Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Overthrowing Old Assumptions

Written by johnleemk on 12:48:34 pm Jun 13, 2007.
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One problem I keep running into when I discuss ideas for change in Malaysia is that people seem so unwilling to "think out of the box", to use one buzzword.

Malaysians are so hemmed in by the status quo that we cannot even envision change. When we do envision change, we see it happening within the existing framework, and thus failing.

For example, when my opposition to the present situation with regard to vernacular education is brought up, people often criticise my views because they only think of the change as occurring within the existing framework of an incompetent government, useless Education Ministry, and ridiculous national school system.

There is an incredible unwillingness to see this change happening under the watchful eye of a good government with good policies. It seems like the most fundamental of assumptions to make — that the policy change will be carried out by a government willing to see it through and adopt policies conducive to its execution and achievement of its goals — and yet people remain stuck thinking that we will always have a lousy government.

Likewise, there is often a great resistance to the ending of de facto apartheid, because it is feared that the economic status quo which relegates the Bumiputra to second-class economic status, will prevail.

However, who is to say that political equality means economic inequality? All we have to do is to look back to the original goal of the failed New Economic Policy — ending the identification of race with socioeconomic function.

Of course, one cannot blame the shortsighted opponents of change alone for this. Part of the problem is that the advocates of change are equally shortsighted — most refuse to address the problems of economic inequality or inadequacy in our national school system. These people are not true advocates of change — they are advocates of reckless and negligent pseudo-change.

There is something to be said for adjusting your assumptions in accordance with the circumstances. The issue of fuel subsidies is a good illustration of this.

I am firmly convinced that the last thing we should be doing is subsidising petroleum products. Instead, we should be taxing them for the external costs imposed on society when they are used for fuel.

However, at the same time, I was not a wholehearted supporter of the government's decision some time back to reduce the fuel subsidies. The reason for this is that instead of the money saved being returned to the rakyat in the form of lower taxes or better service from our government, it would probably be wasted on some useless project like sending astronauts to play batu seremban in space.

The important thing, then, is to take a look at change in its complete context. Sometimes, the problem with change is not that we advocate too much change, but that we advocate too little.

After all, we cannot end this facade of hypocritical Malay supremacy without first addressing the economic inequities in our nation. We cannot change the segregated nature of our school system by just wiping out vernacular and Bumiputra boarding schools. We cannot see the economic benefits of reducing petroleum subsidies if we do not spend the money saved wisely.

We need to start "thinking out of the box", and going beyond our assumptions about what is unchangeable and immutable. As George Bernard Shaw wrote, "You see things as they are and ask, 'Why?' I dream things as they never were and ask, 'Why not?'"


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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