Friday, 21 March 2008

What next after the "revolution"?

(By DrAzly Rahman at Harvard University, Boston, MA -an early notes for a speech at an upcoming Malaysian forum at Harvard University,
Boston Massachusetts, USA, March 2008.)

Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains
(- Jean Jacques Rousseau)

Man has no nature, what he has is history (- Ortega y Gassett)

When I was invited to this gathering of young thinkers, movers and shakers, and public intellectuals, I was writing about hope. The Malaysian Revolution of 2008 was about hope materializing. It was about 'freedom' fought and won.

How Malaysian do we want to become? How free do we want to be? How much can we in turn be imprisoned by the newfound freedom?

These, I believe are strange philosophical questions that is peculiar-sounding at a time when the machinery of the previous regime is being de-constructed and dismantled piece by piece after being captured in a revolution that is aided by the force of cybernetic technology.

For those who believe in divine intervention, the revolution or the "Asian implo-volution" (a combination of "implosion" and "evolution") as I would coin, the event was god's will carried out by the general will of the people.

The enabling technology of this "Asian implo-volution" is the will of the Internet – of technological determinism.

Are we at a second phase of Merdeka/Independence? Who were we fighting against? If 50 years ago, it was against the British imperialists, who are the neo-colonialists amongst us now? If in the 1950s, we had a multicultural struggle in the form of the "hartal", are we seeing a similar version of it now in the form of rallies such as of the Hindraf and Bersih?

Again, what is freedom and independence? How has it changed? Where does freedom lie? How do we feel and taste freedom? What are the manifestation so of the structure of freedom? What do we wish to be free from? Free of? Freed by?

These are the questions all of us must answer as a country of various nations evolving? Can one be free to shout "Fire... Fire...Fire" in a full packed theatre? Can one be free to pull his or her keris/dagger/Samurai sword out and shout "Tak Umno hilang di dunia? and not annoy the nation?

Can Abdullah Ahmad Badawi be free to allow the younger ones to run the nation, after the humiliating defeat? Can our Malaysian universities be free to do whatever they like to students, especially to intimidate those who wish to be set their minds free?

I have some thoughts on what freedom as it relates to what independence might be; thoughts that must be translated into practice.

Ten steps towards freedom

Independence and freedom are not a slogans but an existential state of mind and a condition of 'lived democracy', one in which citizens are aware of how oppressive systems are cultivated. We cannot be independent until we arrive at these historical junctures, and until we do the following:

1. Free the human mind from all forms of dogmas, superstitions, mental chains, hegemonic formations, and transitional levels of totalitarianism. Our educational system at all levels must strengthen the scientific and philosophical foundation of its curriculum and practices to effect changes in the higher-order thinking skills of the next generation. We should not tolerate any forms of bigotry, racial chauvinism, and retarded form of democracy in our educational system.

2. Understand the relationship between the 'self and the system of social relations of production' and how the self becomes alienated and reduced to labour and appendages and cogs in the wheels of industrial system of production, a system that hides under the name of the corporatist nation and any other term that masks the real exploitation of the human self.

3. Make ourselves aware that our social systems, through the rapid development of technology and its synthesis with local and international predatory culture, have helped create classes of human beings that transform their bodies into different classes of labour (manual, secretarial, managerial, militarial, intellectual, and capital-owning) that is now shaping the nature of class antagonism locally and globally.

4. Understand how our political, economic, cultural institutions have evolved and are created out of the vestiges of newer forms of colonialism, institutions that are built upon the ideology of race-based interpretations of human and material development that benefit the few who own the means of cultural, material, and intellectual production.

5. Understand how ideologies that oppress humanity works, how prevailing political, economic, cultural ideologies help craft false consciousness and create psychological barriers to the creation of a society that puts the principles of social contract into practice.

6. Be aware of how our physical landscape creates spaces of power and knowledge and alienates us and how huge structural transformations such as the Multimedia Super Corridor or those emerging corridors that create a new form of technological city-scape (technopoles) that benefits local and international real estate profiteers more that they provide more humane living spaces for the poor and the marginalised in an increasingly cybernated society.

7. Be fully aware of the relationship between science, culture, and society and how these interplay with contemporary global challenges and how we clearly or blindly adopt these rapid changes and transform them into our newer shibboleths of developmentalism – one such policy being the National BioTechnology Program.

8. Put a halt to the systematic stupefication of academicians and students in our public universities by first incorporating Academic Freedom Clauses in their mission statements and next enculturalising intellectualism in these learning environments. The public universities must be restructured based on a new paradigm of leadership. Leaders that enable the ability of our students and faculty to think must be removed and replaced with those that pay allegiance to truth. "Veritas!" or "Truth!" as Harvard University slogan decries.

9. Design an economic system founded upon socialistic principles that meet the needs of the many and curb our enthusiasm to consume conspicuously and consequently create a society divided by classes and a postmodern caste system. Rethink the progressive dimension of nationalization instead of pursuing the excesses of privatization. What good would Malaysia do if its leaders are siphoning the nation's wealth by the billions, stashing them in places such as Switzerland and the Cayman Island?

10. Restructure the entire education system that would not only create some variant of a classless society but also one that would evolve into a reflective one instead of being rushed to death along the path of Wall Street by those who owns the means of production.

First things first

Of course the first thing to do is to bring this "Asian implo-volution" to a conclusion and honor the people's hope to bring the power abusers of the old regime to justice.

This is a daunting first step in the process of acquiring power, maintaining it, and next consolidating it. But power here means the power to transform the lives of others for the better.

We must educate Malaysians on the nature of "inter-locking directorates" or the link between business and politics that helped brought the end to the old regime.

Soon, this must become a lesson learned.

In the meantime, I am keen in exploring the possibilities of the social philosopher Rousseau's ideas of 'social contract' and crafting a new definition of Malaysian multi-culturalism.

We wanted a revolution, we got an "implo-volution". What then must we do?

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