 million refugees fleeing to neighbours within the already embattled Middle East and Africa – some of which have become refugee-majority populations within the last decade – with ‘only’ 1 million of the richest affording the crossings to Europe).

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Also note how Austria and Denmark straddles both these perceptions – open progressiveness with reactionary populism, which lends to the fact no part can be summarised despite all intent. Should Eurocentrism take down its artificial borders both in mind and physicality it can limit the damage wrought by a generalised decline in birth rates and productivity, both demographically and culturally. When the ‘old country’ no longer negates the idea that all societies are new, and that they have always had to be in order to survive.

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Europe is in short a wondrous, rich tapestry of histories and cultures; it does well to build on it. But it also does well to remember how porous its borders were in the age of empires, whether being invaded and influenced from outside (Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, Turkics, Huns, the Silk Routes, Moors, Mongols, Tatars, Ottomans) or doing the invading and influencing of the outside (Greek -Macedonian, Roman, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, British, French, Russian, German), that has so lent it the multitudinal aspects to build and importantly, trade on.

Les trentes glorieuses:

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This is not to overlook the genius of democracy, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, but they were not entirely standalone as we have come to assume, and with often fore runners abroad, from China’s equivalent scaled Industrial Revolution in the Dark Ages (that was destroyed by Mongol politicking and climate change), to Mughal manufacturing that took a quarter of global GDP and Ming Dynasty navies that operated the largest pre-industrial ships, industries, explorations and fleets in history, to the first shoots of democracy in Iraq and India, alongside the worlds first cities, or the first modern warfare fired up by the Mongols.

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Many icons we think of intrinsically European come from beyond, from the adoption of a Middle Eastern religion that is Christianity, to the International Style of modernism (clue’s in the name) sourced from medieval Morocco and Japan, that the early modernists such as Le Courbousier studied – the white wedding dress of the Ottomans, the Romanesque arch of Arabia, the Mongol onion dome, the Chinese naval tech, the Japonisme of impressionism and modern art, the African beat, the SE Asian spices, the Americas coffee, Chinese tea, the Himalayan gardens, the Indian manufacturing, the modern American/Japanese business frame, the knife and fork, the apple, the tulip, we could go on, and still do. The idea of Europe breaking down its barriers to speed into motion its coming extinction, as had been done in the continents it itself overran in the past, only ever happened when coupled with genocide, including viral. The way we see the world today should, in a very European tradition, be encompassing, outward looking, clear – yet holding a subtle richness of history and nuance beyond the everyday.

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