Friday, April 11, 2008

End of Mahathirism and the Last Keris Standing?

The impending fall of the Abdullah Badawi empire is a symbol of the strong winds of change that continue to be fuelled by the advent of Internet technology, the widening of democratic spaces, and the growing threat to the dominance of Pax Barisan-Nasionalisma.

Dr. Azly Rahman

More than 20 years ago when Francis Fukuyama wrote about the rise and dominance of American-styled liberal ideology, he was partially correct in his proposition that global politics will see the rise of the American Empire and the break up of the Soviet Union. He titled his work on deconstructionism as "the end of history and the last man".

I recall this theme of deconstructionism eulogised by the German rock group Scorpions in their song 'Winds of Change'. Fukuyama, then an analyst with Washington-based neo-conservative think-tank RAND Corporation, became an American idol in political science, thanks to Time magazine and the American corporate media sympathetic to the cause/civilising mission of the American Empire.

Partly incorrect and one not so visionary of an analysis however, was his prediction that the world will not see any more 'struggles via revolutions' as the thesis-antithesis or the dialectical-materialism of international relations will see the triumph of the 'forces of democracy'. What eventually happened was not the end of history but the beginning of another form of history, one analysed by a prominent political scientist Benjamin Barber as 'Jihad versus McWorld'.

The world is seeing the growth of anti-globalisation forces as a threat to the empire. A 'Balkan-isation' of international relations was in progress instead of Fukuyama's prediction of the total hegemony of the American Empire. Small states continue to revolt against the McDonald-isation of American ideology and the inscription of its totalitarianism onto the landscape of the modern world, giving rise to the idea of the continuation of dialectical and historical patterns and not ones that signified the end of all histories.

End of Mahathirism?

Here at home - are we witnessing the end of 'Mahathirism'? I see a parallel to this syntagmatic idea in the current happening in Malaysian history. The continuing implosion that is destroying UMNO and the rise of progressive forces of Malaysian politics in the post- March 8 2008 era, represents the symbolic end of Mahathirism's dominance and the beginning of the 'total rupture' in Malaysian politics. We are witnessing the end of an epoch and the beginning of deconstructionism. It is an exciting time looking at it from postmodern perspectives, analyzing it from the worldview of postmodern sensibilities.

The impending fall of the Abdullah Badawi empire is a symbol of the strong winds of change that continue to be fuelled by the advent of Internet technology, the widening of democratic spaces, and the growing threat to the dominance of Pax Barisan-Nasionalisma.

I see the metaphor of 'tearing down the wall' in Malaysian political ideological scenario and see the image of Mahathir as metaphor of 'the last man' and the end of 'history as we have learned to be shaped by'. One speaks of 'isms' as process-oriented ideological march founded upon the hegemony of an idea whose time was made to come. I see it as a 'monad' or a 'moment in history' or as Antonio Gramsci would say, a 'historical block' that has come about as a consequence of a crystallisation and sub-crystallisation of an idea promoted as 'intellectual and moral leadership'.

Because Mahathir articulated well his interpretation of the Malay Dilemma and because the Malays in general see it as a document that analysed the past, present, and future of the Malays, the writer of the banned book subsequently gained ascendancy as prime minister. Dilema Melayu/The Malay Dilemma, as scrutinised by the anthropologist Dr Syed Husin Ali for example, was flawed in its analysis of Malay socio-culture and 'genetic-based' argument on the inferiority of the Malays.

It became popular because Malay politicians did not read enough to critique the presentation of the dilemma and that the time was ripe to counter any effort to establish a multi-cultural political front to divert the nation off the entrapment of race-based politics. Like Reaganism, Thatcherism, and other forms of 'isms' associated with the primacy of corporate-capital nexused in a post-Fordist form of corporate-industrial-political-intellectual complex, Mahathirism is an ideology.

While many may disagree with the 'personification' of a neo-colonialist agenda in that term 'Mahathirism', and in fact one that might further glorify the person, I see it necessary to continue to have it 'named' so that one may deconstruct and rename it.

Total power

Mahathirism, is a symbol of the dominance of one person whose political life- history revolves around the maintaining of, acquiring, sustaining, consolidating, and homogenising total power through a clever crafting of a succession of hegemonic formations. It rests on the philosophy of 'we versus them' and the dichotomisation of political forces and on the practices of a more sophisticated version of the colonialist divide, conquer, and rule strategy.

These Machiavellian-formulations rest upon a more advanced system for capitalist formation fondly called 'the Asian-style democracy'. It is understandable then that the current administration called the nation to embrace the concept of Ying Yang in a nation that dances the hip hop and the elected representatives doing the be bop while the teenagers are going back to doing the rock and roll.

Mahathirism is a moment in history that benefited from the pre-War on Terrorism period of global economic boom, pre-9/11 historicity, and one that helped fuel the economy through borrowed monies and borrowed paradigms of economic development, and one that gave a blank cheque till the year 2020 (Wawasan 2020) to the ruling party.

Mahathirism, psycho-socially is a paradigm that recast the thinker Syed Hussein Alatas' thesis of the image of indolence, dullness, and laziness amongst the natives. This time, the 'ills' are remedied by the imposition of Japanese work ethics, productivity, non-unionisation laws, and other structures of control imposed to turn the Malaysian labour into better human-machines. This in turn will help the national engine of growth run well, so that foreign owners, in collaboration with the new 'glocal capitalists', may exploit it more efficiently.

In the now world-renowned political-anthropological study of 'the lazy natives', the colonialists painted the image of indolence amongst the Malays, Indonesians and the Filipinos. In today's analysis, the image of the native is the industrial and modern agricultural worker transformed into lazy thinkers and happy consumers through the structurations of the hypermodern capitalist system.

In Mahathirism, technology shapes consciousness and changes the social relations of production, transforming landscapes of nature into huge real estate projects such as the Multimedia Super Corridor - changing the way we live, transport/teleport ourselves, and the pattern of consumption and leisure. Those who own the means of importing technology from abroad, with paid advice from International Advisory Panels, own the means of transforming consciousness and hence will define the existence of the natives, through the hyper-modern Asiatic mode of production. I think of Frank Sinatra's 'My Way' as a symbol of the theme song of this historical block and quite incidentally a favourite song of many of the Cabinet ministers and Chief Ministers.

Mahathir the author of Mahathirism, through his authorship, created autocratic systems that automate the minds of the natives so that they may become automatons in a system that continue to this day to embrace and celebrate authoritarianism, Asian style. There are many other areas of Mahathirism that I think can be of research interest to Malaysian scholars, especially to those from the Institut Pemikiran Tun Mahathir, Universiti Utara Malaysia itself.

But I suggest these scholars equip themselves with the tools of critical cultural analyses, critical ethnography, radical anthropology, or reflective sociology in order to produce commendable work on Mahathirism - to understand what makes Malaysians afraid to think and speak up and how they have become, as the American sociologist Herbert Marcuse calls, 'one-dimensional' beings.

Tearing down Mahathirism

Spaces of dialogue are being created, a symbol of the tearing down the walls of Mahathirism. The deafening call for an inquiry into the award of Approved Permits, the setting up of the Malaysian Institute of Integrity, the repeated calls to provide the academic community with signs and symbols of academic freedom, the boycott of campus elections, and the growing demand of the economically marginalised to be attended to - all these represent the possible end of Malaysian history as we know it. All these culminated in the major rupture of the empire of the National Front. The end of Mahathirism signalled the beginning of three fronts-- Barisan Nasional, Barisan Rakyat, and Barisan Bloggers -- vying for power in a world increasingly mediated by digital communication technologies. The Axis of Contradictions (National Front-People's Front-Bloggers' Front) present an interesting synthesis out of the dialectical materialism of the evolution of Malaysian radical-alternative politics. Mao's theory of knowledge can be tested here if one wishes to study the cognitive aspects of the "Malaysian Revolution" or "Asian Implosion and Evolution or Implovolution" of March 8 2008.

'The centre cannot hold' goes the cliche for post-modernism borrowed from the words of WB Yeats, one apt to be applied to this Fukuyama proposition in Malaysian politics. Speaking of the incapacitation of our thinking and reflecting capacity, I am reminded of the lyrics of Pink Floyd's 'Brick in the Wall' which goes, 'all and all we're just another brick in the wall..' as we look at the condition of human existence in the world of the global production system.

Mahathirism represents that world - of silencing the masses so that they may work and produce with unquestioning devotion/bakthi and dharma to the new colonial masters of Japan, the United States and Europe. The slogans Kerja Sebagai Ibadat, Kepimpinan Melalui Teladan, Bersih, Cekap, Amanah and I.T. untuk Anda represent the slogans for the monad/Gramscian historical block/Asian Despotism that characterised the socio-political milieu of the Mahathir era. This is the sangsara of the philosophy of economic development based on the pursuit of artha (harta= material wealth). The system creates the Duryodhanas (durjanas=corporate pirates and raiders) of the global capitalist system that become 'glocalised' in the neatly but hegemonistically explained language of Friedmanian economics.

As a keen student/observer of totalitarianism and hegemonic systems created by human beings, I am interested in analysing how these struggles for a cosmopolitan, cosmotheandric, and 'conscientisation'-ised pattern of struggle continue. I am reminded by the theme of an essay 'Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism' by American literary theorist Frederic Jameson as I write about the ruptures, the waning of affect, the sense of fragmentation, and the clich├ęs and subalternisation of the Grand narratives in Malaysian politics in general, and in the deconstructionism of Mahathirism in particular.

Will the events after April 14, 2008 tear down the wall completely? Or a second 'mental revolution' to debunk and revise Sanusi Junid's thesis in Revolusi Mental, produced in the late 1970s do that?. But Sanusi Junid's thesis is also well-debunked as it is derived from the paradigm of Mahathirism and the urge to promote the ethos of Reaganomics and the ideology of Asian corporate capitalism. Sanusi Junid in fact need to read Lacan and Derrida to deconstruct his own worldview on mental revolutions. I suppose the "utopianism" conjured by the intelligentsia will always contain the seeds of dystopianism that have germinated as evident by the destruction that has happened in the four years of the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi rule. A nation does not live on borrowed ideology of JD-Rockefellarism alone.

I suggest Malaysian social scientists interested in deconstructionist theories study these developments - so that we may construct newer theories of hegemony and totalitarianism, inspired by and in honor of the work of Syed Hussein Alatas. Let us explore what the new myth of the lazy natives mean through our analysis of 'the end of Malaysian history and the last man', or rather to analyse the end of Mahathirism and the last keris standing.
After Mahathirism and the end of history, what must we expect? Will the perfect society organized around truly egalitarian principles with transcultural philosophy as the guiding light be the end of it all? Or will we see perpetual peaceful, Internet-inspired revolutions laced with creative and ethical anarchism be the feature of this Malaysian state?

Let us talk about this.

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