02 November 2003

Disenchantment, Re-enchantment, Re-disenchantment

Today's topic is on the venerable Luohan fish that Singaporeans used to keep as a wildly popular hobby in the past 3 years. It's a good time to pontificate on this utterly serious matter, after today's reports that people are dumping the hobby fish into the sewers, flushing them down the toilets, releasing them into reservoirs and ponds, and even dumping them in front of aquariums.

As we all know, Singapore is a modern, capitalist society full of hardheaded, pragmatic people who believe in meritocracy and social mobility. This means, no ridiculous superstitious and unscientific beliefs like "the rich will get richer, and the poor, poorer", or "if I arrange my furniture thus and thus...", or "he is a son of so-and-so, of course he's rich". For most part, Singaporeans are proud to believe that no one owes them a living, that the good life can be attained by anyone if they tried hard enough. Social scientists call this demystification a "disenchantment of the world" that is a feature of modern society.

After 1999, when it became apparent that the country would not recover from the 1997 economic crisis, Singaporeans remained honourably disenchanted with the world, prefering to pick up the pieces of shattered financial portfolios by becoming entrepeneurs; we still believed then, that social mobility and sucess could be attained. So, everyone and their dog started a tuition business. Then, everyone and their mum opened a bubble tea shop in every third store of a street. And when that failed, everyone and their cat opened a handphone accessories shop.

Gradually though, the forces of science and technology took a step back from the rise of magick, when people started buying luohan fishes, those scarily mutated looking giant fish that seem to have lottery numbers showing on their bodies. We became a nation of superstitious gamblers; everyone either had, or knew a relative who had these ugly but lucky fish.

Yet today, the ridiculous fish fad has sunk. Luohan fish that used to fetch as much as $4000 now sell for $20 or less in aquariums. Our migrant construction workers collect them from ponds and reservoirs to EAT. We have become, full-circle, disenchanted again.

You can tell the difference from the original state of naive disenchantment from today's version. No one believes that "it is glorious to be rich!", since it is impossible to get rich anymore. There will be no real recovery, only a jobless recovery. Hope has disappeared, and we are truly disenchanted.

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