The Malays are weak, says Dr. Mahathir.


January 10, 2017

The Malays are weak, says Dr. Mahathir. That’s rather bizarre logic

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini

“I’m a realist, I do what I can do, if I can’t do, I don’t.”

De facto Opposition Leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad

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What if I said that Malays have a lazy, rent-seeking culture, relying on political and social influence to gain wealth and unable to retain power despite all their special privileges? Would this be wrong? Would this be racist? Would this be seditious?

How about if former Prime Minister and now de facto Oopposition Leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad said this? Would it still be “racist”? Would this be considered some sort of truth telling? Would it make a difference when he said this last week or when he was Prime Mminister of this country?

More than a decade ago, in an UMNO General Assembly speech (which also coincided with a celebration of sorts – 21 years in office), Dr.Mahathir as UMNO President engaged in some “realist” assessment of the Malay community he had led for over two decades.

As reported by Malaysiakini, he claimed – “If today they (Malays) are colonised, there is no guarantee they will have the capacity to oppose the colonialists.” The former Premier said Malays had failed because they were lazy and sought the easy way out by reselling their shares, licences and contracts to non-Malays.

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“They cannot be patient, cannot wait a little, they want to be rich this very moment… no work is done other than to be close to people with influence and authority in order to get something. After selling and getting the cash, they come back to ask for more”,he said.

Therefore, there is a rather bizarre logic in his thinking when he said that he had no regrets about stifling dissent in young Malay people during his tenure. Bizarre because the former Prime Minister has never been afraid of using the stereotype of the Malay community as a means of galvanising support.

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And this extends to the other communities as well. Well by “others”, I really mean the Chinese community because as we all know the Indian community is absent from the discourse. In the same speech at the 2002 UMNO General Assembly, he also referenced the Chinese community – the very community that UMNO has always demonised as a threat to Malay hegemony but in reality, meant they were perceived as a threat against UMNO hegemony.

He said, “If we take out the Chinese and all that they have built and own, there will be no small or big towns in Malaysia, there will be no business and industry, there will be no funds for the subsidies, support and facilities for the Malays. Learn from the Chinese.”

Only Mahathir could balance such contradictions, playing the racial card against communities, including the one UMNO claims to represent. Which is why in Mahathir’s thinking there is really no reason why he should not be standing shoulder to shoulder with his former opponents in an attempt to bring down the Najib Abdul Razak regime.

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This is  truly bizzare

He really does not care what political pundits, who seek to remind people of what he did during his tenure, say because he knows that he then enjoyed the support of the majority of Malaysians and he did this using the kind of realpolitik that oppositional parties during his regime did not grasp or were uninterested in learning.

While some opposition supporters blather on about “truth and conscience” but offer no real evidence that these form the desideratum for oppositional forces in this country, the former prime minister has no problem twisting the facts on the ground or contorting social and economic realities to fit his narratives.

A clear example of this would be when in an interview, he acknowledged that discrimination was part of the system but that there were communities who thrived in spite of it – “The Chinese in Malaysia have no special rights, they experience discrimination. But they are more successful than us.”

This is exactly the system a Gerakan political operative was talking about when he mocked the opposition for subscribing to the same system as BN. And the same kind of thinking that for years sustained BN which led to the creation of the leviathan which in the Najib regime. We get the world we deserve.

Slaying sacred cows

And keep in mind that during Mahathir’s tenure, UMNO defined oppositional racial preoccupations because the slaying of UMNO sacred cows were the very definition (and still is) of any kind of egalitarian agenda that would truly “save Malaysia”. All those other so-called racial preoccupations, religious, social and economic are a direct result of the UMNO agenda and the mendacious ‘social contract’.

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Not True, Mahathir forgets easily

However, since the short-term goal of saving Malaysia means removing Najib, the real power brokers, those invested in the system – and they are not only Malays – would like to keep the gravy train moving, only with a different railroad engineer.

Unlike some oppositional voices who pontificate about “principles” or at least attempt to control the discourse, demonising those who dredge up so-called ancient history and engaging in victimhood to facilitate political expediency, the former prime minister is clear about the purpose of his alliance with the oppositional forces in this country.

As he told me when I brought up the trust deficit when it comes to opposition supporters and his new role as oppositional leader – “If Najib is there, the opposition will suffer. If Najib is there, even UMNO will suffer, the whole country will suffer. I think the opposition is not supporting me, they are interested in removing Najib. I have the same interest. It is okay to work together – only on that issue, not on other issues.”

Furthermore, he has had no problems claiming that he would slay Malay sacred cows for the benefit of the community – “I cannot predict how much longer this (affirmative action) will go on but at the moment, we are trying out… some kind of experiment… by withdrawing some of the protection in education,” he said. “We want to see whether they will be able to withstand the competition or not. Obviously if they prove themselves able to, we can think of reducing further some of the protection.”

This was always the stick component of the carrot-and-stick approach, and the former Prime Minster knew very well that affirmative action programmes had a deleterious effect on the Malay community.

Moreover, when he hinted that he would slay sacred cows, he was greeted with rapturous applause as some sort of truth sayer by the very same Umno who now endorse the Najib regime’s attempt to further consolidate power and engage with Mahathir’s sworn enemy, PAS.

But of course, now that the Malay community is fractured and the Malay opposition needs to reassure the Malay community, all those special privileges, all those affirmative action programmes, everything that the former prime minister said was holding back the Malay community, are off the table.

The only thing that discerning Malaysians have to take away from any of this is that Mahathir acknowledges that he failed to change the Malay community – “What else (can I do) … I have tried to be an example, tried to teach, scolded, cried and even prayed. (But) I have failed. I have failed to achieve the most important thing – how to change the Malays.”

When asked if there was anything he would do differently, he claimed that he wanted to be a “normal” UMNO member because he could not do anything for the Malays. Well, he is not even a member now and he is the power behind a nascent Malay power structure.

The big question is, will he fail again. More importantly, is changing the Malays really the agenda of the game for him or anyone else.

Crony capitalism–Dealing with murky moguls


December 4, 2017

Crony capitalism

Dealing with murky moguls

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21698261-how-disentangle-business-government-dealing-murky-moguls

THE past 20 years have been a golden age for crony capitalists—tycoons active in industries where chumminess with government is part of the game. As commodity and property prices soared, so did the value of permits to dig mines in China or build offices in São Paulo. Telecoms spectrum doled out by Indian officials created instant billionaires. Implicit state guarantees let casino banking thrive on Wall Street and beyond. Many people worried about a new “robber baron” era, akin to America’s in the late 19th century. They had a point. Worldwide, the worth of tycoons in crony industries soared by 385% in 2004-14, to $2 trillion, or a third of total billionaire wealth; much of it (though by no means all) in the emerging world.

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Now cronies are on the back foot. Their combined fortunes have dropped by 16% since 2014, according to our updated crony-capitalism index (see article). One reason is the commodity crash. Another is a backlash from the middle class. Corruption scandals have lit a fire under governments in Brazil and Malaysia. Elsewhere, pressure is coming from the top down. India’s reforming prime minister, Narendra Modi, is trying to subject his partly closed economy to a blast of competition. Xi Jinping, China’s autocrat, thinks graft is the big threat to one-party rule, and is trying to root it out.

Crony capitalism—or “rent-seeking”, as economists call it—shades from string-pulling to bribery. Much of it is legal, but all of it is unfair. It undermines trust in the state, misallocates resources and stops countries and true entrepreneurs from getting rich. So the dip in crony activity is welcome. To stop it roaring back, governments need to seize the moment.

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A few will not want to. Cronyism is central to Vladimir Putin’s vision of Russia, the country that scores worst in our ranking. Others, though goaded by public anger at inequality and corruption, will find it hard to confront vested interests. On April 29th Mexico’s Senate failed to pass two anti-corruption measures (see article). Often the biggest difficulty is knowing where to start. It is all very well to demand efficient courts, fair regulators and an end to illicit political funding. These matter, but are the work of generations.

The quickest fixes

So governments should focus on four quicker steps. The first is to take care when public resources pass into private hands. Botched privatisations created Russia’s oligarchy—and many cronies elsewhere. Mexico is opening up its oil monopoly; Saudi Arabia plans to; and other developing countries, from Brazil to India to China, may privatise state-controlled firms to raise cash and improve efficiency. Unless the sales are fair, a new generation of cronies will be born.

Second, governments must rein in state-owned banks. In the past decade state-lending booms in Brazil, India and China have enriched well-connected moguls—and built mountains of bad debt. Rather than prop up the banks, governments should overhaul the way they are run.

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The third step is to make it harder to stash crony cash overseas. Global capital flows have made the world richer, but also allowed cronies to hide in tax havens. Public registers of “beneficial ownership”—the humans behind the trusts and shell companies—would make that harder. This is on the agenda of an anti-corruption summit in London next week (see article).

Finally, be prepared for cronyism to adapt. China’s epic industrial boom will not be repeated; the days of making billions by shipping iron ore from Goa to Guangdong are over. Technology may be cronyism’s next frontier. It is ripe for rent-seeking: profits are huge and monopolies arise naturally. Governments should not seek to micromanage tech firms, but ought to push vigorously for competition and transparency.

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America’s original robber barons provoked a reaction that led to the Progressive era. At the turn of the 20th century, politicians passed antitrust laws and corruption ebbed. America became richer, stronger and more politically stable. Emerging economies face a similar moment. They should not waste it.

Stand and Speak Up for Malaysia


January 3, 2017

Stand and Speak Up for Malaysia

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.malaysiakini.com

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For some of you (in fact most of us, Mariam), 2016 was a horrible year. I agree.

In the space of one year, four of the publications I used to write for stopped publishing. The media is slowly being strangled by an overly sensitive government, and worse still, it knows how to apply the screws. To stop you from hearing the truth. To silence you. To make you behave. To make you conform to its vision of the ideal citizen.

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Reject Extremism

Police reports, followed by complaints to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), attacks by UMNO Baru thugs, are de rigueur. Guerrilla tactics like splashing red paint on office walls, or leaving dead chicken outside an office entrance, are warnings for a successful publication to back-off, or face more threats.

Editors and owners of the publications are arrested and grilled. Some are taken to court. Readers are at risk of having their Facebook posts scrutinised, and face possible arrest. But you know what?

There is great hope for all Malaysians. A decade ago, only a handful of Malaysians would dare complain. Over the years, the numbers of Malaysians who are brave enough to speak out have grown from a trickle to a raging torrent. We are emboldened. We feel empowered.

Image result for Stand and Speak Up for MalaysiaTo KSN Ali Hamsa and all Civil Servants of Malaysia–A Reminder from Tun Abdul Razak (1967)

The government may try to close down all the alternative papers, but their foolhardiness has only fueled our resolve.

Social media, at least in Malaysia, is the new alternative media. It is free and immediate. It has spread like wildfire. Naturally, there are disadvantages and the lack of verification of facts and the occasional grammatical errors  and sloppy language are outweighed by the speed of transmission.

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Reject them–Najib, Mahathir and Mullah Harussani

Today, as we start 2017, more Malaysians than ever are exercising their vocal chords. It is heartening to know that the once great silencer of dissent, former PM Mahathir Mohamad, has joined the long queue which wants its voice to be heard. Bittersweet irony!

There is much scope for optimism in Malaysia, but you must be truthful to yourself. It is time we stopped whining about Malaysia going down the slippery slope, and blaming UMNO Baru for the state of Malaysia today; time we stopped criticising the opposition for being hopeless, and time we stopped thinking that Malaysia will never recover.

When you look into the mirror, are you man enough to realise that you are part of the problem that has brought Malaysia to its present state?

You may realise that removing Najib Abdul Razak will not solve Malaysia’s problems, because UMNO Baru is also part of the problem; but do you understand that changing the party which heads the government is not sufficient? Before we can change others, we need first, to change ourselves

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Sorry, Mariam, I disagree. Removing Najib Razak is the essential first step to solving our problems. I believe that UMNO can reform itself with a change of leadership. It has little choice; if it wants to remain in power, UMNO must stop playing the race and religion card and serve all Malaysians. 

UMNO Baru is the creation of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. We forget that he destroyed our institutions of governance. It is ironic that most Malaysians now think that the former Premier is our champion for change. That is pathetic. –Din Merican

How many of you think as a Malaysian? Many of you are so ensconced in your community, your beliefs, your prejudices and your way of life, that you do not believe that any of Malaysia’s ills have anything to do with you.

Blaming the nameless ‘others’

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Stand Up for Malaysia–National Unity

You blame the nameless ‘others’ for Malaysia’s fall from grace.The Malays for their apathy and bigotry. The Chinese for forging ahead and for being kiasu. The Indians who demand equal rights, by ironically demanding that their rights be upheld before all others.The East Malaysians who blame their plight on ‘orang semenanjung’.

We hunger for land and the riches that come from the jungle, and from clearing the jungles to make plantations, and we think nothing of trampling over the rights of the Orang Asli.

The Muslims demand that everyone else is judged by their standards, and the non-Muslims shy away from getting involved in what they perceive as Muslim matters. Many non-Muslim mothers are denied justice if their spouse becomes a Muslim.

We are deaf and blind to the suffering of the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. We consider ourselves the educated townies, and look down our noses at the rural folk.We are too absorbed in our affairs because we do not think of ourselves as Malaysian, and it is this flaw which the politicians take advantage of to further their interests.

Malaysia suffers because we perceive everyone else is a convenient scapegoat, when actually we are at fault.The politicians love the sound of their own speeches, and they have learned the art of filtering out our voices. So, if you want real change, learn to manage your politician, and not the other way round.

You must treat him or her as you would a lazy servant. You pay the politicians’ wages, so you have the right to demand performance. Politicians are out of touch with the rakyat and most important, they are not mind readers. You have a voice, learn how to use it in 2017.

NB: Happy New Year.

 

An end to South Korea’s middle power moment?


December 30, 2016

An end to South Korea’s middle power moment?

by Jeffrey Robertson, ANU

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The Park Geun-hye administration started with an ambitious middle power foreign policy agenda. But as President Park’s time in office seems set to come to an end, South Korea’s middle power prestige may fall victim to South Korea’s domestic politics.

Park had several policies seeking to utilise South Korea’s middle power status. The ‘Eurasia Initiative’ aimed to establish a logistics and energy network through North Korea, Russia, Central Asia and on to Europe. Park’s ‘trustpolitik’ idea was intended to encourage reciprocal reconciliation with North Korea. The Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative (NAPCI) sought to overcome the ‘Asia paradox’ of high levels of economic interdependence but low levels of trust and political cooperation. And the grouping of Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia (MIKTA) aspired to become a forum for middle powers to convene on global issues.

But despite the middle power zealotry, successes on the foreign policy front have been few and far between. With strains in the North Korea relationship, the Eurasia Initiative, ‘trustpolitik’ and NAPCI all faced an uphill battle from the start. Now, as the Park administration enters interminable decline, what’s left of the fruits of middle power diplomacy may also wither on the vine.

The next South Korean administration will face a choice on whether to continue promoting South Korea as a middle power.

The first reason to drop the middle power label is electoral politics. Under the Park administration, ‘middle power diplomacy’ became a guiding refrain. Hardly a speech went by without officials reiterating South Korea’s middle power identity.

As yet there are no clear signs that the electorate is tiring of the middle power label. But for an indeterminable period of time, middle power rhetoric will be inextricably linked to the Park administration. This may deter its use under the next administration.

Like Australia and Canada at the end of the 1990s, South Korea has also reached a middle power saturation point. Political, academic and media interest in middle powers is waning.

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The second reason to drop the middle power label is the personal vanity of leadership. Governments everywhere seek to distinguish themselves from their predecessors. But the South Korean presidential system effectively encourages foreign policy differentiation. The president overwhelmingly dominates the parliament, its political parties and the bureaucracy, which support greater continuity in other countries. With a single five-year term, it is also natural for a presidential administration to favour short-term goals over medium to long-term goals.

Sometimes only the labels change on foreign policy. South Korea’s relations with the Central Asian region serve as an example. Under Roh Moo-hyun, South Korea launched the ‘Comprehensive Central Asia Initiative’. Under former president Lee Myung-bak this became the ‘New Asia Initiative’, and under Park Geun-hye it was transformed into the ‘Eurasia Initiative’. Each reincarnation acted only as a façade of new policy, all seeking to strengthen bilateral relations with countries sharing a high degree of trade complementarity with South Korea.

At other times, more than just the label changes. In 2010, Lee Myung-bak launched the Global Green Growth Initiative as one element in a broader policy initiative to establish South Korea as the global hub of green growth and sustainable development. Despite the huge potential and importance of this initiative, the desire to differentiate led the Park administration to largely discard it. MIKTA may now meet the same fate.

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MIKTA may be the only foreign policy initiative of the Park administration that will be missed. What seemed like a haphazard gathering of diverse states with varied interests and aims is steadily transforming into a distinct process that is building bridges between politicians, policymakers, media and academics. The result will be a degree of middle power ‘like-mindedness’ and, ultimately, cooperation between the five countries on global issues.

Even in its short history, the process has witnessed warming relations between states that previously saw little reason to gather. Without ongoing South Korean support, the likelihood that MIKTA will recede into foreign policy memory increases. Whether it does or not will be in the hands of the next administration.

Both electoral politics and the personal vanity of leadership suggest that we are, unfortunately, witnessing an end to South Korea’s middle power moment.

Jeffrey Robertson is Visiting Fellow at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, The Australian National University and Assistant Professor, Yonsei University. He is the author of Diplomatic Style and Foreign Policy: A Case Study of South Korea (Routledge, 2016).

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2016/12/30/an-end-to-south-koreas-middle-power-moment/

 

A Fairy Tale waiting to be Real: “Fake” Letter by Malaysia’s DPM from Ponorogo


December 26. 2016

A Fairy Tale waiting to be Real: “Fake” Letter by Malaysia’s DPM from Ponorogo

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.mariammokhtar.com/the-allegedly-fake-letter-written-by-malaysias-no-2-zahid-hamidi/

Around the time of the UMNO-Baru General Assembly, a “fake” letter, allegedly written by Zahid Hamidi, urging BN MPs and senators to force Najib to resign, was apparently being circulated.

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The Man from Pornorogo–Zahid Hamidi

In it, the ambitious Zahid proclaimed himself PM and made Khairy Jamaluddin, his deputy.

Who would make a good DPM?

Zahid and Khairy are like chalk and cheese. Was Khairy made DPM to appease the rakyat?

Here are the choices:-

If Ismail Sabri were to become DPM, copy cat malls would emerge throughout Malaysia, just like with Low Yat Plaza II. Ismail has a fondness for turtle eggs,  and conservation would die out, along with the turtles.

Nor would you want Ahmad Maslan to be the DPM. Nasi goreng à la Ahmad Maslan, which is fried rice with lavish cucumber trim, would replace nasi lemak, as our national food.

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Having replaced Najib Abdul Razak, Zahid would not want emotionally affected politicians, like Hishamuddin Hussein, Najib’s cousin, in his Cabinet.

Khairy’s credentials

Khairy would make an excellent choice for DPM. In stark contrast to Zahid’s ‘jaguh kampung’ origins, Malaysians adore Khairy’s Oxford education.

Unbeknownst to many, the tall, dark and handsome Khairy is also the most talked about man in “mengaji and agama classes” (in-depth learning for Koran at home). The middle-aged Malay tai-tais – the ladies who lunch, most of whom come from Taman Tun Dr. Ismail, drive their ustazs up the wall. Poor ustaz cannot stop them chattering about Khairy, during their lessons.

With a Treasury strapped for cash, Zahid could trim his Cabinet, with Khairy holding four ministerial posts.

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Khairy could continue as Sports Minister, on account of his skills on a polo pony and his ambition as a wannabe ASEAN athlete.

With his impeccable English. Khairy could prevent embarrassing translations of Mindef documents, such as the “poking eye clothes” incident. He could  hold a rifle, and jump out of an aeroplane. He should make a good Defence Minister.

Having benefited from an overseas education, Khairy could also be Education Minister, and reinstate funding to send students to overseas universities.

Zahid would get more things done as PM

So what’s wrong with Zahid as PM? He brings out the best in Malaysian politics and has many fine qualities.

Yesterday, Najib dismissed the contents of the “fake” letter, and blamed the Opposition for underestimating the loyalty of UMNO-Baru members.

This is where Najib is wrong. Loyalty is Zahid’s forté. The greasy pole of politics is not difficult to climb, if you know how. The enemy is not the Opposition. The enemy is within.

During the late 1990s, Zahid was loyal to Anwar Ibrahim, who was DPM at the time. Zahid pestered the then PM, Mahathir Mohamad, to answer allegations about corruption. When Anwar fell, Zahid became the Mahathir’s sidekick and swore loyalty to Mahathir. Mahathir is now a nobody, whilst Zahid has become Najib’s right-hand man.

If Zahid becomes PM, his first duty would be to sack the IGP for incompetence. Despite having all the resources at his disposal, Malaysia’s top policeman cannot even locate and arrest a fugitive convert father.

The IGP, prefers to tweet rather than put men on the streets. He could tweet his followers, and ask for the public’s help to find the whereabouts of Mohd Ridhuan Abdullah, who is charged with kidnapping his seven year-old daughter from his former, wife, Indira Gandhi. Why hasn’t he done this?

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In the war against crime, Zahid knows who to turn to. In the past, Zahid considered the Tiga Line Malay triad as his friends. As it takes a thief to know another thief, Tiga Line gang members will make the best law enforcers in Malaysia.

With Zahid in charge, work for translators will increase. When he goes overseas, he can be like President Putin, of Russia or President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China, and use translators.

An event always looks more prestigious and important, when translators are present. Waiting for a translator would also give Zahid more time, to cook up a good answer, if he were to be asked a tricky question, in front of the world’s press.

You’ve been to supermarkets with signs displaying “Buy One, Get One Free” (BOGOF). Zahid’s gobby daughter, who does not shy away from controversy and once blasted MAS stewardesses for being too old, would make a good guard dog, to protect her father’s reputation.

If President-elect Trump can elect family members to plum positions, why not Zahid? After all, 1MDB was also a family affair, with step sons helping themselves to the taxpayers’ money.

Anwar was deposed by Mahathir, as was Musa Hitam. Muhyiddin Yassin was sacked by Najib.

So is the post of DPM a poisoned chalice? Not really.  “The Chosen One”, aka MO1, has lifted the curse from the post of DPM.  Timing is all important and smart DPMs must strike when the going is good.

Ethics in the Real World–Peter Singer’s Provocative Essays


December 24, 2016

In his influential memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy” (2016), J. D. Vance explains why some middle-class Americans turned against Michelle Obama. The first lady, he writes, “tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our children certain foods, and we hate her for it — not because we think she’s wrong, but because we know she’s right.”

It is possible to dislike the philosopher Peter Singer — born in Australia, he teaches at Princeton University — along similar lines. He is right about so many things, and appears to live so much more virtuously than most of us do, that listening him can make you want to tip a turtle on its back or consume all the endangered seafood that’s left because, as a blowhard I know put it, “If we don’t eat it now, there are a billion people right behind us who will.”

Mr. Singer is best known for his book “Animal Liberation” (1975), a founding text of the contemporary animal-rights movement. More recently he has been interested in effective altruism, which asks: How can we use what we have to help others the most?

He takes aim at sins of omission. In his book “The Life You Can Save” (2009) and elsewhere, he has argued that if relatively affluent Westerners do not regularly donate at least a sliver of our incomes to aid agencies, to prevent the unnecessary deaths of millions of people worldwide, we are in the moral wrong. We are complicit in something close to murder.

In his new book, “Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter,” Mr. Singer picks up the topics of animal rights and poverty amelioration and runs quite far with them. But he’s written better and more fully about these issues elsewhere; they are not the primary reason to come to this book.

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Peter Singer Credit Tony Phillips

“Ethics in the Real World” comprises short pieces, most of them previously published. This book is interesting because it offers a chance to witness this influential thinker grapple with more offbeat questions.

Among the essay titles here: “Should Adult Sibling Incest Be a Crime?”; “Is It O.K. to Cheat at Football?”; “Tiger Mothers or Elephant Mothers?”; “Rights for Robots?”; and “Kidneys for Sale?” This book is the equivalent of a moral news conference, or a particularly good Terry Gross interview.

Its informal quality is tonic. I’m reminded of a comment by the critic Wilfrid Sheed, who said he would trade half of Lord Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” for an interview with him, and “all of ‘Adam Bede’ for the same with George Eliot.”

The first thing that needs to be said about “Ethics in the Real World” is that the writing is mostly dishwater gray. Mr. Singer seems to regard wit as immoral adornment. He picks up his topics as if they were heavy rocks, hauls them a few feet, and drops them, sometimes on our toes. His abstemious style made me long for a despairing wisecrack.

What carries you is the quality of his thought. He is persuasive on so many topics that he makes you wish we could turn the world off, then on again, in an attempt to reset it.

He is an ardent critic of religion. About the notion, strong in my own childhood, that we were born with original sin because Eve flouted God’s decree against eating from the tree of knowledge, he writes: “This is a triply repellent idea, for it implies, firstly, that knowledge is a bad thing, secondly, that disobeying god’s will is the greatest sin of all, and thirdly, that children inherit the sins of their ancestors, and may be justly punished for them.”

He speaks loudly on behalf of tolerance. He believes we should allow for three categories on passports and other documents: “male, female, and indeterminate.” He further argues that the world would be a better place if humans were not so often asked to proclaim their sex on forms.

He leans in favor of permitting adult incest because for him, an essential question is always this one: “When someone proposes making something a criminal offense, we should always ask: who is harmed?”

In one of my favorite passages, he zeros in on those who pay many millions of dollars for paintings while people are starving. The art critic in him emerges.

Writing about the sale of paintings by artists like Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol for obscene sums at Christie’s, he declares: “Why would anyone want to pay tens of millions of dollars for works like these? They are not beautiful, nor do they display great artistic skill. They are not even unusual within the artist’s oeuvres. Do an image search for ‘Barnett Newman’ and you will see many paintings with vertical color bars, usually divided by a thin line. Once Newman had an idea, it seems, he liked to work out all the variations.”

His bottom line: “In a more ethical world, to spend tens of millions of dollars on works of art would be status-lowering, not status-enhancing.”

There is an essay about how to keep a New Year’s resolution. In another he denounces the trend, seen in some Manhattan restaurants and bars, toward decorating with Soviet-era kitsch, including images of Stalin. At least he writes, “To the best of my knowledge, there is no Nazi-themed restaurant in New York; nor is there a Gestapo or SS bar.”

Late in this book, Mr. Singer reports that one of his daughters once asked him, during a car ride, “Would you rather that we were clever or that we were happy?”

Mr. Singer finds moral behavior to be its own kind of cleverness, and certainly happy-making.