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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Freedom lifts us up to where we belong

I must say I was surprised at how much attention my article Enemies of the State (I owe this title to the Malaysian Insider as my original title was lame in comparison ) attracted.

There were many comments at my blog as well as the Malaysian Insider, where my article appeared. Zaidel Baharuddin, a fellow writer with the Malaysian Insider posted a comment and also ran a reply on his blog, Catatan Seekor Lipas. The famous Rocky of Rocky's Bru also ran a post on the topic which basically pitted my stand against that of Zaidel's aka the "Lipas Man".

I must say I am impressed with the passion shown by most of the commentators on either side of the fence. However the debate at Rocky's Bru had somewhat degenerated into a lawyer bashing event and the issue at hand transformed into:

  • a question of whether lawyers are of any use to the society.
  • and whether a doctor makes a better Prime Minister than a lawyer.

I will of course refrain from wading through such murky water because quite honestly I have a fear of vast, dark and vacuous space.

The article which I wrote was not at all intended to be a polemic on whether a particular system, be it democracy, socialism, communism or anything in between, could ensure more development and progress to the exclusion of other systems. Rather, that article was aimed at taking issue with Dr Mahathir's apparent stand that "too much democracy" is a hindrance to development and progress.

DrM's position is obvious from the comparison which he made, that is between India and China. The former, according to him, was too engrossed in democracy, unlike the latter. And the latter has more progress. I therefore concluded that it is DrM's position that a dictatorial system or a less democratic system would be better for development and progress.

DrM was at pain to show that freedom and liberty as enjoyed by the people, - or at least as demanded by the people - especially in the West are not good for development and progress. With that, I took issue.

What I wish to address here is the argument that human being would prefer to have food on their table or economic progress than freedom, liberty or even democracy in itself. Zaidel encapsulates this position when he commented:

"I'm pretty sure,  those starving hard working farmers in India who has to fight drought and fertilizer prices don't give a damn about freedom of speech or expression. It is those comfortably well paid lawyers with some extra time on their hands who are more concerned about these things and write about it."

The problem with that statement is the fact that it is rested on pure assumption.

Human beings are born free. The moment he comes out from the womb, he is freed from the constraints of the womb and thrust into this world a free human being. The first thing which he tastes, apart from the air which he inhales, is freedom and not food or drink.

Freedom of expression is tasted early in his life outside the womb. The first cry which a human being give is an expression, which he is then free to demonstrate. And he moves, his eyes opening up, his limbs moving in no particular pattern and without any specific control. Freedom and liberty are not only what which dignify us as human beings but they are our divine rights.

Zaidel talks of the poor and impoverished farmers in India. What if all the hardworking and starving farmers in India, or elsewhere, were locked up in a cage and fed food and drink to their heart's content but they were not allowed to speak nor go anywhere at all? Then they are given the choice of leaving the cage, live freely and find their own food and drink. Wouldn't they leave the cage? I think they would. But of course, like Zaidel, I would be making an assumption.

However, in this day and age, when freedom and liberty are regarded as universal rights of human beings and when they are regarded as  part of natural and divine rights, it is a measure of the sorry  state that we are in that we are still arguing which is the more basic and primordial need, food and drink or freedom and liberty!

My question is, why can't we have them all? Especially in a democracy, where we elect our so called leaders to look after our well being as members of a State?

I think in this day and age, it is downright insulting - and not to mention, pathetic - for any leader to say to the people that I will give you food on your table in abundance but you would have to shut up, toe the line and do as I say, all the time and under all circumstances.

For a leader to lay the blame on the people which he or she ruled - for not understanding the limits of democracy - as a reason for his or her failure to achieve development and progress does not speak much of his or her leadership.

A comparison was made with Singapore in one of the comments. It was pointed out Singapore did not have much of a democracy and they progress well. But that does not prove that Singapore progressed well because it was less democratic. Hasn't  it occurred to any of us that Singapore progressed because of the mentality and work ethics of its leaders?

By the way, Malaysia, during the 22 year reign of DrM had identical benevolent absolutist regime with Singapore. Both DrM and LKY were the staunchest apologists for what they termed as "Asian values", which to me was nothing more than a self serving excuse for totalitarianism. 

Malaysia had everything which Singapore had in terms of repressive legislation as well as actions. In fact history would show that Malaysia imposed more limits to democracy than Singapore did in the 22 years of DrM's rule.

So I am going to ask the obvious question. Why is it that Malaysia had failed to match Singapore's progress and development during that 22 years? Both had untold limits on democracy. What happened? What were the differences between the two countries?

The thing is this. If we stripped all the deliberate cost overruns (I am being overly generous with my description here); all consultation, introduction and service fees; all middle men; all other "value-not-added services" from all of our projects all those years, I am sure this country would have enough finances and resources to do much more. The money being churned by Petronas alone would be more than enough.

And if only we had put in the right people - instead of some silver-spoon fed children, brothers in law, nephews and what-have-you of the people in power -where they were needed, I am sure this country would have equaled Singapore, if not overtaken it.

As for India, fellow blogger Wenger J Kahiry had answered well in his article India, China, Democracy, Communism and RM 50 billion on his blog. I don't want to add anything.

Whether we like it or not, we are a democratic country. Our leaders should stop asking for more and more powers and start delivering results with whatever powers they already have. Why can't development and progress be achieved without trampling on the people's freedom and liberty?

In this cyber age, the people are slowly being empowered. And they wish for emancipation. They wish for development and progress. And they do not wish to give more than they need to, particularly when it comes to their rights, freedom and liberty.

The people now have become an enlightened customers of the politicians. And they have become demanding customers. They want food and drink on their table. And they want their freedom and their liberties in the same breath. Their basic and fundamental rights as human beings. Those very things which give them human dignity and which differentiate them from other animals.

The times they are a-changin, says Bob Dylan, and you'd  better start swimming or you'd sink like a stone.

21 comments:

Kris said...

Loved this post Art! Lucid, and pointed as always. Why does it have to be a choice? Democracy has been painted as an evil only because in it's absolute form it places a certain control over one's fate in one's own hand, something that is an anathema to one who craves power and control over others.

The people who scare me the most are those who think it is their right or that they are gifted to rule without accountability. And think of Democracy with disdain if not downright revulsion... an extension basically of what they think of their fellow man...

Anonymous said...

"Why is it that Malaysia had failed to match Singapore's progress and development during that 22 years?"
I have a simple answer but nevertheless true.

Because Malaysia was ruled by greedy, self-serving, corrupted UMNO Malays, whilst Singapore had very intelligent, brainy and squeaky clean Chinese leaders.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

You have put the issue in such stark manner that only the most obtuse cannot grasp it

May your tribe increase in this land.

"Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" ---Patrick Henry

wong said...

for what that is today, it is our indifference plain couldnt care less as long the fire is on the other side.
this freedom been our divine right was compromised by ourself, we voted this government, we allowed those continual abuse of funds, corruptions, insults at our mentality..before we point the fingers, we should point n slap our face.
we allowed it.

when will people rise up and stand as one against these ? perhaps when there is no way out ..that we are so immuned any good change even minor improverment may seemed so mega ! we be pleased and again be conned.
the chinese are the biggest crook of indifference

Not Convinced said...

I am no expert in economics, but we don't need to be one to see the obvious. The difference between the progressed and not (I consider Msia as being stagnant, therefore neither), is the clear approach of countries that are developed & progressing when it comes to who should be in administration and therefore, the decision makers. And since the debate sparks of from a comparison involving China, let us quote a former Communist leader who said,"It matters not if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice, it is a good cat".

But of course, us being Msians we just don't like being compared to Communist right? (based on the reactions from all the anti-ChinPeng coming back sentiments) =)

No, instead, in Msia we have "It matters not if you could catch a mouse, heck you don't even have to be a cat; as long as you are a recognized Bumi, & it's not up to you to decide if you are one~"

So, go figure. How could we ever offer any competition of sort if that's the situation. Simply put, we might not be moving backwards, but we are DEFINATELY not moving anywhere.

Boleh Malaysia~!

nugi said...

"..it is a measure of the sorry state that.."
Sharp arguments. Well said, Art.

marge said...

Same story told time again by different people at different times. But no matter how many times it's been retold, there will be many dumbos who will not understand or refuse to understand. Hah, sad. I see other countries slowly catching up on us. Whither Malaysia?

Anonymous said...

Why has Singapore prospered while Malaysia is left behind?

1. Singapore has retained English medium schools, colleges and universities at all times after independence.

2. Singapore practiced the culture of clean and efficient government.

3. Without natural resources, it placed great importance on the development of its geographical position, commerce and human resources.

4. The economy is well managed with substantial surpluses and no national debt at all.

5. Singapore has a relatively homogeneous population of 80% Chinese, is a small island and is thus easier to govern.

6. It has promoted itself as an unique destination to invest with its central geographical locality in SEA, consistent policies, reliable services and advanced infrastructure.

However, Singapore can be considered as a "quasi democracy" with no effective opposition, highly legalistic and LKY as Minister Mentor.

donplaypuks® said...

It is only through the democratic process that we will bring to book despots and other 'benevolent dictators' like Firaun!

The first salvo was fired at GE 2008 when UMNO/BN were denied 2/3 majority.

The next step will be to keep UMNO/BN to about 35% at GE 2013. Then they can't pass new laws to turn us into a police state and continue to plunder our hard earned money, national assets, heritage and reserves.

Then we can repeal ISA, PPA, arbitary remand and rural banishment orders etc and hold all these people in the Cabinet and Govt who keep awarding directly negotiated Billion $ contracts much against public interest.

The singlemost missing element in M'sia that has set us back while S'pore, HK, Taiwan and Korea have surged ahead is public transparency and accountabilty. And for that we have none other to thank for a 'half pregnant' corrupted democracy than Firaun!!

dpp
We are all of 1 race, the Human Race

rob said...

Art

"Our leaders should stop asking for more and more powers and start delivering results with whatever powers they already have. Why can't development and progress be achieved without trampling on the people's freedom and liberty?"

Greed, insatiable lust for power and money.

You are too kind. Not more power. Absolute power while asking rakyat to trust them, that power will not be abused. Didn't we hear all this before wrt ISA?

Power so that they can perpetuate the politics, practise and power of patronage. Follow me and I shall reward thee ... resist and I shall bury you. It is used on the executives and judiciary thereby destroying the check and balance and the separation of powers.

"Mankind soon learn to make interested uses of every right and power which they possess or may assume. The public money and public liberty, intended to have been deposited with three branches of magistracy but found inadvertently to be in the hands of one only, will soon be discovered to be sources of wealth and dominion to those who hold them; distinguished, too, by this tempting circumstance: that they are the instrument as well as the object of acquisition. With money we will get men, said Caesar, and with men we will get money." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XIII, 1782. ME 2:164

Anonymous said...

Art,

It's sad that certain bloggers (names not mentioned) have sold their souls to a certain ex-PM (name no need to mention) that they will go to great lengths to not only defend the certain ex-PM but to further glorify him. These soul-less bloggers do not realize their so-called defense of the ex-PM are so whimsical and not a single idiom of logic whatsoever. In desperation, they turn towards belittling others and their profession.

Sad so sad.

Anonymous said...

Art, Thanks for bringing up this subject . Such matters need to be posted to get the attention of the ruling gomen.

The feedback will show the sleepy-heads in the gomen not to assume that we the rakyat are dumb and deaf. Maybe they are just ignorant or still mired in denial syndrome.

Anonymous said...

Art,

I must commend you, once again, for such an excellent and well articulated response to these bafoons that we have in this beloved country of ours. Instead of defending the liberty of the people they tried to justify corruption. My my my.

farez said...

http://phlebotomy.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/rearviewmirror/

etgohome said...

Zaidel's statement that the poor starving hardworking farmers in India don't give a damn about freedom of speech or expression is downright wrong. In fact the opposite is true - the poor would be the ones who are more concerned about those freedom because they naturally have more grievances to express. Just look around the world and into history - who are the ardent protesters? The rich or the poor?

Zaidel, if you were a poor farmer, and you feel that you have been wronged and rip-off. Would you choose to suffer silently and proceed to work harder in order to fill your stomach. Or would you choose to have the freedom to hold a protest and announce to your countrymen that you have been rip-off and demand that the system be changed to resolve that?

In contrary rich lawyers like Art (can't stop taking a dig at you, Art) are the ones who have no pressing reason to protest. They do it because of their sense of justice and righteousness.

The poor are the ones who will want to have these instruments of democracy to break out of the poverty trap. For example in India they were the ones who fought for the introduction of the Right to Information Act.

Google "Right to Information" poor farmer india and you'll find articles related to it, such as http://www.entrepreneur.com/tradejournals/article/192310364_1.html

Anais Nin said...

Art,

I just read this, seems the topic is related to what you wrote about.

Wenger J Khairy said...

Dear Art,
I would be grateful if you could support a noble initiative for greater social responsibility amongst bloggers by hosting the B-S-R logo on your blog.

Thanks

Wenger J Khairy

PM said...

""we might not be moving backwards, but we are DEFINATELY not moving anywhere."" but we are sinking, are we not.

The corrupted elite are on the life bouy/boat and singing happily whilst the rest struggling..the strong ones swimming hard to dry land, whilst the weak ones hanging to bit and pieces of wood and planks stretching out their hands to those in the lifeboat but ignored.

Gan said...

well countered !

Many of these BeEnd flers or supporters still thinks thru their feudal mind - we poor rakyats should be grateful for their little goodwill & benevolence thrown our way.

I hoep they will crash and be crush at GE13 !

Anonymous said...

"The only good thing about China's administration is the fact that they shoot their civil servants for corruption".

If this can be done in Malaysia, all poverty in the country will be eliminated within 3 years! Lot of investment will flow in....lot of positive development will follow...etc

Anonymous said...

this is the first time i read your article in your column/blog. I totally 1000% agree with you. you are 1000% impartial in your agreements and disagreements. I am 4 changes in the government or change the government. Lets try out a new government...lets show we have the democratic power. Changes in our country would not turn into aggression. looked at kelantan trengganu and others...not much of troubles. I believe you should write more and to the masses...we need thinking people with super morality!