Malaysia–GE-14: A Harapan Government next?


April 25, 2018

Malaysia–GE-14: On the verge of a Harapan Government

by Tommy Thomas @www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | Foreign missions, election pundits, polls forecasters and secret or military intelligence all predict a comfortable victory for BN in the 14th General Election, with some even claiming that coalition chairperson Najib Abdul Razak is on the cusp of regaining a two-thirds majority.

But just as they failed to observe the trend in 2008 and 2013, I would suggest they are wrong again. The principal reason why I am confident that Pakatan Harapan will form the next government on May 10, 2018, is that they will receive about 60 percent of the popular vote. Hence, it is the voters who matter, and trying to understand what our voters desire in GE14 is the challenge.

What about the cheating? That is a given, and its effects must be overcome by overwhelming voter turnout and a massive swing to Harapan.

Recall the basic facts. Approximately 15 million voters have registered for GE14. Harapan should aim for about 13 million voters to cast their ballot, that is, a 86 percent turnout. Although polling is midweek, with sufficient initiative and drive, that figure is not unattainable.

To achieve a 60 percent vote, Harapan must secure 7.8 million votes out of the 13 million votes cast: a tall order indeed, but not impossible.

Thus, to get 112 seats, that is, just crossing the magic figure of 50 percent in the Dewan Rakyat, Harapan needs 60 percent of the votes. But to govern effectively, Harapan needs a comfortable majority, say, about 125 seats.

Profligate PM

I do not propose to enumerate the long list of reasons why voters desire the ouster of Najib, the caretaker Prime Minister. As one would expect from a government that has ruled a country for over 60 years, they have become absolutely arrogant and completely out of touch with the ordinary voter.

Corruption, nepotism and leakages are the order of the day. The over-centralisation of power in the office of the Prime Minister has resulted in the thousand most important positions of the state and its agencies to be in the gift of Najib, particularly his power to hire and fire, which he has exercised with cold efficiency.

A consideration of how the economy has been mismanaged by the caretaker Finance Minister and the specific examples of plunder in 1MDB and Felda would be sufficient to establish a case against BN’s re-election.

The debts of the government and its agencies have ballooned to about RM1 trillion in Najib’s nine years in office. This computation is wholly understated because it does not take into account contingent debts, like the countless guarantees given by the government which have to be honoured, and the off-balance sheet debts.

Najib may just be among the most profligate and wasteful finance ministers in the world. How he has survived in office for nearly three years after the world discovered that more than US$600 million was deposited into his personal banking account is perhaps the best proof of the extent of his power.

Institutions that are expected to provide checks and balances have failed miserably. The debts of 1MDB, which exceed RM40 billion, have to be repaid, along with the awesome debts of Felda.

In order to increase the national coffers to fill the holes created by his extravagance, GST was introduced, resulting in the suffering of millions of poor Malaysians eking out a living. Their real wages have not increased in years, but their living expenses have multiplied. Massive immigrant labour, both legal and illegal, suppress the wages of our workforce.

Hence, without having to consider their terrible policies in health, education, law and order and foreign relations – to name but a few – their economic mismanagement, considered on its own, is sufficient by any objective standard to vote them out. They are just unfit to rule. And our voters are aware of this.

I, therefore, believe that Malaysians in their millions are going to vote against the Najib administration.

Historical parallels

A historical example comes to mind. The Congress Party governed India for 30 years from 1947. For the last two years of its governance, then-prime minister Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency Rule, which resulted in the detention of thousands and the curtailment of civil liberties on a grand scale.

When a general election was called in early 1977, the ‘genie’ was let out of the bottle. Indian voters thrived in their newly-recovered freedom, and punished Gandhi at the polls. The Congress Party was heavily defeated, and Morarji Desai (a former deputy prime minister in a Congress administration) became prime minister in the Janata coalition.

These are sufficient parallels to the Malaysia of 2018. Malaysians too wish to be liberated from the clutches of Umno rule. Harapan is now a grand coalition of Bersatu, PKR, DAP and Amanah standing on a common logo.

DAP deserves credit for preferring the wider national interest over narrower sectarian advantages when they agreed to give up their famous rocket symbol.

 

Harapan is led by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose return to power would constitute the most spectacular political comeback in modern history.

After a gap of 15 years, and heading a different party and coalition, he would return to office as the nation’s 7th Prime Minister, at the ripe old age of 92, to be followed by Anwar Ibrahim as our 8th Prime Minister, once the legal issues concerning his eligibility to run for Parliament are resolved.

Mahathir has spent his entire political career from his entry into Parliament in 1964 fighting for Malay rights, having championed their cause for half a century. Hence, the majority race in our plural society cannot find a better protector of their rights. They felt and would feel safe under his prime ministership.

After helming the nation for 22 years, he personifies the establishment. The Armed Forces, the Police and the deep state have full trust in him. The business community would recall him as a true friend to them.

As Najib is discovering to his dismay, Mahathir remains a formidable politician, having led his party to five successive general election victories.

There is no doubt that the momentum has swung to Mahathir. The snowball effect in politics is going to propel Harapan to victory.

Former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson once made a most profound observation: “One week is a long time in politics.” The two weeks to GE14 is even longer, and anything can happen.

Image result for Tommy Thomas

Political trickery and lies will flood our public space in the last few days before polling. The voters must stand vigilant and turn up in the millions to vote for Harapan so that a historic victory is achieved.


TOMMY THOMAS is a senior lawyer, who occasionally writes on political and economic matters.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

GE-14–Reject Najib Razak and Corruption, says Dr. M. Bakri Musa


April 23, 2018

Malaysia: GE-14–Reject Najib Razak and Corruption, says Dr. M. Bakri Musa

by Dr.M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Image result for Tun Abdul Razak and Najib Razak

Prime Minister Najib Razak is painful to listen to; I have long ago tuned him out. His shrill voice grates. He raises it often when he tries to make a point. Instead, all he succeeds in doing is to sound like a hooker who has been spurned. His frequent and irritating hand gestures make him look like a monkey in heat. He mangles his rojak“Manglish” to the point of being incomprehensible. Those would be hilarious if caricatured by a consummate comedian. Najib however fancies himself a mesmerizing orator with a great stage presence. Such divergence of fantasy from reality.

Those irritating habits are not enough to ignore him. After all, he is Prime Minister. The reason I tuned him out is less his inability to discern fantasy from reality rather that the stuff coming out of his mouth nauseates me. What he utters is also dangerous to Malaysia. Likewise his actions; he is unabashed in his support for the rabidly racist “red shirts” in his party. Way back when he was UMNO Youth leader, he was notorious for his racist taunts, as with brandishing his kerisdripping with tomato sauce, to symbolize Chinese blood. He soiled, literally, a hallowed icon of our culture.

Compared to those, his telling Malaysians and the world that the billions he received from Saudi Arabia that ended up in his personal bank account was a generous “gift” would seem benign and ordinary, more so in corrupt Third World Malaysia.

I do not fault Malays in the kampungs for believing him on that one. Not that they are gullible. Far from it. Rather they harbor and cherish the old Malay values of respect and trust in our leaders. Malays are tolerant of their leaders to a fault. However as with everything else, there is a limit to that.

What I find incredulous is the gullibility of his ministers and officials. Even the sultans bought into Najib’s spin, or to be more accurate, Najib bought them! Kampung folks call that dedak, the rice husks they feed to their chickens. Throw some into their pen and they would rush in. Then all you had to do was close the barn door behind you. You had secured those birds for the night.

Image result for Najib Razak and the UMNO Red Shirits

Prime Minister Najib and his Dedaks-in-Chief

Najib’s dedak comes in many guises; for his ministers, continued appointments; senior officials, promises of post-retirement lucrative GLC directorships; and party apparatchiks, headships of statutory bodies or an ambassadorship to Timbuktu and LalaLand. For the Sultans, a few lucrative contracts thrown their way and they would then outdo the similarly dedak-fed ulama in quoting hadith on the importance of loyalty to leaders.

Back to that earlier generous Saudi “donation.” First he claimed that was “reward” for Malaysia’s fight against ISIS. Then when reminded that ISIS was formed much later or that he had once urged his UMNO Youth members to emulate them, Najib backed down. Those millions then morphed into an outright “gift.” Even Najib did not believe that for he later claimed he had returned it. I wonder at his donor’s reaction to that.The man cannot keep his story straight. He is a liar.

Gift or donation, that transaction triggered massive legal proceedings in no fewer than five jurisdictions, including the mother of all lawsuits, the American DOJ civil asset forfeiture under its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative (KARI). Switzerland and Singapore have jailed a few of the involved principals. The DOJ suit euphemistically referred to Najib as “Malaysian Official 1,” the top culprit.

Image result for Mahathir and Najib

Unlike many in Malaysia including his current nemesis Mahathir, my low expectations of Najib began much earlier. If not for his many enablers, Mahathir and Tengku Razaleigh in particular, men indebted to Tun Abdul Razak, his late father, Najib would today be at best nothing but a middling civil servant in one of the many backward districts in Pahang.

Unlike Najib’s many enablers, I discerned Tun Razak’s many sinister sides in Najib. So too his kampung constituents back in Pekan, for Najib had a near-death political experience there in the 1999 election when he squeaked in by a mere 241 votes out of a total of over 26,000. The number of rejected votes far exceeded his majority. The influx of “late” postal votes from the army tipped the balance for him. At that time he was the Minister of Defense.

 

Tun Razak is today hailed a national hero; his body rests in the Heroes Mausoleum at Masjid Negara. Less acknowledged is that he enlisted in the Japanese Army during The Occupation. Today his son Najib carries on that traitorous tradition. Najib (and UMNO) collaborates with China’s Communist Party, forgetting that it helped its Malaysian counterpart during the brutal Emergency years.

Tun Razak’s hypocrisy is also well hidden. He claimed to be a nationalist and a champion of Malay language. He exhorted Malay parents to enroll their children in Malay schools. Meanwhile he sent all his to English schools, and in England to boot. I wonder where he found the money for that; his minister’s pay would not do it. Najib inherits that hypocrisy. He exhorts everyone to be frugal and adjust to the high cost of living triggered by his GST. Meanwhile he and his family jet worldwide and vacation on luxury yachts in the Mediterranean, at taxpayers’ expense of course. His stepson, whose father was an army officer, owns luxury condos and mansions in Manhattan and Beverly Hills. He did at least until the KARI lawsuit.

Most unpardonable as well as dangerous of all is this: Tun Razak was instrumental in the ugly race riots of May 1969 following a drubbing his coalition suffered in the very divisive general elections. This upcoming May 9thgeneral elections have already degenerated into an even uglier and more divisive battle, except that the polarization this time is now among Malays in contrast to the interracial one, specifically between Malays and Chinese, in 1969. This coming election could prove even uglier and more vicious.

Najib’s father divided Malaysians. Najib now divides Malays. Malaysians, Malays as well as non-Malays, cannot let him do that. Malaysians must never, ever let the country descend into another orgy of bloodletting.

Najib is a politician with unbounded greed, devoid of trust, lacking in competence, and most of all, without an iota of integrity. He is pemimpin takde maruah dan tak beramanah(amoral and untrustworthy leader). Voters must reject Najib and his Barisan. Do it for the country. Finish the job Pekan voters attempted to do and nearly succeeded in 1999.

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Bakri Musa’s latest book, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia, chronicles his years as a young surgeon in Malaysia in the late 1970s.

Dr Mahathir’s harkening to the Past redounds with biting irony


February 24, 2018

Dr Mahathir’s harkening to the Past redounds with biting irony

by Terrence Netto

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Terence Netto

Mahathir has had to step in to leave UMNO and lead not only another party, but a coalition of his previous adversaries, in a campaign that may well turn out to be hugely salvific not only for the country but also for himself who has hitherto done much wrong…History sometimes affords individuals on occasion to reclaim their legacy and have it defined not by their lapses and failures but by their accomplishments and valour. The current times in Malaysia appear to be such a moment.–Terence Netto

 COMMENT | In late January 1989, there was a by-election for the newly created Ampang Jaya parliamentary seat in Selangor. It was forced by the resignation of the MCA incumbent Lim Ann Koon.

The resignation provided an opportunity for the opposition, led by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s newly formed Semangat 46, to test its popularity against the ruling BN.

Ku Li  as he was popularly called, did not join UMNO Baru which UMNO President and Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad formed after UMNOmno was declared illegal by the courts following a disputed party poll in April 1987 in which the Kelantan aristocrat narrowly lost to Dr Mahathir.

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A concatenation of events was triggered by that underwhelming victory. Its focal points were the detention of over 100 political and social activists under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in October 1987; the sacking and subsequent impeachment of the head of the judiciary Salleh Abas in May 1988; the successful protest candidature of Shahrir Samad – now unrecognisable as a former UMNO rebel – for the parliamentary seat of Johor Bahru in August 1988; an UMNO victory in a state by-election in Johor just after Shahrir’s BN-subverting one.

All these events conspired to render the Ampang Jaya by-election of early 1989 a make-or-break affair for the opposition.

It was then that Tunku Abdul Rahman, feeble and ailing in his 86th year – in an interview with the Asian Wall Street Journal, he quipped that what was keeping him alive was his fight against “that doctor” (meaning Dr Mahathir)  “and this” (a glass he raised – current religious sensitivities preclude revealing its contents) – weighed into the campaign debate by saying that the times were akin to the fear felt by people during the Japanese Occupation.

The Tunku’s equation of the times, circa the late 1980s, under Mahathir with the Japanese Occupation touched off an impassioned debate.

Several were the voices that claimed the Tunku had gone overboard with the comparison, a view countered by others who argued that with the large number of ISA detentions and the extirpation of the top judge in the country, the times were indeed fraught with peril. Ditto, the Japanese Occupation.

Now Mahathir, current leader of the opposition, has compared current times under Prime Minister Najib Razak to the dread felt by people under the Japanese Occupation.

 

This comparison is bound to spark a round of debate, with the government’s most prominent apologist, Salleh Said Keruak (photo), certain to weigh in.

His penchant for targeting Mahathir with the slings and arrows the latter had deployed against his adversaries during his long premiership is certain to be paraded.

Observers may well muse that the price for Mahathir of living a long life is the discovery that it is circular, not linear: What goes round does indeed come round.

The Tunku’s use of the Japanese Occupation analogy to describe the times in Malaysia, circa the late 1980s, under Mahathir is now employed by the latter to describe present times in the country under Najib.

Hyperbolic exaggeration

To be sure, hyperbolic exaggeration is par for the course during intense political contests where the stakes, in Najib’s case at least, are high. The Prime Minister may lose his personal liberty should he lose GE14.

But resorting to this device clouds more than clarifies the historical context, and that hinders rather than helps voters assess their choice. It also commits the fallacy of presentism, which is the attempt to evaluate current times against conditions that obtained in a different era.

 

The Japanese Occupation occurred when the world was engulfed in war, and on that count alone, cannot be useful in assessing current times.

But the stakes are indeed high for Malaysians in GE14. There is plausible basis to believe that the Prime Minister has taken RM2.6 billion from the public kitty.

Najib has denied wrongdoing but in matters like this he has to be, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion. He is not and that is the festering problem.

We need not resort to the Japanese Occupation for perspective on current times in Malaysia.We just need to look at the situation in South Africa. President Jacob Zuma has long been suspected to be corrupt and unbecoming of the office he holds.

 

His party, African National Congress, after a long deliberative evaluation of his conduct, has finally decided to ask Zuma (photo) to step down. Zuma has accepted the decision which should spare the country trauma it can ill afford.

What is the situation in Malaysia?  UMNO has abdicated its responsibility to step in and rescue the country from its suppurating wound of a PM who is not like Caesar’s wife – above board.

Mahathir has had to step in to leave UMNO and lead not only another party, but a coalition of his previous adversaries, in a campaign that may well turn out to be hugely salvific not only for the country but also for himself who has hitherto done much wrong.

History sometimes affords individuals on occasion to reclaim their legacy and have it defined not by their lapses and failures but by their accomplishments and valour. The current times in Malaysia appear to be such a moment.


TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.

An Opposition Grand Coalition can defeat the BN?


May 24, 2017

Here’s why an opposition grand coalition can defeat the BN

Image result for Mahathir as the next PM

Although the gerrymandering will continue, the significant difference is that Dr Mahathir’s new party will be competing for Malay votes in the small towns and villages.

By Koon Yew Yin@www.freemalaysia-today.com

According to news reports on the celebration of UMNO’s 71st Anniversary, Prime Minister Najib Razak had teased his supporters by asking if he should dissolve Parliament as early as the following day.

Some observers see it as a sign that he is very confident of a victory and that he may call for an election soon.However, there are two sayings which he needs to be reminded of.

One is the old saying “Pride comes before a fall” The other is a quote attributed to Harold Washington, the first African-American elected as Mayor of Chicago: “Let’s not be overconfident, we still have to count the votes.”

Barisan Nasional sponsored analysts, who dominate the official media, have been saying that the BN has more than the required number of votes to win the next election by a comfortable margin. In fact, some are so confident that they are assuring BN of a more than two-thirds majority. Because these analysts are tied to the BN money machine, this message of a big BN victory will be drummed into our heads over the next few months.

But is this big BN victory a sure thing? Going by my knowledge of politics in Perak, I wish to differ.

Tide turning against BN

In Perak, most voters have not forgotten that power was “stolen” from the then Pakatan Rakyat by the BN. In the next election, many voters will want to correct the injustice and vote for the opposition.

Included in this group will be most of the civil servants as well as Felda settlers who have been regarded as UMNO’s and BN’s vote banks.To some extent these voters have also been PAS’ vote banks.

But will the Malay civil servants and Felda settlers continue to allow themselves to be swayed by racial and religious politics and vote with their hearts rather than with their heads in the next election?

Or will they realise that both UMNO and PAS have let them down badly and are not worth the support that the two parties have been provided with during the past 50 years and more?

Image result for Mahathir as the next PM

In addition to Sabah and Sarawak, this guy is Najib’s Secret Weapon (?). Perak is not reliable predictor of GE-14 outcome. Furthermore, the Opposition is in disarray. PKR wants Anwar as the next Prime Minister. Mahathir is ambivalent on this matter since he may have someone else. Will there be two Deputy Prime Ministers to accommodate DAP? Those in Amanah also want a piece of the action. Allocation of seats will be a challenge for the opposition. I witnessed what Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim had to undergo in 2008.

Finally, Najib has all the advantages of incumbency and the resources to wage an aggressive campaign. So brave is the man who  dares to predict the outcome of GE-14. –Din Merican

Today, everyone, except for the elite, are suffering from a socio-economic crisis arising from the mismanagement of the economy and pervasive corruption. Food is more expensive, transport prices have soared, education costs have escalated.

According to Cuepacs president Azih Muda, civil servants have ended up heavily in debt to manage rising living costs, to the point that more than 60,000 of them risk bankruptcy.

“This is a direct effect of the hike in cost of living. Civil servants end up taking up a lot of loans and this is unsustainable and they are unable to manage their finances,” Azih told the foreign news agency Reuters.

This report was, understandably, not carried in the mainstream Malay media. Neither have the numerous reports on the financial mess inflicted on Felda settlers through the launch of Felda Global Ventures Berhad.

This time, I am sure the revolt of the Malay masses will take place. And when this revolt led by the civil servants and Felda settlers happens at the polling booth, a new page in our nation’s history will be reached.

Battle for change led by Dr Mahathir

Image result for A confident Najib

Fittingly, the battle for change will be led by Dr Mahathir. Several weeks ago, I attended a Parti Pribumi Bersatu meeting at Padang Rengas, Kuala Kangsar, where I took the opportunity to renew my friendship with him and gave him a copy of my book,” Road Map for Achieving Vision 2020” which was partly inspired by Dr Mahathir’s vision for our nation’s future.

It is not only the Malay masses who will push for change. Today we have a new opposition coalition which will operate as a single entity against the BN.

Featuring PPBM, DAP, PKR and Parti Amanah Negara as its component members, the opposition coalition will also include East Malaysian parties. This is an unprecedented grand coalition of Malaysian anti-BN voters which, in my opinion, can bring about the biggest upset in our political history once it gets its act together.

In the last GE, the opposition secured more than 51% of the total votes, but in terms of state and parliamentary seats, the opposition had less than BN because of the gerrymandering.

Although the gerrymandering will continue during the next election, the significant difference is that Dr. Mahathir’s new party under Muhyiddin Yasin will be competing for Malay votes in the small towns and villages.

I believe, too, that PAS is deeply divided under President Hadi Awang, who is presently sick and unable to exert much influence. Once it becomes clear that the new grand opposition coalition will win, I expect many PAS leaders and voters to join the opposition and quit the friendship with the BN.

 

The Stove of Consciousness


June 4, 2015

NOTE: Things can get pretty dull and numb in Malaysia. Day in day out we read about politics of opposing camps within UMNO and between Pakatan Rakyat and UMNO-Barisan National over the 1MDB financial scandal. The infantile mudslinging  antics will not get us anywhere.  Najib himself is playing games to remain in power. Governing takes a backstage right now. After all, loss of power can be disastrous for him and more so for his ambitious and greed driven spouse Rosmah Mansor, the self-styled FLOM.

For Najib Razak all options are now on the table. It is rumored  that since the country is a mess and paralyzed neck down, he may–to save himself being charged for corruption, conflicts of interest and abuses of power–declare a state of emergency, suspend Parliament and rule the country NOC-style like what his father Tun Razak did after the May 13, 1969  tragedy, albeit under different circumstances.

The government has stalled and no body is in charge. Usually, like in Japan, the Chief Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the civil service takes control and the government functions. Unfortunately, in Malaysia, our Chief Secretary is busy with consoling the Prime Minister in stead of ensuring that  his civil servants do their work. Perhaps, he is preparing himself for the right time to abandon the incumbent captain and reach out to Najib’s successor. Carma.

We ourselves have become very agitated and frustrated since we have been pushing for change since 2008; yet we are no closer to the goal of removing the present lot of leaders from the seat of power.  So if I may suggest, let us just sit back , have tea tarik and relax at least for today.

What better way to find relief than to engage in some philosophical banter. Maybe, after reading about Rene Descartes and his stove, sanity can return and we will back to do battle. Let not fatigue make us abandon our mission to make our blessed country better. –Din Merican

The Stove of Consciousness

http://www.consciousentities.com/?p=1169

by Peter Hankins

Decartes

I have been reading A.C. Grayling’s biography of Descartes: he advances the novel theory that Descartes was a spy. This is actually a rather shrewd suggestion which makes quite a lot of sense given Descartes’ wandering, secretive life.

On balance I think he probably wasn’t conducting secret espionage missions – it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure, of course – but I think it’s certainly an idea any future biographer will have to address.

I was interested, though, to see what Grayling made of the stove.  Descartes himself tells us that when held up in Germany by the advance of winter, he spent the day alone in a stove, and that was where his radical rebuilding of his own beliefs began.  This famous incident has the sort of place in the history of philosophy that the apple falling on Newton’s head has in the history of science: and it has been doubted and queried in a similar way. But Descartes seems pretty clear about it: “je demeurais tout le jour enfermé seul dans un poêle, où j’avais tout le loisir m’entretenir de mes pensées”.[I sat all day shut up alone in a stove, where I had ample opportunity to nurture my thoughts.]

Some say it must in fact have been a bread-oven or a similarly large affair: Descartes was not a large man and he was particularly averse to cold and disturbance, but it would surely have to have been a commodious stove for him to have been comfortable in there all day. Some say that Bavarian houses of the period had large stoves, and certainly in the baroque palaces of the region one can see vast ornate ones that look as if they might have had room for a diminutive French philosopher. Some commonsensical people say that “un poêle” must simply have meant a stove-heated room; and this is in fact the view which Grayling adopts firmly and without discussion.

Personally I’m inclined to take Descartes’ words at face value; but really the question of whether he really sat in a real stove misses the point. Why does Descartes, a rather secretive man, even mention the matter at all? It must be because, true or not, it has metaphorical significance; it gives us additional keys to Descartes’ meaning which we ought not to discard out of literal-mindedness. (Grayling, in fairness, is writing history, not philosophy.)

For one thing Descartes’ isolation in the stove functions as a sort of thought-experiment. He wants to be able to doubt everything, but it’s hard to dismiss the world as a set of illusions when it’s battering away at your senses: so suppose we were in a place that was warm, dark, and silent?  Second, it recalls Plato’s cave metaphor. Plato had his unfortunate exemplar chained in a cave where his only knowledge of the world outside came from flickering shadows on the wall; he wanted to suggest that what we take to be the real world is a similarly poor reflection of a majestic eternal reality. Descartes wants to work up a similar metaphor to a quite different conclusion, ultimately vindicating our senses and the physical world; perhaps this points up his rebellion against ancient authority. Third, in a way congenial to modern thinking and probably not unacceptable to Descartes, the isolation in the stove resembles and evokes the isolation of the brain in the skull.

The stove metaphor has other possible implications, but for us the most interesting thing is perhaps how it embodies and possibly helped to consolidate one of the most persistent metaphors about consciousness, one that has figured strongly in discussion for centuries, remains dominant, yet is really quite unwarranted. This is that consciousness is internal. We routinely talk about “the external world” when discussing mental experience. The external world is what the senses are supposed to tell us about, but sometimes fail to; it is distinct from an internal world where we receive the messages and where things like emotions and intentions have their existence. The impression of consciousness being inside looking out is strongly reinforced by the way the ears and the brain seem to feed straight into the brain: but we know that impression of being located in the head would be the same if human anatomy actually put the brain in the stomach, so long as the eyes and ears remained where they are. In fact our discussions would make just as much sense if we described consciousness as external and the physical world as internal (or consciousness as ‘above’ and the physical world as ‘below’ or vice versa).

If we take consciousness to be a neural process there is of course, a sense in which it is certainly in the brain; but only in the sense that my money is in the bank’s computer (though I can’t get it out with a hammer) or Pride and Prejudice is in the pages of that book over there (and not, after all, in my head). Strictly or properly, stories and totals don’t have the property of physical location, and nor, really, does consciousness

Does it matter if the metaphor is convenient? Well, it may well be that the traditional inside view encourages us to fall into certain errors. It has often been argued (and still is) for example that because we’re sometimes wrong about what we’re seeing or hearing, we must in fact only ever see an intermediate representation, never the  real world itself. I think this is a mistake, but it’s one that the internal/external view helps to make plausible.  It may well be, in my opinion, that habitually thinking of consciousness as having a simple physical location makes it more difficult for us to understand it properly.

So perhaps we ought to make a concerted effort to stop, but to be honest I think the metaphor is just too deeply rooted. At the end of the day you can take the thinker out of the stove, but you can’t take the stove out of the thinker.

Here are two responses on Peter Hankin’s Views of the Stove:

Scott Bakker says:

Coming out of the Continental tradition I was literally trained to regard the metaphorics of inside/outside as a conceptually bankrupt way to consider subjectivity. Moving onto Wittgenstein only reinforced this outlook. But I’m nowhere near so convinced anymore. Just for instance, how should we make sense of ‘shut ins’?

The stove, like the skull, is simply a convenient way to understand the flow of information. Hiding in a stove allowed Descartes to conceal information regarding his existence. Hiding in the skull, it seems fair to reason, allows consciousness to do the same more generally. You could say this is why we find neuroscience so flummoxing: it’s like hearing Descartes voice, then finding the stove empty when we throw the door open. An externalist approach to consciousness is simply one of the ways we can explain the ’empty stove problem.’ Descartes was never there in the first place! He’s actually a larger system that includes the kitchen, the village, what have you. My preferred approach is just to say that Descartes simply isn’t what we thought he was, that what we see locked up in our own stoves doesn’t exist.

Imagine if Descartes, like Plato’s prisoners, was *born* in his stove, then just ask the question of information flow. The most he could see (access) of himself in the stove would be cramped shadows, indeterminate shapes which would *have* to be his informatic baseline for ‘self,’ whereas through the cracks of the door he could see bright swathes of the external world. Now if he were placed opposite another stove and watched it open, would he recognize the high-fidelity, unbounded figure revealed as a version of himself?

Probably not, *especially* given his genius for rationalization. He can’t trust what he sees through the cracks, but these cramped shapes he knows with certainty – How could he not when they are all the information he has ever had?

I bake, therefore I am.

Nowadays I’m inclined to think the problem isn’t so much the metaphorics of inside/outside generally so much as the way they are posed. We just need to look at the inside/outside in the proper way.

Vijay Vikram says:

I do so agree with you about the internal vs external. It is a habit we inherited from Descartes. It is the mind/body problem.

Alternately, one may posit that internal and external are both aspects of a something we may call experience, awareness, dasein or manifestation or narrative or being or some such. Or to take it further, anything that shows up is, in effect, the world, the universe. And it shows up in what? Therein lies the paradox, for anything we may posit as a fundamental ground for manifestation– anything prior to manifestation– cannot be described since any description belongs to manifestation itself and so cannot be prior to manifestation. And the notion “prior to manifestation” is manifestation too. So, is there such a thing as “prior to manifestation” that could be a fundament for the world?

This issue is, however, a red herring. For the fundamental characteristic of the universe and of any particularity at all–is that it is. In other words, any and all of universe exhibits its fundamental character to us moment after moment, inescapably in the simple fact that it is–whether thought or thing or sense or feeling or objectivity or subjectivity and so on.

To put it more simply—-the fundamental character of the universe is ever and everywhere and always–patent.

This Side of Paradise

http://www.godwardweb.org

The only thing you need to know to understand the deepest metaphysical secrets is this: that for every outside there is an inside and for every inside there is an outside, and although they are different, they go together.– Alan Watts

Your inside is out and your outside is in.
 Your outside is in and your inside is out– The Beatles

Where do philosophers get their ideas? In the case of René Descartes, who is regarded as the founder of modern philosophy, he literally cooked them up. Once, in a bid to escape the cold, he had crawled into a large stove* and spent the day there. He was then 23 years old, en route to Ulm while serving in the Bavarian army. Alone with his thoughts, he began laying the intellectual groundwork for his famous cogito: “I think, therefore I am.”

This was not intended as a stand-alone statement but as the culmination of a chain of reasoning that began when he wondered what he could know for certain. He rejected everything he could know through his senses, since his senses could deceive him. Even his own body might be a mirage. But his thoughts were another matter. He could doubt just about everything, but he could not doubt his own doubts. And so the stuff he thought about when he was alone with his thoughts became the foundation for his existence.

Descartes concluded that mind and matter were two different “substances,” each occupying its own realm. The mind was immaterial, a “thinking thing” with no extension in space, whereas matter had extension but could not think. The two could causally interact, but it remained unclear how a mental event could affect a physical one, or vice-versa. As a byproduct of Cartesian dualism, Descartes had introduced a problem that has occupied philosophers ever since: the so-called mind-body problem.

The mind-body problem is not the only issue that arises when you give the mind a life of its own. Descartes had wondered whether his senses were playing tricks on him, conjuring up an external world that was actually a dream or the work of a demon. Addressing the same question, the 18th-century German philosopher Emmanuel Kant concluded that we can never truly know what lies outside ourselves, since our perceptions of the world are mediated by our senses. Even time and space, in Kant’s view, are not attributes of the eternal world but part of the perceptual framework through which we apprehend it. The notion that reality is to some degree in the mind rather than outside it is common currency not only among many modern philosophers but also among quantum physicists. As the physicist Erwin Schrödinger expressed it, “Mind has erected the objective outside world of the natural philosopher out of its own stuff.”

While Kant and others were raising doubts about the independent existence of the outside world, the Scottish philosopher David Hume was calling into question the “me” inside – the one entity that Descartes believed was beyond doubt. Looking within himself, Hume found no evidence of a single, simple and continuous self, only a bundle of perceptions in perpetual flux. He wrote, “I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.” At no time was he able to catch a glimpse of the self that was supposedly having all these perceptions. In the theater of the mind, it would appear, the show is always on, but for all we know it may be playing to an empty house.

Kant and Hume between them had not only demolished Descartes’ neat certainties about the world, but they had effectively demolished the world itself, whether inside or out, depending on whom you asked. Not only was the self unknowable and perhaps illusory but so also was the world beyond the self. How could this be? Perhaps the problem stems from the notion that there is an “inside” and an “outside” to one’s experience. Like Descartes, alone with his thoughts inside a stove on a cold day in November, we imagine the thinking part of ourselves exists somewhere “in here” and everything else is “out there” in the world. We may arbitrarily assume “in here” is inside our bodies, but the part we can see is just as much “out there” as the chair we are sitting in or the tree outside our window. And the things that are “out there” may, in fact, be entirely contained within our consciousness, which is “in here.” So where do we draw the boundary between the two?

Make no mistake: it is we who draw the boundary. We cannot carve out a space for ourselves “inside” without simultaneously creating an “outside.” This bifurcation of consciousness occurs naturally at around age two with the development of an autonomous self. And although this process may occur naturally, it does not come without cost. The price we pay for acquiring a bit of personal space is that we now find ourselves on the outside of everything else. The psychic toll is dramatized in the biblical creation story, when Adam develops a will of his own and is expelled from Eden. So what would happen if we could once again experience life whole? We would find ourselves back in paradise, no longer on the outside looking in

*There is some dispute as to whether it was a stove or a room heated by a stove; however, the word Descartes used in relating the incident was poêle, or stove, in the original French: “Je demeurais tout le jour enfermé seul dans un poêle, où j’avais tout le loisir m’entretenir de mes pensées.” (“I sat all day shut up alone in a stove, where I had ample opportunity to nurture my thoughts.”) Regardless, it makes for a good story. 
Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method, 
Emmanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature,  
Genesis 3.

Malaysian Activists: Soldier on for Democracy, Freedom and Justice


June 1, 2015

Malaysian Activists: Soldier on for Democracy, Freedom and Justice

Tiananmen Square
Malaysian activists who appeared to suffer from political fatigue are told to embrace the never-give-up spirit in Hong Kong’s social movement. “What we should learn from Hong Kong activists? Persistence,” said political analyst Low Chee Chong at the ‘Remembering Tiananmen Square Massacre’ forum last night.

He related the emergence of Hong Kong’s social movement which was sparked by the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, where a Beijing student movement demanding for political reforms was brutally stamped out by Chinese troops.

According to Beijing, 200 were killed in the massacre, while the international media reported up to 3,000 deaths.

“The Hong Kongers commemorate the Tianamen massacre every year without fail. They have the July 1 rally as well as the recent 79-day Occupy movement,” said Low.

Likewise, Malaysians were inspired by politicians and activists who stood up against oppression, he added. The social movement here gained traction particularly after the 2008 general election, where hundreds of thousands of Malaysians poured into the streets of Kuala Lumpur to demand free and fair elections. However, the clamour for democracy seems to have died down after the 2013 general election.

Low, who is former PKR Deputy Treasurer, conceded that the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition has failed to live up to the people’s expectation.

But he argued Malaysians who want to see a two-party system should continue to back Pakatan as an alternative to the ruling BN.

“Bear in mind, political change is a long-term struggle. You will not see all your targets achieved at the various stages of the movement,” he said.

The ‘Remembering Tiananmen’ forum, which was attended by 300 people, saw Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong and lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung sharing their experience on video after they were deported on arrival in Malaysia earlier this week.

Hong Kong teen’s advice

Wong, who rose to fame at the tender age of 14 for protesting against changes to the education system imposed by Beijing, urged Malaysians to continue to fight for democracy through his pre-recorded video message.

“While I am not familiar with Malaysian politics, I want to encourage you to continue to fight, (just like) Hong Kong is fighting to uphold its core values of justice and democracy,” said the ‘Umbrella revolution’ activist.

Malaysians can reclaim their democratic rights if they persist in their struggle despite facing suppression by the government, he said.

Wong also shared the difficulties faced by youth activists, which include the likelihood of being banned by local universities, defamed by pro-Beijing media and being rebuffed by the older generation, who prefer not to rock the boat.

Meanwhile, Wong Ji-yuet, a 17-year-old Hong Kong student activist, admitted they made some mistakes in the Occupy movement, dubbed the ‘Umbrella revolution’, which saw thousands of protesters setting up camps in the territory’s business district for weeks last year.

“We tend to go to the streets, but forget to go back to the community and do advocacy work. This needs to be strengthened,” said Ji-yuet, who is spokesperson for student movement Scholarism. Unlike Joshua and Leung, Ji-yuet was allowed to enter Malaysia to attend the forum.