I have often wondered why Singapore is such a competitive, status-driven society. Part of the answer lies, I think, in its overwhelming homogeneity.
Singaporeans lead similar lives, largely due to the high levels of standardization in every part of our society. Students across the country sit for the same exams, and are taught to think in the same ways. Young couples live in similar flats, applied for through the same HDB scheme.
Our small size matters too. Everyone is born, and lives much of their life, in the same 10 mile radius. We work the same few jobs because the country is too small to support a diversity of industries.
Yet we still retain the basic human need to identify as unique individuals. Since we are constrained to only a few dimensions along which we can vary, the only way to be different is to surpass the rest along one of those dimensions.