Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Pride Comes Before A Fall

Written by johnleemk on 1:58:11 pm Apr 26, 2007.

One thing I've realised about Malaysians is that we are proud. Not really proud as in the sense of arrogance, but proud in that we have this intense inferiority complex that drives us to prove we are as good as other countries.

This can be a good thing, naturally. Some amount of kiasuism and competitiveness is always a prerequisite for a dynamic and innovative society. But when this inferiority complex results in denial about our failures, and hyping of non-successes, it is unquestionably a detriment.

One famous example already discussed before is the Malaysian-Singaporean inferiority complex. Whenever Singapore is brought up, the immediate response is either to insist that we must do exactly as they do (without regard for whether such policies can actually work in Malaysia), and we are so much worser than they are, or that Singapore is always wrong and we must do the exact opposite of whatever they do, and that we are so much better than they are.

But our pride also manifests itself in other forms. One of the most common (and sometimes the only) accolades accorded to former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is that "he put us on the world stage".

How did he supposedly do this? By building mega-white elephants like the Petronas Twin Penises (really, they haven't done anything for the country or Petronas except stand erect in the middle of Kuala Lumpur). By fostering a culture of silly records, like building the world's tallest flagpole or making the world's largest flag.

Now, put aside the fact that these haven't done nuts for our international reputation (try talking with the average, or even above average, American or Briton, and ask them to tell you something about Malaysia — they'll go blank). Is it even worth trying to inflate our pride with such ridiculous accomplishments?

A country is internationally renowned not because of its records, but because of its prosperity and its people. The United States is not only the world economic superpower, but it also has a unique culture that no other society has managed to replicate. Singapore has no world records to its name (as some wags note, its first men to climb Mount Everest were actually Malaysians who became naturalised Singaporeans), but the average American or Briton or just about anybody easily knows what it is.

Our obsession with inflating our pride through such ridiculous "accomplishments" has led us to neglect the basic necessities of a truly first world country. Let me bring up one example I find absolutely horrifying.

I have a friend in Bosnia — a university student. Not so long ago, he decided he wanted to have broadband installed in his apartment. At 4PM, he went down to a shop and signed up for their broadband service. By 7PM, it was set up and he was surfing the web at a speed about five times faster than the typical Malaysian broadband connection. How much did he pay for this? About 14 Euros a month, or slightly less than RM66 (which is the price of the cheapest Streamyx ADSL package here).

And there's more. In his city, there was one university student desperately trying to get into a mechanics programme. Try as he could, he was never able to pass the entrance test. He transferred to Oxford (yes, that Oxford), and passed the entrance test for their mechanics programme on his first try.

Now, in case you've forgotten, this is in bloody Bosnia! Just a decade ago, we were all clucking our tongues at the desperate situation this wartorn country was in — and now look where on earth they are! How can we be proud of ourselves while this country we have been clucking our tongues at is now so far ahead of us?

Naturally, our inferiority complex begins to rear its head. Not too long ago, I received an email chiding me for "praising other countries" and looking down on Malaysia. Well, excuse me, but what am I supposed to do? Lie and say that our largest-roti-canai-in-the-world-with-teh-tarik-pouring-astronauts-and-tallest-twin-penises-in-the-world country is better than anything else ever seen on this planet?

Our immense pride and false sense of security is lulling us into resting on our laurels. Our pride is manifesting itself in a very unhealthy way — we are not being driven to excel by a belief that we can be great, but we are being driven to fail by a belief that we are already great.

Well, sorry Malaysians. We're not great, not great at all. But we can be great. Our people are no worse than any other country's; our society can be a lot better than other societies, because of its dynamic nature. But this potential for greatness can never become reality unless we face up to the fact that we're not great, and never will be as long as we remain stuck in our "semuanya ok" mentality.

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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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