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Monday, December 11, 2006

Living In Reality

We have heard of activists being described, most commonly by parties aligned with the establishment, as being anti-government. Lately, in the context of the discourse on the Constitution and Islam, we have heard declarations of how activists are anti-Islam or even apostates.

There is value in considering why this is so. Such labeling is not merely a dismissal of efforts which some of us consider important. While that is clearly one of the consequences, we should pause to consider whether there is a deeper significance. I believe that there is, and an understanding of these more fundamental considerations may give us an insight into the mindset of those that seek to entrench themselves when they lack the moral or legal legitimacy to do so. They also give us an insight into why the racial and religious debates in Malaysia are nuanced in the way that they are.

For those who desire power but lack the necessary legitimacy, the path to power is necessarily a compromised one. The compromise takes many forms and in particular, for the purpose of this comment, often manifests as the elimination of the right to expression. We often take this to mean the stifling of legitimate dissent with the more obvious aim of preventing the expression of any views contrary to those that are in power. Though this is correct, it is not the entire purpose of the silencing of views.

The elimination of expression allows for the creation and maintaining of an ideology which those that want power in this way utilize as the principle means to legitimizing their claims to power. The assumption that the stifling of legitimate dissent would be sufficient to allow for power overlooks the obvious fact that many who disagree remain silent. Their silence is perhaps more dangerous as it does not allow for an assessment of positions. Their silence is indicative of a possibility that the next time they are at the ballot box, they may not be supportive.

An ideology is as such crucial to secure a vote. The difficulty here is that any ideology that springs from citizens spontaneously and naturally will be one that would give power to those who have legitimacy. This is not useful for those who do not have legitimacy.

The solution to this is to devise a ‘supportive’ ideology and impose it on citizens in such a way so as to ensure that a reasonable number of these citizens will be, for want of another expression, supportive. The creation and maintaining of such an ideology does not allow for dissent as dissent will show the ideology for what it is; a hollow and breakable shell.

In order to protect this fragile cocoon, it is important to make citizens feel that they should, even must, protect it. Propaganda efforts, sloganeering and all, go a long way in assisting in this cause. But it is not enough as with dissenting voices propaganda begins to wear thin. Additionally, while many of us have stopped listening to the inner dialogue between truth and untruth that takes place in all of us, that dialogue is one to which each and every one of can be awakened. All it takes is a spark and a lone voice of truth could be just that. Stamping out dissent forcibly will only serve to undermine efforts aimed at creating the impression of legitimacy.

The obvious course is to neutralize the dissenter or dissident in a seemingly ‘legitimate’ way. A method by which this can be done is to make citizens turn on those who have a different view; and the simplest way of doing this is to engineer a situation where the former believe in the ‘truth’ of the constructed ideology and then corral the latter into being the ‘Other’. The labeling of these dissenters as ‘anti’, demonizing them and robbing them of legitimacy are all means to this end. This is not to say that forcible measures will never be used. They will, as we have seen, when the political cost of not using them is too high.

Put another way, for this process to play out to its intended end it is important to eliminate any individuality. Individuality breeds dissent. The ‘dissident’ lives in reality and sees the lies on which the ideology of those who claim power is built. They see truth while others celebrate lies. The clarity they offer, the view of a future in which the past is reflected, is a fearful prospect for those whose political existence depend on the perpetuation of a construct.

The ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ debate illuminates the theory. To many Malaysians the call for a ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ resonates, as it is to them a declaration of equality, justice and fairness. It signals an acceptance of the diversity that exists in Malaysia and an understanding that such diversity can exist in unity. The political advantage of the resonance created is manifest. As such, this is a construct that the government wishes for us to take on as a reality.

The construct however is premised on the underlying assumption that all Malaysians are equal in the fullest sense of the word and that they are able to articulate their individuality. One can see the difficulties with the assumption of equality. As I tried to explain in my first posting “A Matter Of Protection, Not Privilege”, while the Constitutional framework lays foundation for such an assumption the realities however militate against the notion. The recent reworking of the social contract so as to justify a permanent state of ‘privilege’ and the parallel reworking of the concept of Bangsa Malaysia to accommodate the revised social contract theory are illustrative.

Likewise, allowing for individuality will only open the lid to more questions and claims which while reasonable cannot be answered or met for reasons that are patently unreasonable.

It is significant that the UMNO will not altogether abandon the notion of a ‘Bangsa Malaysia’. It cannot do so as the notion legitimizes its assertions that it stands for all Malaysians even as it legitimizes the continued association of the MCA and MIC with the UMNO. Similarly, the UMNO as it is now cannot abandon the language of ‘privilege’ as it would lose legitimacy in the eyes of those it believes it needs the support of. The tension between the two obviously conflicting stances or ‘ideologies’ is obvious. It is for this reason that we have heard much about those who are anti-Malay, almost as much as we have heard of Malays being under threat.

It is also for this reason that the leadership has had from time to time to invoke draconian anti-expression laws notwithstanding the political cost.

As a further example, the tactics of the so-called Islamic NGOs have similarly revolved around the creation of an ideology which they have characterized as being the only properly ‘Islamic’ one and a subsequent sustained and virulent attack on those who question their claims to the same. We have heard much about those who are enemies of Islam or who are anti-Islam and more about how Islam is under siege in Malaysia. The power base of these organizations rests on an acceptance, directly or indirectly, of their extremist vision of Islam in Malaysia and the place and role of the Constitution. Much of this vision is a matter of aspiration rather than reality. They have however been successful to an extent through the dynamic described above in creating the impression that their aspirations are the reality.

I concede that the analysis I have attempted is not seamless. I hope however that it has offered a perspective of how we should perhaps rethink what is happening around us and our reactions to the same.

(This comment was inspired by an essay entitled ‘The Power of the Powerless’ (1978) by Nobel Laureate, Vaclav Havel. ‘Living in reality’ was his idea as was the usage of ideology to legitimize power)



Old Fart said...

Youhit the nail on the head about how wannbes become bes! You can have a reasoned argument for a position but then this same may provide the nutrient necessary for any wannabe to propel himself to become the jaguh kampung for his constituency. All that he needs to say is "rubbish" or any other label and/or invectives that dismiss your very Oxfordian argument and you would have helped elevate a barbarian to the heights of his community. Even Oxfordians have begun to understand that. Although he is able to, Khairy Jamaluddin, the foremost son-in-law history has ever produced, has stopped relying on his learned capabilities to propel his political ambitions. He has discovered the power of not responding to the intellectual arguments in the expected usual way. Instead labeling them and rubbishing them, just like my uneducated gardener would respond to the stray animals that plunder his handiwork, he gains positions within his constituecy. And that is all that matters to him. So really, everytime one of these wannabes rubbishes an intelectual posturing, the higher up the qualification and credential status of the intellectual or the group that postures, the greater is the elevation of the wannabe. And when you dismiss something, there is no need to even profer any reasons or arguments.

In this battle of wits what is obvious is that the "intellectuals" have not really learnt anything. They respond to these dismissals with the same arguments and roadshows and whatever not, with what would appear to me to be nothing more than the seeking of the wanabe's approval or concession. By not going down the same low road by wannabes all their intellect will not bring the wannabe a notch below the heights he would have risen where it matters most to him. After all it is just to difficult to read and make sense of all the logic and evidence and proofs that intellects like to drown themselves in.

What is really needed is similar outlandish responses as the wanabes use. It may be an insult to your inteligence to reduce yourself to that. But until and unless you shame these wannabes in the presence of their constituents in the language that works with these constituents, all these intellect put together in so many words is going to amount to nothing.

Anonymous said...

I suppose the practical aspect of your argument is that the media plays an important role in dimissing opponent who has a good point. I tend not to take the news in papers or TV on the face of it as I doubt if the news is anything more than a well rehearsed and calculated strike at the voters.

Also I think that the news agencies have short term memories as news which were and still is important have not even let a whisper out in the media. One e.g. would be Eric Chia's case (I am not sure but some research should find the progress and answer but then nothing in the papers for a long time). My point is, after dimissing the interlectual opponents on their important issues, the citizens don't take it up and follow up on the issue.

An example of sidelining people who presents the truth would be my blogging hero, Jeff Ooi whom there were attempts to sideline him because his reports are so accurate and reflects what we think.

I look forward to your next posting. Just an advise, put some disclaimer for yout comments. You don't want to get into trouble like Jeff. Keep up the good work.