Evolving from ‘bullshit to truth’

Elections are supposed to be an educational process – not a time when crude propaganda rules the airwaves and cyberspace, indoctrination rules the minds of those playing the game of choosing a new government.


Dr Azly Rahman

Each candidate behaved well in the hope of being judged worthy of election. However, this system was disastrous when the city had become corrupt. For then it was not the most virtuous but the most powerful who stood for election, and the weak, even if virtuous, were too frightened to run for office. – Niccolo Machiavelli

It’s exciting; I don’t know whether I’m going to win or not. I think I am. I do know I’m ready for the job. And, if not, that’s just the way it goes. – George W Bush, 43rd President of the United States

Elections are supposed to be an educational process – not a time when crude propaganda rules the airwaves and cyberspace, indoctrination rules the minds of those playing the game of choosing a new government.

It is a time when, borrowing the words of Princeton professor Harold Frankfurt, one sees the evolution of “bullshit to truth” in the continuum of “truthiness or truthism”.

But one wonders how much understanding of the election process the Malaysian voters have. We seem to rush through elections and have become good at being indecisive, secretive and calculative about the date of the general election. We should instead be preparing the minds of voters with a sense of predictability and basic understanding of what is involved in electing a government.

We must treat an election as something more that a Geertzian ‘Balinese cockfight’; a time of high stakes in a game of shame and blame. We must make our voters more intelligent so that they may in turn choose intelligent governments that respect human rights and freedom of speech, and will work for all.

As voters, we have to ask ourselves many questions.

Are we voting on issues or are we voting for individuals with unresolved issues? What are the election issues that we have understood and are ready to take a stand on? What is the character of the individual we are voting for? Is he/she a good person for all seasons and all races? Or a racist and a bigot who is out of sync with a cosmopolitan world?

What is the platform of each political party? What are they fighting for? Which one is more credible than the others and which one will deliver the promises better? Which political party or a coalition of many will do a better job given the circumstances of changing times in changing realities and the shifting of the definition of freedom in this age of globalisation?

Within each political party, what criteria are set for each candidate? What is the track record of each candidate? Have they amassed millions of Ringgit during their tenure as elected representatives? Who will finance their stay in power? How have they performed and where can the public access data on their failures and accomplishments?

Who owns the media and what impact will this have on the process of indoctrination and the dissemination of propaganda as election approaches? Will the media give each candidate equal access during campaigning?

How dynastic should politics be? Can anybody’s sister-in-law become the prime minister? Why shouldn’t a non-Malay with excellent values become the prime minister?

How do we better prepare the public psychologically and educationally for the election process?

What do the people want? Do they understand what the government is doing to ensure that tolerance and social justice become the guiding principles of national development? How ready are they to choose the next regime?

Cure voter-apathy

For the last 50 years, we have failed to educate our children on the importance of democracy and elections.

Our textbooks on civics education are perhaps written from the point of view of telling the citizens what a government is, based on selected history packaged as official knowledge, to be memorised as facts and to be regurgitated when the time comes for teachers to demand for the right answers from our children.

We have failed to ask them what it means to be a Malaysian, how to think like a Malaysian, and how to elect governments that will serve the interest of all Malaysians. There is no debate in schools on the merit of what our various political parties stand for.

We therefore cannot blame voters for this disease called ‘voter apathy’. Children’s understanding of politics has become truncated and limited to the idea that politics is only about political parties, dying dictators, and deadwood wakil rakyat; politics is not to be discussed in schools let alone be used as a platform of learning about good citizenship.

We therefore cannot blame university students for being more interested in passing exams, acquiring the latest electronic gadgets, idolising gangsta rappers and Death Metallists, or chanting slogans during rallies.

They are not able to articulate diverse viewpoints, let alone define a just society or conjure up the essence of a Malaysian-inspired ‘republic of virtue’. Ironically, the moment they are interested in politics and the fate of the nation, they get hunted down by university authorities!

We have only ourselves to blame. We deserve the government we elect because we have been conditioned to believe that one race is superior to others. The false sense of superiority demands, by any means necessary, that a fresh mandate be given in this ritual called election.

Education is a tedious process, a long haul, and an enterprise in which one makes one step ahead and perhaps go back three steps backwards. Education for democracy in a country such as Malaysia is going to be a tedious process not only because he have failed to prepare our citizens with the concepts and skills necessary to become informed voters, but also because we have successfully instill the fear of change in them.

It is ironic that we often talk about critical thinking and creativity in schools and structure these concepts into the curriculum and the learning process across all disciplines, but we have not seen the manifestations of this idea of education for social imagination.

What we have successfully done is to instill fear of each other based on the racial construct or religious constructs and economic condition we are born into. We not only have race-based political parties in fact playing their role in dividing and conquering the people, but also powerful related agencies working closely with structures of race-based ideology. These institutions are employed to turn our citizens into what American sociologist Herbert Marcuse call “one-dimensional beings”.

However, all is not lost. Let us at least hold the general election in 2011, one year before the celebrated date of the Mayan calendar of 2012. Let all the information be out in the open, so that we will have all the facts and informed opinions before each one of us votes. There is still time to educate, not aggravate. In education, there will always be hope.

Let us open a new peaceful chapter of our epic story on race relations in a country of broken promises run by politicians demanding a fresh mandate.

Who we vote in the next general election is contingent upon our evolution of truth-ness. Dare we evolve, hence, from “bullshit” to truth?