I think therefore I perish
“Cogito ergo, sum”
-- Rene Descartes
Rene Descartes the 17th. Century French philosopher and mathematician, in his most famous essay “Meditations” and “A Treatise on Methods” proposed the separation of mind and body in our conceptualization of human nature paving way for the evolution of scientific method in the way we study phenomena. Sense perception alone is not capable of understanding Nature, thought process separate from the physical entity of the self make understanding Reality complete, according to Descartes. The ideology of thinking is now known as Cartesian paradigm. From Cartesian paradigm the idea of falsification and determining of truth-ness of a study evolve, later known as the Scientific Method.
Cogito Ergo Sum, or “I think therefore I exist”, according to Descartes. For the layperson this may mean that it is the independence of thought that determine the nature of existence. It is through the encouragement of thinking that human existence is celebrated. It is through doubting and dissenting that human beings will be defined as thinking beings.
I think therefore I perish
We have our own Cartesian philosophy that governs the way we separate the individual from society. We call it “I think therefore I perish”. It permeates not only at the top level of political management but also universities, high schools, religious and social institutions and even our homes.
In the case of those who think for society and suggest for the betterment of the largest number of people, in a Utilitarian way, we see out government applying our own Cartesian principal of existence: we banish the thinkers and incarcerate them so that they will not become, like Socrates, Gandhi, or Mandela, an irritant to the rakyat and an agitator to the ruler or the State. We see them taken away, put in solitary confinement, brainwashed, and indoctrinated with a new consciousness that will make them most subdued and lose their critical sensibility.
This is the Orwellian world we have allowed to evolve – the world in which the British writer George Orwell (pen name of Eric Blair) described in his famous work, 1984 in which “truth is power” and “war is peace” and the Ministry of Truth produces Official Knowledge to be filter funneled into the mind of the citizens of Oceania . We are all guilty of being happily amused by the goodies and the candies we deserve as a result of our own surrender to this technopoly we let this
As in the case of many of Malaysia's ISA (Internal Security Act) detainees, we let our leaders jail those who show their rage against the machine; those who dissent and present powerful arguments for an alternative society that champions equality for all and punishes the corrupt and powerful few. We let the media evolve into a powerful instrument of mental colonization, letting television become babysitters to our children so that when they grow older they will become not only good consumers of artifacts produced by the Malaysian culture industry but become good and obedient followers of the ideology of communalism – ideology that thrives on the playing of religious and race sentimentalities.
We have consumed too much the State-controlled newspapers, entertained by nice stories of the myth of our own Horatio Alger and the self-made urban legends of our Warren Buffets, Bill Gates, Vanderbilts and Rockefellars unbeknownst to us the complex interlocking directorates and proxies involves in the propping up of our rich and famous. Understandably the lower the socio-economic class the rakyat is in, the more they are attracted to the bonfire of race and religious vanities. Perhaps it is to the advantage of the ruling class that the philosophy of education for critical consciousness is to be silently murdered so that we will have generations after generation of Malaysians that are hegemonized and “neutralized” by a system that gives them Prozac and Valiums as they travel through the conveyer belt of education – from kindergarten to even graduate school.
We see Act such as the University and University Colleges Act being jealously guarded by those in power; the part that disallow students to be involved in political parties are still kept intact in fear that the students will be free to work for parties that fit their liking for idealism and to ensure that corrupt parties will be legally challenged by an even larger number of students. We are allowing irrational patronage system to dictate how our students should behave. Wile many of the vice chancellors are former leaders of communal parties championing ketuanan this or that, and while many now are chairmen and chairwomen of alumni of those race-based parties, the students are not allowed to join any. The argument that that students will not be able to focus on their studies if they join political parties is a lame one; like a bad tune on a broken record or a badly-scratched CD – students leaders, like athlete-scholars, can perform brilliantly when their focus is to enrich their experience with the philosophy and practice of establishing republics of virtue. Each student must be given the freedom and opportunity to decide the kind of government they want. Each generation must be allowed to evolve into ethical beings that will remove any government that has become corrupted and intoxicated with power and no longer serve the rakyat.
They think, therefore they will perish.
In our age, the governing Cartesian philosophy is “they think, therefore they will perish” Or more accurately, if they think and act, we will make sure they perish – seems to be the way the present regime modus operandi.
In universities, we see the separation of mind and the social self in the way our students are encouraged to think. Of course we see students protesting here and there but there is still a sense of emptiness in the content. The sense of critical sensibility does not seem to have permeated in their consciousness; as the curriculum that structure their mind is still watered down of its critical components.
Over the past few years cases of students and faculty dismissed for speaking up against the government and the university’s governance abound. Many are not yet resolved, waiting to be argued in courts. Violations of fundamental rights to speak up and to dissent are at the heart of these cases. They reflect the inability of our universities to respect the rights of individuals to be intelligent.
We saw sometime ago in the case of University Teknologi MARA the Cartesian principle applied. Why would those thousands of students embarrass themselves by championing for their rights to be chained and caged by the comfort of one-dimensional race-based thinking when their counterparts globally pride themselves with how diverse their campuses are? We saw the dangerous concept of “Ketuanan Melayu” funneled into the mind of the students; our bright young learners who ought to be socialized into a world of meritocracy and cultural democracy that values not only hard work and cognition but also inter-cultural understanding and collaboration. We should have not allowed institutions such as Biro Tata Negara to set foot on our campuses and force our children to learn its version of “citizenship”; one that is not only based on a truncated and warped history of Malaysia but also one that closes the mind of the Malays into evolving into brave souls that values multiculturalism and champions the idea of “world citizens”; a noble concept that sees poverty and dehumanization as a problem of humanity to be solved peacefully and collectively.
We think, therefore we perish.
What then must we do?