Sunday, 24 August 2008

People, Politics & Philosophy - Bridging The Gap


Are these the subjects that padi farmers, food stall holders and hawkers, the rubber tappers, the Class F contractors talk in the coffee shops at "intellectual" levels? ....... Go down to the very "unintellectual" level of these ordinary voters and try talking to them about your ideas.
- Dr. Mahathir,

Characteristics of a popular politician:
a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner.


One might wonder why any politician would despise the intellectual - until one takes a good look at the predicament of many a third world nations.
The restriction/ clampdown on intellectual discourse is endemic in these authoritarian kleptocratic states, and persecution of intellectuals, not unknown.
These nations are more often than not, plagued by corruption, mediocre education, a state-controlled religion, a lying mass media, an impotent parliament, "compliant" judiciary and "constipated" leaders.

Ben Jalloun, a Moroccan writer has said it all quite well, in that, there is a gulf between the masses and the intellectuals in the Arab world, that in turn has given rise to the mediocrity.
Even if one isn't too accurate in one's assessment, it isn't too far from the truth in saying the same about the state of our nation, Malaysia, today - relatively speaking.

Politicians who aren't intellectuals themselves, being true to their trade, seek the 'approval' of these intellectuals (be they religious or secular) for the sake of legitimacy and "image".
That would explain the desire for some politicians (or their wives) to clamour for "honorary doctorates" and fake PhDs (did most recent incident involve that Permatang Pauh UMNO candidate?)- not to mention the "kangkung academics/political appointee VCs" created on the platform of "Ketuanan Melayu" at the local IPTAs. This of course doesn't mean that all products of local IPTAs are such - I've known quite a few "geniuses"]
In their hunger for "publicity and glory", they tend to desire to be the representatives of all and sundry, - although they only represent the 'masses', and cannot speak for the academics.
Unfortunately (for the politicians), true intellectuals will be true intellectuals - they do not seek to be represented, and only represent themselves.
This however, is something that is intolerable in the eyes of despots and dictators.
Woe unto any among the intelligentsia who do not subscribe to or sell their soul, to the despotic politician of a primitive third-world regime - the wrath of the powers that be, will be his prize.

Of course the "Intellectual talk" of people like Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Machiavelli, Descarte, Kant, Nietzsche, Voltaire, Ravi Zacharias, Azly Rahman, RPK, and Haris Ibrahim (even the intellectual side of Anwar Ibrahim), would be too much gibberish to the Class F contractor (that's why they are Class F - Duh!) and many a man on the street.
In fact even many "educated" people I know cannot stomach such things - they prefer things simple ......

However, many a "gutter" politician don't know or rather- resent, the role of intellectuals in nation building - for fear of losing some of the limelight, or capacity to influence public opinion - maybe simply due to an inferiority complex.
Don't these politicians know that it is not the job of intellectuals to suck-up to politicians or the establishment?
That they, are the foundations upon which the philosophy of the "pillars of state & nationhood" is built. They provide for discussions/ dissent through civilized debate of ideas.
That it is not their job to make themselves understood by the masses at the Kopi-tiam.

Theirs, is a job that provides avenue for expression of ideas, that can challenge the people to rise above the differences - which result in petty squabbles, fights, wars politicians and unthinking masses are prone to.
It is definitely not their job to explain high-flung ideas of philosophical ideals, ethics, aesthetics and morality to the masses at ceramahs - that part is to be fulfilled by the politicians, who are representatives of the people.
It is their job to guide the politicians towards understanding their role in society.
It is their job to educate the politicians who can communicate with the masses through simple language as is the function of "the arts".

Politicians who despise, ridicule and persecute intellectuals set the stage for a corrupt regime that cannot put up with dissent. Their strength lies in their ability to use the instruments of state to suppress the intellectuals, and effectively silence dissent - not justice and righteousness.

If we take a look at the 22yr Mahathir era, it was a virtual desert where the arts and academia is concerned, camouflaged with all the trappings of "modernity. We will see the disregard for intellectualism and meritocracy.
There was a total disregard for a viable philosophy that would translate into good morality, ethics, justice, accountability, quality and true nationhood - which was replaced with a mysterious UMNO "creed".
All we get to see are numerous white-elephants and concrete structures that serve as icons that simple-minded men would gawk at.
"Race-centred Glory" was sought by the administration, in meaningless endeavors like the longest barbeque pit for satay, biggest Ketupat, or the longest "Mee" (that too, on a not-so-subtle racist platform) - the latest being, a man trying to just stand for 30hrs on KL Tower!!!.
The degeneration in the quality of politicians and the civil service during this period (exemplified by the infamous hand gestures of Bung Mokhtar and Adnan), speak volumes about the regard that Mahathir had for intellectuals in his administration.

It is therefore not too surprising to have Mahathir pour scorn upon the intellectuals in Malaysia in his Blog entry entitled - "2008 Elections". Maybe the adulation from the "kangkung & pseudo-intellectuals" (cooked up the mass kitchens of our IPTAs) and the unthinking followers, aren't quite so satisfying to the ego ......
In pouring out his scorn , he has effectively articulated the reasons for his "Asian Values" style of governance and concept of nationhood.
In the process, he also dismisses the role of the intellectuals in nation building.
Is it any wonder that he had three DPMs and left behind a legacy of unthinking 'Little Napoleons" out to C4 the nation into oblivion by playing up politics of race and religion?

The loss of the 2/3 majority in parliament isn't actually something that one should fear, if one was truly legitimate and faultless. In fact, it is actually something that the people should be proud of, so as to give rise to decent debate before committing the sacrilege of raping the Constitution - which was of course conveniently done at liberty during the earlier days.

The reason for the apparent weakness in the Govt today is not because of the smaller majority in parliament, but because of the intellectual and moral bankruptcy, that was bred under the Mahathir regime.
The rape of the Constitution, emasculation of the Institutional Monarchy, Judiciary, Universities, Civil Service and the Arts which we have had thus far, appear to be due to this very reason.
This reason is brought on by none other than the disdain for intellectuals, personified by you-know-who .... who today "cries wolf.

Should a wise leader want to rectify the malady that the nation is afflicted with, he should first and foremost give due respect to the deserving intellectuals who can guide politicians on proper conduct, so as to understand their roles in society. He should have the wisdom to decide on the sound progressive ideas which would guide him in making far sighted laws and policies which benefit the nation as a whole.
The nation cannot prosper, until and unless the politicians are wise enough to give due respect to the role of intellectuals (and vice versa), in forging nationhood.

Keeping them on the longer leash of an amended AUKU, simply will not do.


"We have no Arab intellectuals of international stature
because we live in a state of generalized mediocrity.
In the Arab world,
there is no link between the cultural habits of peoples
and the ways of thinking and creating of modern intellectuals.
There is a gulf between the Arab peoples and Arab intellectuals
. They are two separate worlds." - Tahar Ben Jelloun

1 comment:

  1. Each pic is worth a thousand words not the least of which is that of Datuk Harun who sarted it all.

    So, Power TO The People. Today Permatamg Pauh; Tomorrow, Putrajaya. My personal vote is to brick up 4th floor permanently to remind us of a rogue regiment.


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