Thursday, January 21, 2016

In Malaysia, things falling apart, the center cannot hold

 by Azly Rahman



We are living in a Bolehland-Chanduland, high on the remnants of the hegemony of Mahathirism and drowned in the ganja-smelling vapes of neo-liberalist promises of Najibonomics.

Today the dominant discourse of change is that of ‘Either-Or’; discourse framed as exemplified in the ongoing debates on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), limiting our agreeing to be suicidal by agreeing to play the game of American cut-throat greed of American corporate interests.
Gleefully we will conclusively sign the agreement as we aspire to become an apprentice-enslaved-economy of a future-President-Trump-empire of a Casino Economy of Atlantic City. Our leaders are happily playing the game, out of the respect of the Obama Empire’s expansionism into Asia.

None of Malaysia’s economic leaders and advisers seem to display much understanding the political-economic-geopolitical-strategic-militaristic underpinnings of the TPPA, let alone the complex dynamics of the arms race and trade in Asia.

Consider the way we talk about liberalism.

Our leaders are agreeing to anything “liberal, liberalism, and liberalisation” (because these words sound liberating to the Malaysian ‘neo-liberals’) bankrupt of knowledge in economic history or historical materialism, but lack the understanding of alternate and humanistic systems of human and social engineering.

The education of our leaders have helped create such experts in economic planning; our vocabulary limited to those embalmed in textbooks written by children of Von Hayek, Friedman, and Reagan, and Thatcher and later perhaps, Donald Trump.

We therefore see our economic planners smile confusingly as President Barack Obama squeeze-shake his hand twisting our arms for us to sign the long-term Malaysian and TPPA living will of futuristic-euthanistic proportions. This means signing a Kurt-Cobain-of-Nirvana-fame Grunge band-type of suicide note for generations to come to figure out life’s outcome.

We do not care if the instruments of international law governing trade will favour the primarily US-based multinational corporations to even sue us if their cigarettes, greasy burgers, or toothpicks do not sell well because our natives will protest against the killing of our children or the destroying of our rainforests with those useless and unhealthy stuff globalisation and McDonaldisation makes.
Our leaders have this sense of wonder of being treated as little brown brothers obsessed with selfies and photo ops at TPPA-like high level meetings meant to make them accept modern slavery with style, pomp and pageantry. We have not changed in the way we have been trained to think. As the Algerian thinker would call our leaders: the oppressed have become the oppressors.

Abdul Razak Hussein’s biggest mistake

But here is the bigger picture of why we are falling apart and why our centre can no longer hold and why we are plunging into a quagmire never before seen in our recent history, since Abdul Razak Hussein made the big mistake of turning our economy into one tied to the world markets - as in the Felda scheme that signified the earliest intention for Malaysia of the 70s to be suicidal at a young age, playing the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-World Bank liberal economics game of lose-lose for banana republics.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s triple pronged-policy - Privatisation, Malaysia Incorporated, and Look East Policy - opened up to the liberalisation of the economy, with Affirmative Action and race-based politics kept as jokers and trump cards. Herein lie the systematisation and the technologisation of a backwater partially-peasant sustaining economy integrated into the world market linked to the major financial capitals of the world.

Herein lie the birth of a ‘modern Malaysia’ that was still growing up juvenile and scared as a child of neo-colonialism; growing up retarded of the ideas modernisation embalmed in McLellandian, Rostowian and Tayloristic ‘modernisation perspectives’ and their attendant ‘nAch viral-infected Modernisation illness’ in which a full-fledged democracy and a thinking middle-class was not there to kept the country developing with economic, educational, and social sanity.

Abdul Razak, the second prime minister, thought he understood Rostowian stages well and thought that progress is a linear trajectory. He thought he could run the marathon with the best and brightest of the Kennedy Era.

He thought the post-May 13, 1969, Mageran (Majlis Gerakan Negara or National Action Council) agenda was strategised to even turn Malaysia into a great society with as sound economy with all races living in perfect harmony, even if Mahathir ruled for more than 20 years happily and draconianly, and even if later down the line Najib (a good student of Mahathir) will also be winning the game of power play ala Candy Crush and Minecraft and Mortal Combat combined.

So now, William Butler Yeats has a poem for us, ‘Things Fall Apart’. The Africanist Chinua Achebe, using Yeats’s line, could have well written about our predicament, as we nervously see how the centre is collapsing , We are now seeing the showdown and a countdown to our bungee-jumping plunge into the quagmire largely of our making.

Both Mahathirism and Najibonomics are crumbling. This is happening as a consequence of this sumo-wrestling of the two forces battling for power and wealth. It is already here: Malaysian’s own ‘Star Wars’ episode of the ‘Clone Strikes Back’ or of ‘The Rise of the Jebat and Jibaok Storm Troopers attacking the Republic of Cyberjaya’; a republic that never did fully embrace the ethics of a republic of virtue.

What then are we seeing, as we as a society crumbles to the sea like the last scene of mass drowning in our own Odyssey made into a Quentin Tarantino movie?

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