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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

114) An Invitation to The Oxford Roundtable

An invitation to The Oxford Roundtable
Azly Rahman
Apr 2, 07 11:44am

I received an invitation to be a member of a roundtable on cultural diversity held at Britain's oldest institution of higher education, Oxford University. I was nominated to be part of the group of selected 40 individuals from the American higher education system who will be discussing issues of race, ethnicity, poverty and religious intolerance in this hundreds of-years-old institution that has produce important Western scientists, philosophers, inventors and religious leaders.

I wish to thank that person/institution that nominated me. Through a series of notes I wish to share my thought on what I learned from the experience. I will also share visual data of what I will manage to capture. Here are some thoughts I will be bringing to the institution that epitomises the intellectual epicenter of the British Empire.

Culture and transformation

I will be presenting thoughts on the idea of cultural change as it is impacted by globalisation and the rapidisation of technology. "Culture" has become an important debate in an age wherein boundaries continue to shift and peoples began to claim their rights as citizens of the country they are in, and the meaning of democracy is beginning to be understood. Culture, to me is not merely about the house we inhabit or merely the tools we use, but a combination of both and more than this, it is about the way we enrich the sense of humanism we embody.

I am reminded by what the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset said, "Man does not have nature… what he has is history." This seems to be a notion of humanity worth exploring if our belief about human evolution takes into consideration how human beings take what is available form nature and transform the resources into tools and institutions, and then turn institutions into tolls that will transform human beings into classes of people who have the power to turn less powerful others into machines or automatons who have lost their soul to the spirit of the machine.

One can also argue that the origin of domination of human beings over others comes not via the manifestation of "evil within" as theologians would argue, but also a consequence of enabling technologies that speed up the enabling of "evil within". As in the case of slavery, it is not merely through "evil" that slavery was born but through human being's control of knowledge and consciousness and the nature of how one defines each other. It is through the technology of "language" and the written and spoken word, and whoever has better control of these will determine the nature and nurturance of slavery. As Marx in his "deterministic way of analysing history" would argue, whoever controls the production of knowledge controls the means of controlling the consciousness of others.

One can also argue that all forms of slavery, whether ancient, modern, or postmodern have been made possible by the "evolution of institutions" that evolve out of "inscriptions". This means that whoever authors the ideology that creates the Great Pyramids of Gizeh, The Great Wall of China, The Great States of Greece, Rome and London, authors the means of institutionalising people through these institutions. In Malaysia, the institutionalisation of The Great Johor Super Corridor, inscribed in the name of The Iskandar Development Region, is yet another form of postmodern institutionalisation of postmodern slavery mystified in the name of globalisation, free enterprise and liberal democracy, in which the profits will be siphoned out of Johor whereas the locals will become postmodern slaves happily made to believe that they will be producing for the glory of The Kingdom of Johor specifically, and the government of Islam Hadhari in general. The concept of " hamba sahaya" is taking a semiotic term.

One can see how much the stock markets of the world whether in London, New York, Tokyo or even Kuala Lumpur – as powerhouse institutions of corporate capitalist domination – continue to allow their players to bet on the lives of others and make the powerless of the world pawns in the precarious and pandemical game of postmodern matrix of global slavery, by the click of the mouse. These are, again, the nature of the rhythm of capitalism in synchrony with the tune of the velocity of money as it races up and down Wall Street. The "bloodsuckers amongst us", as American profound revolutioner Malcolm X would say, called the capitalists, have been successful in leeching off the world's poor through the control of language and the design of the architecture of financial power.

Race, ethnicity and capitalism

Is "race and ethnicity" an intellectual invention of capitalism? Is the concept of a plural society a successful leit motif of imperialism – one that masks the oppression of humanity? We need to explore these issues.

The British colonials used it successfully. They kept the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Iban, Kadazan and these people of distinct races apart to be controlled by their respective sultans, kapitans, batins and so forth, let them work in separate economies, and next install the "Residents" with a good grasp of the anthropology of the natives, and next siphon the wealth of these colonies so that the British kings, dukes, earls and whatever class of colonials can enrich their coffers and build beautiful palaces in Westminster drawn from the blood, sweat and tears of the natives.

By "preserving" the ethnicities of the people they oppress, the British blinded the people from looking at the reality of the condition – whether the reality was in Malaya, Burma, China, India, Ghana, Rhodesia or even colonial America.

Race and ethnicity, as I have argued in many of my writings, are construct and definable according to the progress of economic conditions. In America, the debate on race continues to be intense, as the cultural contradiction of capitalist America began to rear its ugly head; a debate that continues to intensify especially after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

Capitalism is developing in newer forms, designed in new and improved versions, couched in scientific terms, and made to progress by more sophisticated theories of knowledge and applications of these, continue to mask the nature of human oppression on a global scale.

From Uganda to Malaysia, from Krakow to Kuala Nerang, from Pontianak to Pontian – we see nations, states and principalities being transformed by those who own the means to use "culture, race, and ethnicity" in conspiracy with technologies of domination.

We must, as a nation at risk, begin our debate on these matters – because we are seeing things falling apart before our eyes. The seeds of destruction have germinated.

2 comments:

Wintermute said...

Communism - Defeated everywhere except Academia.

Wintermute said...

Why do you suppose, Dr AR, that in Academia rhetoric is accorded a far higher priority than reality?

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