Behind the colour of change

Azly Rahman (Malaysiakini)
Nov 21, 07

In Malaysia, are the leaves turning yellow, too? Are we witnessing the total deconstruction of the race-based political ideology and a breakdown of the economic and social relations of production?
Is the nation being haunted by a ‘yellow wave’ of change demanded by those alienated by the developmentalist agenda that seems to have favoured a privileged segment of society?

At the speed of how things are turning yellow, it seems that we have to content with such signs and symbols of systemic change as a reality.
Around three decades ago, the ‘yellow culture’ carried a negative connotation especially in relation to the invasion of the ‘decadent aspects of the western culture’. Today, we see a deconstruction of this perception; a mental revolution that is taking the colours of the constitutional monarchy as a symbol of war against the colours of the present race-based regime.
It is a war over the definition of ‘democracy’. It includes the question: who has the monopoly over Malaysian democracy? Can we continue to think like dinosaurs in an age of dolphin-think?
One of the nagging questions for our nation as we enter this challenging period for civil rights is this: what is Malaysian democracy and what is its future?
Key spokespersons of the government think that we are doing fine with the system and that we need to only improve the process.
Key spokespersons representing the wave of change and who challenge the ‘system’ think that the system is no longer working, as we face the realities of changing race-relations.
These are contending views of what ‘Malaysian democracy’ is – an interpretation of what the process of development of the people, by the people, for the people means. These are the views of the words ‘demos’ and ‘kratos’ of what a ‘government of the people’ should mean.
Democracy is rooted in economics. Our existence – including that of the king and the pauper, rebels and reformists, the Sultans and the hamba sahaya – as Marx would contend, is defined by the economic condition we are in or have created.
In Malaysia, the condition is defined by the pie baked by those who created the New Economic Policy that is now becoming a system of the New Economic Plutocracy.
Systemic corruption
I think the root of the showdown between the ‘yellow wave’ movement and the ‘red- faced’ power structure is economic in nature – true to the idea that we are all economic beings or of the specie homo economicus.
We still talk about an economic pie as if it is a constant. The faulty tool is popular with policy makers who are bankrupt of alternative perspectives of looking at systemic change. They continue to defend the indefensible in a time when change is imminent and coming at a very fast pace.
Even newer generation of race-based leaders are ill-equipped with the fundamental character of these radical changes. They use rock logic to meet the demand of a fluid society. Rock logic includes the use of force to prevent demands to these changes.
We must now abandon the metaphor of the pie; one that is increasingly becoming synonymous with the race to meet the gains of material standards at the expense of the real issue – distributive and regulative justice. We ought to adopt a new form of justice that cuts across racial lines and one that looks at the poor in the eye and into their souls.
That form of justice will meet our nation’s physical, emotional, and metaphysical needs. The present wave of dissatisfaction is not only an emanation of frustration over the issue of the judiciary and confusion over the line between the Legislature and the Executive; it is an emanation of a class-based issue, of which we are in denial.
Race is merely a sugar-coating of that nagging argument of this and that rights of this and that people; a coating that has become calloused with fossilised viruses that have corrupted the entire system since the British handed Malaya her independence on a silver platter. Race is a convenient basis for argument as it masks the issue of the ownership of power, knowledge and ideology.
Class-based system
The new issue facing us is class-based. We can longer use race and its sentimentality as a perspective to analyse what is gravely wrong with the developmental project we are pursuing.
We have subdivided ourselves into classes of the rich and poor from all the major races and the classes of those who owns the material and cultural capital. Our pattern of consumption, our daily grind, the kind of car we drive, the school our children go to, and how widely travelled we are, all reflect the class we are in.
But our politics is renewed every now and then to re-state the commitment to “correct the imbalances” using econometrics, without engaging in a sustained deep inquiry into the harder reality of living.
We are engaging in another exercise in keris-wielding, to renew of political-economic spirit that wishes to see the creation of more and more multi-million perhaps multi-billionaire Malays, Chinese, Indians, and other pribumi, but fail to inquire into the impact of such continuing policies that will further divide us into classes. No longer do arguments on racial imbalances, to me, seem to be attractive. Classes create antagonism.
Revelations of the issues of the distribution of wealth as in the multitude of unresolved cases of high-level corruption reflect how much public interest is intertwined with personal greed.
It reflects how much those in power invoke the mantras of “economic progress for this or that race” yet create a system that benefits this and that person/s. This is the game of equity we play. Our voters are either ignorant of the nature of interlocking directorate-ship in politics, or are too comfortable playing this game of patronage politics.
We somewhat do not get the clearest picture of what 30 years of ‘growth by equity’ policy has taken shape; who benefits? how are the benefits distributed? and why have the benefits of growth not trickle down as they theoretically should?
Price of progress
The human cost of development has taken its toll on the nation – that of those marginalised and lost-in-the-numbers game of the economic policy we design. We are startled by the nature of by-products of developments such as:
• The growing poverty (urban and rural) among Malaysians of all races, and we will also see rising poverty among immigrants who are helping build our economy;
• An increasing percentage of drug addiction among the Malays – especially those marginalised by an uncaring, uncreative, and uninspiring educational system that measures people by numbers and by truncated notion of achievement alone – and I am sure of other races in general;
• An increasing number of persons living with HIV/Aids as a possible result of the nature of the economic developmental paradigm we have constructed and the nature of schooling system that promotes a few and marginalises and alienates many;
• A growing population of our youth disenfranchised in our school system as a result of the slow-paced growth of teaching-skills acquisition – skills that are needed to make the school a very happy place one wherein children do not get bored and translate their boredom into drug addiction or gangsterism;
• A growing breed of our elected representative that cannot articulate logical analysis, prognosis, diagnosis to issues of distributive and regulative justice, but instead choose to continue to verbally clobber each other based on race sentiments;
• A clear continuation of the political paradigm in which our politicians are engaged – one that needs lots of money to keep one’s constituency happy and even worse, to keep one’s political position stronger;
• A clear picture of how our society has developed – the dangerous growth of classes of the multi-cultural rich and the multi-cultural poor and the relegation of the multi-cultural middle class into a new class of ‘urban poor’ whose life is tied to an increasingly dangerous pattern of hyper-modern consumption;
• A picture of the breaking down of families as a result of the changing patterns of our economy after the implementation of the NEP – there’s too much drive in human beings to earn more to make the first million Ringgit so that they will be ‘on par with the other races’. This has resulted in a dangerous form of psychological breakdown as a consequence of the mental breakdown of modern life. The work ethic imposed on Malaysians by global companies, especially profit-driven ones from the advanced nations, have impacted the way we look at work, juggle family life, pursue leisure and pleasure, and the way we create or break families;
• A dangerous trend of a breakdown of race relations, reflected in the nature and style of arguments we engage in, be they in Parliament or in our public schools – this is a continuing pattern of mistrust of the other race based on the struggle to outwit and out-greed each other in our pursuit of material wealth;
• A continuation of the grooming of political-economic dynasties based on the struggle to protect family interests as well as to create more wealth so that money can further sustain power – the idealism and ethics of the early years of Independence are now in the dustbin of history; we now watch a saga of what looked like a war between the Jacobins and the Girondins during the French Revolution, only this revolution is played silently, not for the future well-being of peoples of all races, but for the purpose of empire-building.
There are possible inroads to the long-term economic solutions we can undertake in order to rekindle the spirit of restructuring society and eliminating poverty.
Our current pursuit is creating the opposite effect. It is still-based on the protection of the interest of each race, ideologically derived form the British legacy of divide and rule.
The current path is creating classes of the extremely wealthy few and a growing population of poor. It is creating classes of the extremely wealthy few and a growing population of poor.
We need to go back to studying human nature and what kind of society we wish to recreate. The wealthy class wants to be ensured of control of economic resources so that the system can be maintained and be fine-tuned.
To meet the challenges of a nation that is beginning to think like a dolphin, we have to reject the notion of using force and violence to promote Dinosaur Age thinking.
I suggest we abandon Dinosaur Age thinkers in our march for real-time progress; one in which dolphins surf the yellow waves – elegantly and intelligently.
DR AZLY RAHMAN is a transcultural philosopher rooted in the tradition of Critical and Chaos Theory. Born in Singapore, raised in Johor Baru, he was a child of Malaysia’s experiment in humanistic education: Maktab Rendah Sains MARA Kuantan. A member of The International Honor Society in Education, Azly holds a Doctorate in International Education Development from Columbia University, New York City, and Masters in four areas: International Affairs, Education, Communication, and Peace Studies. He has taught in Malaysia and the United States in a multitude of settings and in diverse fields such as Politics/International Relations, Education, American Studies, Philosophy/ Humanities/Cultural Studies, and History/Foundations of Civilizations. His interest lies in deconstructing ‘hegemony and totalitarianism’ and to explore the possibilities of creating one’s personal republic that will challenge and transform the postmodern state. He can be reached at: [email protected]