May 23, 2018
On Turning 79–A Time for Personal Stock Taking
COMMENT: I chose Firoz’s article to remind Malaysians of Generation X and Y of what they failed to do in the last decade when they allowed Najib Razak and UMNO kleptocrats to govern our country carte blanche. We have been sleepwalking. Now look what Najib had done and imagine what more he could have done if he were re-elected on May 9, 2018.
Thanks to the present generation of voters, Najib is out of action; he is now being asked to account for the scandals he left behind including a trillion ringgit in national debt for the Mahathir 2.0 government to deal with. It takes my generation of 1950s, men like Tun Daim, Tan Sri Robert Kuok, former Attorney- General Abu Talib and others to come back to sort out the mess.
For me, money is not everything. It is important to have money. How much is enough? It is never enough. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said there’s enough for everyone’s needs, but never enough for someone’s greed. Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor succumbed to greed and now they must bear the consequences of their avarice.
That is why I seek to lead a simple life and as I reach 80 in a matter of 365 days from today, I choose to lead a life of an academic, a life of learning and devoted service to my students at The University of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. These students challenge me everyday to give my best.
It was the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew who urged us to lead a purposeful life. Greek Philosopher and teacher of Plato, Socrates said an unexamined life is not worth living. Descartes pronounced “I think , therefore I am” (Cogito Ergo Sum). Finally, I am just beginning to realize what they mean. It is a lonely life of deep contemplation. It does not make one popular; in fact, it may ruin relationships, but I will give it my best shot. And if I fail, it will not be for the lack of effort.
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew led a life of public service
Today I turn 79. I choose to celebrate this day by posting Firoz’s article and to remind myself that I must continue to speak the truth to power. I will, therefore, hold our new government accountable for their policies and actions. I will remain critical. While I congratulate Pakatan Harapan on their electoral success, I will speak up when our leaders in the Mahathir 2.0 administration fail to honour their pledge to serve Malaysians.–Din Merican
Sleepwalking? What is progress supposed to look like?
by Firoz Abdul Hamid
Robert Frost, a well known American poet wrote a poem on the 1919 inflation which reads:
The pain of seeing ten cents turned to five,
We clutch with both hands fiercely at the part,
We think we feel it in – the head, the heart,
Is someone cutting us in two alive?
Is someone cutting us in half?
These words cannot ring truer in a landscape where we are seemingly sleepwalking into losing homes and our life savings. A world where you could walk into work and be greeted by your pink slip, when only yesterday you were probably told you were a star in the galaxies of the workplace. The world of capitalism markets has created more people on Prozac (or similar tranquilisers) in search of their own personal worth and purpose. Even dogs are said to be on Prozac now – a testament of how we treat animals today
Is this what progress is suppose to look like? Does progress leave one billion people in hunger whilst another billion overindulging on food? How can the 21st century tolerate illness due to hunger and poverty and that due to overeating of “super scale” sized food at the same time and on the same planet? Why are people overeating anyway in the first place? Is the food produced for the “life on the rat race” lacking in nutrition that we have to keep eating? Even the basics like milk are no longer pure. We get pasteurised, skimmed, 1 per cent, 99 per cent with many other combinations. Coffee used to just be yes, coffee. Today we have all sizes and designs – it has become an industry unto itself to wake the stressed life we have all subscribed to.
And then we see the springing of organic food for the enlightened. But shouldn’t all food be organic in the first place. How did our food become unhealthy and inorganic that we need to search for health in food?
How did we get here as a civilisation?
When we have movements like the 1 per cent versus the 99 per cent on wealth, countries like the USA which makes just under 6 per cent of the world’s population is said to be one of the world’s largest consumers of global resources. Yet under these same skies we have the poorest of the poorest who are probably living on dhal (lentil) and bread, living a more prosperous life than those with multi-gated security having their three course meals, all cooked and served (flown to wherever they are for some).
Robert Frank wrote a book titled “Richistan” in 2007. In a commentary article on the book he wrote, “The wealthy weren’t just getting wealthier — they were forming their own virtual country. They were wealthier than most nations, with the top 1 per cent controlling $17 trillion in wealth” He further adds, “The real story behind all this wealth, however, isn’t in the numbers. It’s in the people, and how they’re changing the culture and character of wealth in America. Richistan is largely about a country in flux — one in which Old Money is being shoved aside by self-made entrepreneurs, philanthropy is changing from passive check-writing to ‘high-engagement philanthropy,’ and the progressive new rich are changing the politics of wealth. Most of all, Richistan is about the entertaining way that today’s rich are making, spending, donating and living with their wealth. (Like the guy in my book who has a house staff of 105 people.)”
It is reported that since Frank wrote the book, some of the people in the book have faced repossession, but that isn’t the question at hand here. The argument really is about what is just, what is equitable, what is equity and what is mercy? What is humanity? What indeed is our purpose on and for this earth?
This is not a debate on class warfare. It is not about being against the rich and opting for the less privileged. It is about our motives and what should be the essence of our humanity and our civilisation. Yes, these are probably questions we are asked and taught in Sunday schools, in our Islamic classes, and other similar religious settings both in our schools and homes. Yet we tend to cast it aside when we reach a certain age in our adult life. We get so hamstrung into the hamster cycle of competition and the “dog eat dog” world that we forget the simple basics of doing unto others as you like it done unto yourself.
There is little to dispute about the state of our planet today, never mind our economies and markets globally. One thing that doesn’t require a debate – we are in trouble!
The models of yesterday haven’t worked – we only need to reflect on the staggering changes in our weather cycles from East to West and the breakdown of our economies and communities. Whether we are religious in our inclinations or otherwise, we have a moral purpose and responsibility for our time on this planet; if for nothing else for the people who will stay behind to pick up the pieces after we are long gone. Do we let them pick up pieces of destruction – or savour the pieces of our achievements and success? You know we are in trouble when you don’t know for sure what is in the food packs that you are buying (this relates to the recent horse meat saga in the UK). We are in trouble when the food that is served in Muslim schools is not what it seems (a recent incident in the UK).
Progress cannot possibly bring such episodes. Progress cannot justify loss of dignity for so many in an instance and from a decision made by a reckless someone in one part of the world. Progress cannot consent dire hunger and obesity sharing the same space in time. This surely cannot be progress. Are we sleepwalking into progressive destruction?
Even in fields like medicine, how far must you and can you go to seek cure for an illness? Where do the remits and limits of conscience and ethics stand when seeking solution – is it or must it be at all cost?
Across industries and sectors, there is a real crises of conscience on what we must do differently. Abdal Hakim Murad, the Dean of Islamic School at Cambridge, wrote in a 2009 article in The Guardian, “Ours is an age that has made idols of the great banks and finance houses, driven to frenzy by competition amongst billionaires who are kept awake at night by the thought that a rival might make a business deal more quickly than them. A banker who can asset strip companies and throw its employees out onto the street is someone who is in the grip of an obsession that has thrown him beyond of the normal frontiers of humanity.”
The purpose of this column is to scour industry and sector leaders on what the role of ethics in business should entail and how it can be implemented. Does it hold a place in markets, economies and businesses? What works and what should be done? Through interviews, this column will seek to understand their views on ethics in their areas of business.
Aristotle spoke of justice in societies and equitable spreading of wealth. Imam Ghazali, one of the most leading scholars in the Islamic tradition, wrote books on trade justice. Today we have such organisations like Fairtrade International accrediting companies to safeguard injustices and abuse against farmers so that these farmers can have a more dignified life than if they were to sell their products in the traditional conveyor process of the capital markets. In return, consumers are probably getting a better deal. Whether you are inclined towards an organic or halal industry type setting or the mass market setting, the essence of humanity needs to get back into how we transact with our fellow human beings in business. The Orwellian world view can only truly destroy our souls and of what may be left of the future of this planet.
I hope you will enjoy these interviews – there are some real great people in store at http://www.investvine.com
Editorial note: This article is the prelude to a series of interviews on ethics in business with high-ranking executives globally.