Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Insecurity and the Malaysian Psyche

Written by johnleemk on 4:44:52 am May 14, 2005.
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It has recently struck me that Malaysians seem to be a rather insecure lot. We revel in titles like Datuk, Tan Sri, etc. We insist on long-winded greetings (i.e. "Good morning to the honourable chairman, Tun Dr. Professor X, Datuk Dr. Y, Mr. Z, the faculty, and students") featuring just about every person who's had even the tiniest of claims to having done something great who also happens to be attending the particular function. We compete to see who has the most luxurious house or beautiful car. Insecurity has in turn led to the measurement of success not by how well you do, but how well off are you.

It's stupid. Simply giving away titles does nothing but water down the status of them and the royalty who bestow them. What does it matter if every Tom, Dick and Harry is a Datuk? If you throw a stone in town nowadays, you're as likely to hit a titled person as you are to hit a simple encik. It's just shocking, because I can hardly imagine comparing Siti Nurhaliza or Michelle Yeoh with the guy next door. And I can't imagine comparing Lee Lam Thye with any other plain old Tan Sri. These titles have been completely watered down.

Look at the cabinet. How many of them don't have any titles? Zero. Zilch. Nada. In the UK, how many government ministers are knights, barons, viscounts, or whatever titles you can think of? Very few. Even Tony Blair is not a knight. In Malaysia, if you hold any medium-level or higher government post and remain titleless, you are a rarity indeed.

Speeches, too, centre on glorifying these titles and the people who hold them. The customary introduction given at the beginning of every speech can take several minutes, depending on the size of the function. It simply does not make sense. It has no practical use beyond massaging people's egos.

Every time some stupid ceremony, inauguration or officiation takes place, newspapers carry advertisements thanking the politicians involved in very large font. Only in Malaysia will you find, daily, such advertisements thanking so-and-so for officiating at ceremony X. And, again, of course, the focus is on the person and his/her title.

Malaysians seem quite obsessed with these trivialities. From the cradle to the grave, it's as though we only live for our ego. We seem fundamentally insecure about ourselves — insecure that we are good enough. We need reassurance from material goods and/or the recognition of others. The idea that quality speaks for itself is utterly foreign to Malaysians. You haven't made it big in Malaysia until you own a luxury car, a maid, a home, and a Datukship.

It is this attitude of focusing on trivialities that has led to the state of Malaysia today. Many in the civil service don't bother doing a good job, because a good job is not recognised. Your titles and connections are. Politicians don't bother serving the rakyat, because it is the insecurities of their superiors that need to be soothed, not the ailments of the citizens.

But why are Malaysians so insecure and obsessed with material possessions? I'm not sure what originally caused it, but to me, it seems apparent that a fixation on covering up our insecurities through material goods continues to drive the growth of insecurity. Every time you buy a new car, you make your neighbour insecure, for example. The neighbour will then outdo you in buying an even better one. And so on, and on and on...

Success is not measured in how well you can perform a task, but how nice your title sounds or in terms of the things you own. Forget bothering to actually run the university. Just keep kissing ass until some guy up there notices you and kicks you up even higher in the hierarchy. Insecurity, feeding on insecurity.

Quality is no longer considered a necessity to have it made. To prevail in Malaysia, economically, socially or politically, all you need is a title and a few connections. Until people are secure in themselves, this is not going to change.


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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.

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