Tuesday, March 01, 2005

1] Our Beginnings

by Azly Rahman

We continue to live in interesting times with the following questions concerning our existence.

I continue to ask these questions:

How are human beings controlled by those who owns the means of intellectual and economic production? How does power, in its raw and refined form, operate in our society? How is it dispersed? How is power sustained? How is truth produced? How is truth multiplied?

Still more questions plague me:

How is the self constructed? How are we alienated? What is inscribed onto the body and into the mind, in the process of schooling? How is human imagination confined and how might it be released? How is the mind enslaved by the politics of knowledge? How is historical knowledge packaged? How do we define our existence in this Age of Information?

Still more and more questions:

Who decides what is important in history? What is an ideal multicultural society? How has our ideas of multiculturalism influence the way we live our lives? What historical knowledge is of importance? What tools do we need to create our own history?

And still more and more questions plaguing me as I grow older:

How is the individual more powerful than the State? How is a philosopher-king created? How is justice possible? Who should rule and why? How are we to teach about justice?

And finally, how might we realize a democratic-republic of virtue – one that is based on a form of democracy that is meaningful and personal?

These are also some of the questions that come to my mind as I plow daily through the columns in this Malaysiakini forum in search of a terrain to plant the seeds of frontier thinking.

I want honor the work of the thinkers in this forum, and wish to share mine from the point of view of an educationist/academician who will always defend one's right think to freely.

I am also standing on the shoulder of giants of Malaysian socio-political thoughts who have contributed much to the development of this nation that thinks; giants like the Abdullah Munsyi, Onn Jaafar, Zaa’ba, Hussein and Naguib Al-Attas. Ungku Aziz, Kassim Ahmad, Mahathir Mohamad, Syed Husin Ali, Chandra Muzaffar, Khoo Khay Kim, Lim Kit Siang, Jomo Sundram, to name a few.

Throughout the course of my study on the origin and fate of this society, I have learned how much the work of these people have contributed to the social construction of the Malaysian self and the democratic ideals that this nation aspires to realize.

I have learned how the early philosophical journeys of the Malays look like, what kind of statecraft was practiced, what the metaphysical system of this peoples consistute, what form of social-humanism is to be fought for, what a Malaysian social justice may mean, what a multicultural Malaysian might look like, and finally, what brand of nationalism must be embraced in an age wherein “the Center cannot hold”.

I have been enlightened by these thinkers.

However, the answers they provided are inadequate especially in these challenging times.

I nevertheless appreciate their contributions and wish to continue their legacy through the dialogues I am about to begin in ILLUMINATIONS. I wish to speak to academicians and students essentially, and to readers who wish to engage in dialogical thinking.

Let me introduce myself.

I am an educator who has had more than fifteen years teaching in Malaysia and in the United States. I teach courses such as Philosophy, Political Science, International Relations, World History, World Cultures, American History, American Studies,
Foundations of Western Civilization, Imperialism/Colonialism/Dependency, Cultural Studies, Cross-Cultural/Religious Perspectives, Globalization, International Problems and Conflict Resolution, and a range of Education courses such as Philosophies of Education, Effective Teaching-Effective Schools, Cultural Perspectives in Education, Strategies of Teaching, and many others.

I have served in three different departments: University Foundations/Core, History/Politics/International Relations, and Education.

I have taught both undergraduate and graduate students. Amongst my past students
are New York peace activists, US Military officers, United Nations diplomat, international educators, American school teachers Muslims, Jews, and Gentiles, and interestingly, a German socialist-Wall Street currency trader . Among the places I have taught in is at Columbia University, New York.

I was a tutor then in the Department of International and Transcultural Studies At Teachers College, Columbia University where I taught Comparative Education. I am a member of The International Understanding Honor Society, Athens Ohio Chapter and of the Kappa Delta Phi International Honor Society in Education, Columbia University, New York City Chapter. I have been a Columbia University-Ross Fellow in Educational Technology with New York City's Public Broadcast Station (PBS)/WNET-New York, and have been an educator and adjunct professor at several universities in the New York and New Jersey.

I have also taught in a public Malaysian management university; courses such as Creativity, Ethics, Thinking Skills, Language, and Foreign Policy. I have done research and writings in areas such as transcultural studies, political-economy, strategic studies, human development, brain science, creativity, American history, politics, government, and lately, linguistic anthropology and the study of language use and symbolic power.

I am essentially a student of Cultural Studies interested in education for liberation and to promote the idea that one can advance to different levels of thinking in this age of hypermodernity and rapidized technological changes. I want to help people ask relevant questions so that one can explore meaningful relationships between the Self and the Culture/Environment/Social Structures one inhabits.

I want to explore the history of the questions asked and to find out how we arrive at this or that historical juncture. I believe these questions will help us go back to the origin of things and in the process, to understand the world we live in.

I believe that these questions can help one way for human beings to go back to the Center and its Primordial Nature, through what Rousseau calls "sentimental education." or, to explore, as the Indonesian poet W.S. Rendra once said in his play The Struggle of the Naga Tribe, the "world within and the world without." Through these questions I believe one can break free of shackles of domination and release the imagination.

And as Rousseau continues: "Man is born free... and everywhere He is in chains," and that the first language he needs is the cry of Nature.

Based on a thesis I produced on the origin of the city of Cyberjaya, I am currently further developing a "social theory of how nations develop and hypermodernize as a result of transcultural flow of ideas and in the process of developing, how the human being loses its essence, gets alienated, and become conditioned by the system of signs and symbols; by its genealogy, anatomy, chemistry, and its cybernetic properties.

Ideas dance and do the hip hop and flow gracefully from one nation to another; from the mind of one group of people to another, from a nation at the Center to the peripheries and the hinterlands. But in their dance there is always the beauty and the deadly persuasion.

It is believed that in this age, we are born into a matrix of Chinese complexities, and we will spend our lifetime understanding it, possibly escaping it, and consequently constructing an understanding of our Existential self.

We are born to be makers of our own history.

In this world without borders, are all essentially, transcultural citizens differentiated only by our national identity cards and our passports.

I want to share the experiences I have in developing the human mind and in the teaching multiple perspectives of knowing. I am looking forward to these contributions.

At the end of my writings, I hope we can name the inherent contradictions between our existentialism and the world of cybernetics we inhabit.

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