National Insecurity

It’s the time of the year again,when Singaporeans,men and women alike,rush out to the malls and splash their hard-earned money and mid -year bonuses on everything they think or imagine they need or want, supported by their firm belief that that 70% discount would make everything worth it.

Now,don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against shopping or the pursuit of material satisfaction–we don’t really have a choice. I might have weird shopping preferences such as shopping alone,but I still enjoy the occasional material indulgences,and pampering myself (yeah,right) with pretty dresses and sexy shoes. But that aside,I don’t understand the obsession with the Great Singapore Sale,which is an annual national exercise where we engage in senseless shopping sprees,and invite foreigners to join in the fun by publicising loudly that: hey,apart from the summer sun,we now have various steals from stilettos to sexy shades that will drive shopaholics insane.

I respect the idea that we all love to look good–it’s just a way of respecting ourselves and feeling good about ourselves so that we may acheive perceived emotional satisfaction and success in our social lives. No contention there about that psychological connection. And so before we have the resources to look good,we need to be able to afford the various ways of maintaining our youth and beauty,and therefore we have to work. It’s obvious to me that as a nation,we’ve been so successsfully educated about how the economy needs us to be productive at our work,and the economy can grow if we spend,spend,spend and spend more. And when we are successful at our work,and our bonuses are big and fat,we ‘pamper’ ourselves by splurging on our ‘needs’ and ‘wants’,truly believing that we can attain an enormous amount of satisfaction and happiness from our purchases. In this way,we also contribute to the economy,which will further achieve unprecedented growth,and which would translate into more goodies for us. The cycle goes on.

I think what many people may not realise,or choose to overlook,or have not the capacity to reach that conclusion,is that what we think we really want (oh,that Coach bag! oh,those lovely Manolo Blahniks!) have really been dictated to us by the bigger ideology that prevails in our system. Not just the Singapore system,but in every capitalist system,in every society that calls itself modern and cosmopolitan and globalised. Because the economy needs to grow. Because the powerful people controlling the business and politics want to earn money and make their electorate happy. That is the reason why this culture of spending and consuming has been so deeply indoctrinated in us,and is something we may not realise is not actually part of our consciousness. Do we really need what we’re buying out of impulse?

And that’s not the only thing.I’m concerned with how this obsession with consuming may suggest an increasingly impoverished spirit and mind. The idea of retail therapy might work for millions of people,and sometimes it works for me too,especially when I go into an uncontrollable book-buying spree. But I always find it rather sad that we need these material procurement to feel happy,to feel less of that empty sadness that may sometimes engulf us for various reasons. We no longer seem to have real control over our emotions,and we don’t seem to actively look for alternative solutions except to grab the quickest way out: instant gratification through putting on our shopping shoes to shop for more shoes. To resolve unhappiness, we turn directly to engaging in activities encouraged and interpolated to us by a bigger prevailing ideology that we might not even be aware of. It seems like we need to find our security and meaning by being complicit in the consumerist culture,and by extension,that would make us highly insecure people who are either pretending to be psychologically secure or who are clueless about their being interpolated by the grander scheme of things.

And so this whole fuss over rushing out to get the best deals in the Sale of the Year is,perhaps, actually our collective insecurity in action. Maybe one day we’d look at the heavily discounted items we bought without thinking and wonder,’Why did I ever buy that for?’

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