Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains - Jean Jacques Rousseau
There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents - Thomas Jefferson
Malaysia is approaching its 52nd birthday. But it is middle age characterised by bipolarism, schizophrenia and illusions of grandeur. How did we get to this stage? And how do we de-evolve?
In essence, we are a troubled nation, hyper-modernised by half-baked sense of democracy, paying lip service to the idea of a civilised society and insincere in our pledge to create equal opportunity for all.
Consider the latest problematic phrases we are living with: The Perak Fiasco, 1BlackMalaysia, One Too Many By-elections, 100 Arrests, and A Troubled Monarchy. Then there is also the mysterious death of Teoh Beng Hock, the caning of Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, and the Ramadan drama of the cow-head protesters.
These and many other issues are unresolved. The essence of these lies in the erosion of virtue. At all levels of governance, we have lost all sense of spiritual control; our institutions eroded by our addiction to corruption.
In the words of the Chinese revolutionary leader Chairman Mao Zedong, we are living in interesting times in which our lives are fragmented by sound of and fury of the race-based and hate-mongering ideological system we have build since half a century ago.
Virtuous leaders are made and not born. They are created out of good religious/moral upbringing and a clear sense of altruism - prioritising needs, not wants, and certainly not greed.
It is no longer clear what the country is governed - in the confusion over the meaning of religion and of culture, and how a combination of both can be lethal to this already mentally troubled country approaching its 52nd birthday.
Leaders in our midst are plagued with scandals of material and moral character, some amounting to billions of ringgit, and many no longer are ashamed to use the state apparatuses to advance their own political agenda.
Virtue lies in all religions
Virtue must be internalised. In the interesting times we live in, virtue must be installed and institutionalised. Without virtue, the poor will steal from the rich and the rich will steal from the masses.
Virtue lies in all religions and philosophical systems. Even if one does not believe in God and its existence, one can be as ethical and virtuous as defined by Plato, Socrates, Pythagoras, Buddha, Lao Tzi or Einstein.
Master Kung (Confucius) often talks about the breeding of the 'chuan tze' or 'the gentleman' and the importance of respect. The 'Bhagavad Gita' speaks of the beauty of the self and for one to follow dharma. Islam speaks of the beauty of the self in relation to its contribution to a peaceful and just society. Sufism, Buddhism, Jainism, Hassidism, and many a path to deeper spirituality promote the development of the 'just and virtuous self'.
But we are living in a world designed by greedy human beings who themselves do not know their own true nature.
We spend time either making ends meet or making our millions multiply. We keep making decisions that alter and transform the economy and impact the lives of millions who are at the disposal of those who own the means of economic and intellectual production. With our wealth, we oppress each other as we build oppressive institutions of power and control.
We have created a matrix of complexities and a rat race of no winners.
Our society seems to be heading towards destruction. The seeds are rapidly germinating.
Sometime ago we saw even the Malaysian police force threatening 'to vote for the opposition'. We are now puzzled: who do the police serve? Who will protect the citizens then? Do we then need to set up a non-partisan or a neutral police force?
We are also seeing public universities becoming more and more politicised. There is no virtue in the way they are run. Our public universities, paid by the taxpayers of all races, are serving the interests of the political parties of the day.
Our vice-chancellors are not elected from the pool of experts from other races although our student population is of a multi-racial mix. The concept of 'affirmative action' that emphases policies to promote diversity is almost non-existent. There is no virtue in such a practice in our public universities.
We are seeing people getting edgy and agitated - higher crime rate, more robberies, snatch thefts, hideous crimes related to merciless kidnapping, our youth of all races getting high on all kinds of depressants and stimulants that all religious upbringing has taught us to avoid.
Virtue is eroding even at the highest level of public office. We set up all kinds of bodies to combat corruption. But what has been the success rate so far if we are still trapped in a complex political-economic system that is producing more and more creatures of greed that plunder the nation's wealth.
'Virtue' itself is a corrupted word these days. People are finding it difficult to be virtuous. They want to be pragmatic and rational economic beings that rationalise everything in the name of profit, at the expense of the moral development of the generation we are to leave behind.
Society becomes more endangered when all sense of idealism is pushed aside, allowing politics of rationalisation to rule. In Malaysia, the situation of the erosion of ethics and virtuosity is even worse when all acts are dictated through the influence of the politics of identity and hideous ethnocentricity.
The continuing issues of succession plaguing the leadership of the major components of all the ruling parties, for example, reflects a virtue-less leadership. It even reflects the system of dictatorship and authoritarianism that we have allowed to take root in all parties.
We are seeing the development of another dangerous excess of authoritarianism - the development of political dynasties. We continue to see this culture in the Malay, Chinese, and Indian political parties as well.
Are we a republic of virtue?
We spend too much time politicising everything and less time educating. If all that energy is used to design a better system of participatory democracy and philanthropy, and to reach out to other ethnic groups to collaborate in solving the issue of poverty, we, as Malaysians, will become a miracle nation.
Poverty is not the problem of Indians or Malays or Chinese - it is the problem of humanity. Today in Malaysia we are even seeing more and more highly educated people trapped in the idea of ketuanan/arrogance of this or that race. From the lower classes of society to the uppermost class, the message is the same: racism and race-based politics must be maintained.
Prejudice must be protected. Hatred must be harnessed. War is peace. Hate is love. Freedom is dangerous. We live in a world of Doublespeak, as the theme of George Orwell's novel 1984 would suggest.
We need to bring back 'virtue' to the forefront of our political philosophies and into our economic paradigm, and next use it to design a virtuous foundation of our economic system. From a virtuous foundation we will then see a healthier characterisation of how we design and reorganise our lives as economic beings.
How do we even begin creating a republic of virtue if we do not yet have the tools of analysing what a corrupt society is and how corrupt leaders are a product of the economic system created to reproduce more sophisticated forms of corruption?
We must engineer a revolution of our very own consciousness. From the revolution in our minds, we move on to the revolution of our consciousness, and next to our collective consciousness. Gradually, as we realise that a better collective consciousness can be created, we will be aware of the oppositional forces that are making real human progress disabling.
We must now become makers of our own history and help others do the same. We must first learn to deconstruct ourselves and draw out the virtue within ourselves, even if the process can be terrifying. We must then each create a manifesto of our own self and de-evolve from then, until we tear down the structures within and outside of ourselves and reconstruct the foundations of a new republic.
We have never been independent. Malaysian has replaced the British colonials with its little brown brothers who are more sophisticated, as a result of the latter's education and socialisation into becoming better and more apologetic masters of modern-day totalitarianism. This is the our gift of Independence - on a silver platter. As Albert Memmi the Algerian thinker and psychiatrist would say, the colonized has become the colonizer.
In 2009, we will have become 'independent' for more than 50 years. Are we a republic of virtue? Are we emotionally stable enough to be one? Only by going back to the politics of virtue and sincerity can we survive this long and difficult road of Malaysian evolution; a road that is paved with good intentions but patrolled by predators of the poor and those pushed to the peripheries.
May we have an interesting Merdeka. And may we be more sincere.