The Case Against Being a Smarter Singaporean
Top image credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Ernest Hemingway got it right when he said, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”

Alas, PM Lee Hsien Loong also said, “What I would like is that we be blessed with a divine discontent.”

And so here we are, regularly finding ways to make our youth smarter by training them to be critical thinkers and to question everything, hoping this will help them thrive in a disruptive world.

Recently, our local universities even launched a new course, “Singapore: Imagining the next 50 years”, developed by all six local universities, hoping to change mindsets about academic excellence, and place more emphasis on soft skills. In this course, we’re told, students will “discuss issues affecting Singapore and its future, including the economy and social integration”.

Unfortunately, being taught to think independently results in an overwhelming sense of jadedness when reality doesn’t match our expectations. It also creates a culture of political dissidence that affects our ability to remain truly happy with what we have.

In the face of this, we have only one question: “Why think critically when you can just be happy?”

Sure, you might believe that an unexamined life is not worth living, but how can an examined one be worth living if you’re constantly in a state of exhausting, mind-numbing discontent?

So here’s the compromise that we propose. In order to be happier, we must give up being smarter.

To be truly content, we need to stop using our brains too much and too often. To be truly happy, we must go with the flow and accept our cultural landscape, political narrative, and social norms as they are, or as they’re given to us.

In other words, welcome to #wokelife2018—Lion City style.

Don't need to try so hard, we all die anyway. (Image: Lily Lvnatikk/Unsplash)
Just imagine. In a Not-So-Smart nation, we wouldn’t feel the need to fight for a ‘better’ Singapore. We could simply settle, and accept that “good enough” is in fact enough.

Some people argue that the minute you accept that you’re good enough, you have failed. These people aren’t just dreadful perfectionists, they are also wrong.

Instead, the minute you accept that your life is as good as it’s going to get, you arrive at a state of pure happiness and satisfaction.

For Singapore to finally have a shot at being placed in the top three countries on the World Happiness Index, we need to be less inclined to find something to retort everytime someone in the ruling party so much as breathes.

No, the 70% wouldn’t become the 100% instantly—but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. After all, we have chased perfect scores since our PSLE. No reason to stop now.

100% establishment = 100% happiness.

Being less-smart and completely compliant would also mean we don’t actively seek to distinguish the myriad distinctions in the spectrum of real news to fake news. Fighting for various degrees of truths to be heard is troublesome and brings everyone even more unhappiness and inconvenience.

Why speak up in Parliament about the culture of fear within the public service when you can just succumb to it? Why spend five hours debating Operation Coldstore when you can spend five hours watching Netflix? Why fight over a will when the person who wrote it is already dead?

That’s right. For those still unaware, we all die anyway. Why not just blind ourselves to the truth and be happy?

Let’s be honest, life is much easier when we don’t have to bear the responsibility of deciding for ourselves what is true, how true it is, and what to do with this truth.

For instance, when the government tells us that “every school is a good school”, we should just believe them, and shut out the quiet, persistent voice in our heads telling us we’re being duped.

After all, to question the validity of this would be to realise that some of us will never be good enough or rich enough to go to certain schools. It would mean realising, after decades of being told we can get anywhere we want as long as we work hard enough, that meritocracy is a lie.

Honestly, how can dis b allow?

If only we would accept that we should not be so smart, we would accept that Minister Shanmugam does not have anything against PJ Thum or his case. Minister Shanmugam has been so testy in Parliament simply because he’s a true Aries, the star sign known for its fiery temper and incessant need to get the last word.

That’s all there is to it, stop asking so many questions. Stop thinking that there’s something deeper to the minister’s seemingly vindictive tone. It will only make you angry and, more importantly, unhappy.

When we overthink, we only reinforce our dissatisfaction (with the government).

Do you think the Select Committee cares that you, one out of 5.6 million, are upset?


A city where everyone constantly aspires to be smarter. For what? Who knows? (Image: Namcha ph/Unsplash)
More importantly, being less-smart would mean we wouldn’t need to try so hard to innovate, break boundaries, and rock the boat. At long last, we can stop worrying about never meeting impossibly high standards.

Who wants the backbreaking burden of creating another revolutionary technology for the world, anyway? Leave that to Silicon Valley.

We are not meant to be brilliant, only above average. What a relief! Remember: if you don’t try, you can never fail.

Likewise, if we aren’t smart enough to tell real news from fake, then fake news can never be real.

Once we stop questioning everything that we’re told we should do or believe, we would stop rebelling against the Singaporean dream. We would all get married and have children by 30. We would pursue the 5Cs, and these material things would bring us endless joy.

It made our parents happy. It will make us happy too.  

Unlike career fulfilment or a sense of security in interpersonal relationships, we are in control of what we buy with our money, including the things and experiences that make us happy.

When we don’t know what we don’t know, ignorance is truly, and unironically, bliss.

Of course, some will argue that you can be both smart and happy at the same time.

Sadly, that’s an intelligent and nuanced point of view, and has no place in this article. The case against a smarter Singapore is black and white, like much of our existing discourse. Life really is this simple: if you want to be happy, you must give up being smart or discerning.

Just ask those of us already halfway there.

This post is not sponsored by the Smart Nation initiative, although it would have been a smart move if they had. PMO, hit us up at

People who think we’re being serious … How do you live?

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