May 17, 2016
Toward a Dystopian Malaysia:All Politics
by Steven Sim
My friend treated me to a stand-up comedy performance last Friday which was my birthday. The show featured four highly acclaimed comedians and everyone in the audience had a good laugh. What were we laughing at? Mostly jokes about sex, and very oddly, ourselves, about our silliness and stupidity.
One of the acts even had a female member of the audience come up the stage to spell “Laughs” with her derriere. She was a big woman, quite clumsy I must say but very sporting. The comedian kept making fun of the poor lady. And as can be expected, her antics elicited laughter from the audience.
The liberal, tolerant society
We cannot talk about race. The N-word must never be uttered. Here in Malaysia, the M-word cannot be spoken. It is sensitive. And then we are told we also cannot talk about religion. We may offend followers of a particular religion and they may turn violent towards us. It is sensitive.
Calling on Inspector Singh to help–Jaga Najib Depan Belakang, Kiri dan Kanan
So, instead of having laws to stop criminals like we used to, now we have laws to stop us from provoking would-be criminals. We’ve got laws that prevent us from commenting about race and religion. It is almost the same as legislating how women should dress so as not to “invite” rape.
Then it came to a point where we were not allowed to call one another “stupid”. We cannot ridicule or question someone else’s politics, for example. Look at all the “righteous” social media posts telling, even scolding us, not to call anyone stupid after the Sarawak election.
Because it is sensitive. As if our brain now is a big phallus ever-reacting to the slightest of stimulations. Perhaps one day not too far away, we will all not be allowed to call each other ugly or fat. These are sensitive remarks too.
We are not allowed to make each other angry anymore. Come to think of it, we actually have an Act of Parliament against making people angry. Section 3(1)(e) of the Sedition Act defines “seditious tendency” as promoting “feelings of ill will, hostility and hatred between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia”, and with the 2015 amendment, Section 3(1)(e) was created to include the promotion of “feelings of ill will, hostility and hatred between persons or groups of persons on the grounds of religion…”
What have we become? A nation legislated against making each other angry? Whatever happened to equanimity, forbearance, moderation, restraint, reticence, self-control, and sobriety?
It is easy to imagine the logical conclusion to this; I cannot comment on who you are, what you do, how you think, and vice versa, finally I, we, cannot say anything at all.
Because we are told, we need to respect the other person. The liberals’ idea of “multicultural tolerance”, my favourite living philosopher, Slavoj Žižek, used to say. As if respect now means, “shut up.”
There are two kinds of “respect” by the way:
The first kind is like when the white men came (sorry, did I make anyone angry with that label?) and they said to each other: “Let us respect the natives…even though they are stupid. Even though they bury their daughters alive. Even though they burn their widows along with the deceased husbands. Even though they bind-up a woman’s feet so small she can barely walk.” And then there is the other kind of respect, one where I assume you are more or less the same level as me and are expected to possess a certain degree of similarity in strength and wit. When you fall short, I call you stupid. Maybe I’m rude – but which one is respect, which one is patronising?
Comedians come to politics
Now, let’s go back to that stand-up comedy performance. Oddly enough, someone told me, now the only way you can make jokes about people and their stupidity and not get yourself into trouble is: quit politics and be a comedian.
I find the thought quite enlightening to be honest. We watch stand-up comedians quite a bit, and boy, how they “hentam” our stupidity as individuals and as a society. And we all laugh and laugh, gladly paying good money for being denigrated by them.
But what’s scarier.One day, just one fine day. Imagine if one of these comedians decided to run for office. He will tell us bluntly, “the truth”. He will say it to our faces, “this or that fellow is stupid, we should block them”. He will tell us he is here to protect us from stupidity. He will tell us he has a great plan to build a huge wall, to segregate between us and the stupids. (For the uninitiated, google: “Trump AND wall”.)
We are going bongkers-from Football to Doa
We, who are used to being “rational” – or are we? – we will then be shocked that many people are impressed by that comedian and want to hand over power to him.
The bar to be a hero suddenly becomes so low: one just needs to be brave to call another person stupid in his face. Because earlier no one was allowed to call anyone stupid or to say anything at all due to everything being “sensitive”. Everyone had to shut up on the pretext of being tolerant. The guy who finally said, “hey, stupid” is now the courageous leader who dared say the truth. Alas, the pent-up emotions of a society, who was stopped from making one another angry, finally rebels, resulting in the rise of fascism.
We need intolerance, not tolerance
The unfortunate thing is, we have substituted being political with being politically correct. The political problem of inequality now becomes the cultural problem of intolerance.
Because of the general disregard of politics, the problem of economic and political inequality inevitably becomes the problem of race and culture. One is rich or poor or powerful or weak not because of some systemic injustice but because of one’s race, or religion. The solution then, we are told, is to understand and tolerate one another: the other race is lazier, smarter, more scheming, less materialistic or more savvy, but let’s try to live with one another peacefully. The classic example here is once again national slogans encouraging us to see ourselves as one country, one nation, one people – 1Malaysia.
These are UMNO Political Jokers
We are then misled to think that solving the world’s problems is not through political action, not through the institutionalisation of good governance and justice, but rather through respect and tolerance for those who are different from us. Hence, the oft quoted reminder to “jaga sensitiviti.”
How then should we move forward?
The first step is to realise that our problem is not mainly intolerance but rather injustice. Do not fall for this tolerance nonsense. It is about politics not political correctness. We need to move from subjective multicultural tolerance to the objective universal intolerance against human sufferings and oppression.
Recall the big woman who had to spell “Laughs” with her derriere. It was so painful, and yet hilarious watching her. The audience was enthusiastically cheering at her clumsy act and she eventually won the prize for her comedy: a large screen TV. And then she did the unexpected, grabbing the emcee’s microphone, she said: “I’m gonna give this to an orphanage in Kulim.” The hall erupted into huge applause, this time without laughter but with no less happiness. There was no mistake there, no one was confused or did not understand what was happening: we were united by our antagonism against human sufferings. It was a universal thing.
And we have seen this at work many times, even at a larger scale. Žižek provided an anecdotal example of this sort of solidarity; speaking of the 2011 protest at Tahrir Square, Egypt, he observed: “Here we have direct proof that freedom is universal and proof against that cynical idea that somehow Muslim crowds prefer some kind of religious fundamentalist dictatorship….The moment we fight tyranny, we are solidary. No clash of civilisations. We all know what we mean. No miscommunication here.”
We share the same antagonism towards human sufferings and oppression and the same anger against the stupidity which supports them. There is no mistake about it, there is no two ways about it – there’s nothing subjective about it. There is nothing to respect when people continue to support corruption and tyranny whether under duress or not.
Think about it. Here is Malaysia, think about the Bersih demonstrations. Malaysians of all races and religions, male and female, of all ages, went to the streets. And for those who could not attend in the national capital, especially from Sabah and Sarawak, they organised their own local Bersih gatherings. Once again, there was no miscommunication. There was solidarity among Malaysians, and even across the South China Sea, to demand for a free and fair election. We shared the same antagonism, we were united not by subjective tolerance of each other but by our objective intolerance against corruption and injustice.This is what we really need again.
Please do not make our society into one where no one is allowed by law to make another person angry because of some tolerance nonsense we mistake for real respect. The consequences of such a move is scary to say the least – it is the kind of material for novels about some dystopian society somewhere. There is no such human rights as the right not be angered. You reserve the right to call me stupid, and I, too, the same right. Because at times, being humans, we do stupid things and must be chastised.
Steven Sim is the Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam.