meritocracy not quite a game of chance and strategy

This is how the idea came about:


I learnt to play Backgammon only about 7 months ago now.

I looked into the tactics behind the game.

I played it over and over on my iPhone, tried to strategise my playing against the computer and got better at it. Or at least I have begun to get the hang of it, making better decisions with the throw of the dice.

Then I went back to playing with the boyfriend, who first taught me the game.

I think I was getting better.

But I realised, it was never a game that you could feel confident of winning. Not even till the very last moments, because the throw of the dice can throw you off.

And you can never determine the throw of the dice, not at all.


The gig at Dear Patti Smith on Smith Street came through. We are going to perform there in July. I started to write the work. I started to think about Smith Street. I wanted the work to fit in the context of where it would reside.


I watched the usual 3 spots where they would gather.

I could not name who they were. I still cannot.

So maybe let’s just call them the disenfranchised?


I questioned what that meant. Who are the disenfranchised here?

The indigenous? The drunk/junkies? The poor?


Then I came to know of the letters.

Dalipie and Dalinkua wrote to the Moreton Bay Courier in 1858 and 1859.

And I felt very strongly about these letters. I saw them as brave and reasonable and a real fight against the injustice that they felt was against them.


But wait.

Who am I, a Singaporean wanting to live in Melbourne, a kid brought up in a middle-income family, privileged to have the opportunity to travel, to pursue higher education…who am I to comment on these letters?


I did not understand the complexities of the indigenous predicament enough. And no, the indigenous predicament was and is not the subject of my matter at all.


I started to remember my experiences and feelings when I was in India and worked with a cultural youth group in Theatre of the Oppressed workshop and performances, working on issues such as child labour and alcoholism in families. I remember also when I worked on building an NGO and spent time in an orphanage in rural Cambodia. I remember working with Migrant Voices, an NGO that worked artistically with migrant workers in Singapore. I remember my experience teaching in a high school. I remember growing up in a public school in the heartlands.


So what was it that I felt so strongly about then?


Equal opportunity.


“…to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.” (Excerpt from the Singapore Pledge)


This is what bothered me: Equal opportunity, or rather the illusion of.


Singapore prides itself as a meritocratic nation, and one of the few countries that defines its society as that. It shapes its education and political system and workforce by the ideology of meritocracy. Even the welfare that the nation provides for its people is meritocratic in nature. The nation tells you: Everything is earned. You work hard and you will reap the rewards of your efforts. You hone your talent and skill and you will earn your place.


But the truth is, meritocracy does not necessarily mean equal opportunity.


The scenarios are quite vastly different but like the letters, there are people who have been left behind even before they have had the opportunity to work hard towards something. And often, like Backgammon, the bad throw of a dice can happen at any stage of the game and set the rest of the game off.



I continue to whirl my head through all these thoughts and contemplate on them further.


And I am not sure where I am going with all of these yet, but for now, the dice has already been thrown.


Leave a Reply