Friday, November 4, 2011

Subordinated happiness(es).

Foucault talks about subordinated knowledges in one of his lectures in the late 1970s. As knowledge is always linked to power, no knowledge is produced without interests.

Let's take an article from ChannelNewsAsia.com as an example. Here, the Singapore National Development Minister (actually, I never knew we had such a ministry -- goes to show how much I love my country!) Khaw Boon Wan talks about how Bhutan has been romanticised to be a 'Shangri-La on earth'.

Photo by Peter Menzel
From the book "Hungry Planet: What the World Eats"

In 2006, Business Week rated Bhutan as the eighth-happiest country in the world, which was supposedly a surprise because the top 7 were all from Northern Europe. Forget for a minute the silly positivist obsession of trying to measure the immeasurable, and think about their capitalist and developmentalist assumptions about what you need to be happy: money and its consequent effects on levels of health, education, employment, etc.

So here we have a Minister of National Development who of course, has a developmentalist worldview, which was what produced Singapore! Clear the kampongs, clear the forests, fill the swamps, destroy colonial buildings, tramways (seriously, how many Singaporeans know we used to have a tram network?) build concrete high-rise apartments, schools, hospitals, urbanise, urbanise, urbanise. People, stop speaking Chinese dialects, nevermind that the language of the land is Malay, speak Mandarin and English and modernise, modernise, modernise. (The only issue left untouched is religion -- why?)

Khaw went to Bhutan and saw 'unhappy people, toiling in the field', who actually want Bhutan to be like Singapore. This is what happens when people with power speak for those below them in power. Clearly in Asia Singapore is held as a development model, taking urbanisation, anomie and relentless capitalist economic growth as the only way to health, happiness and prosperity.

Then we should ask those who are subordinated in this power relation of (regional) class, how do they see themselves? Perhaps there are other ways to be happy. Indeed, Passu, an "ordinary Bhutanese" says in his blog, Bhutanese are happy for their strong family ties, simple and nourishing food, and subsistence agriculture. Happiness is not measured by economic growth. (Although that's what politicians have been trying to force down our throats.)

The hegemonic knowledge about how to be happy in this world is to be developed, rich and urban. Other ways of being happy -- like what the Bhutanese have -- are subordinated, and we don't hear much about them nor pay serious attention to it. Most of all, no one aspires to it. Who aspires to be poor and happy in Singapore?

If we also look at the news sources we can see how easy it is to only hear about news from sources with power and money, like a major news channel. Passu writes in a blog, easily lost in cyberspace. However, with the Internet knowledges become less subordinated, if you only know where to look...

Our arrogance is often misplaced. Why do we think everyone else wants to be like Singapore? Like one of the commenters on Passu's blog said,
"Bhutan can be Singapore, but Singapore can never be Bhutan!"

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