The other day I posted a comment on Patrick’s blog, which he subsequently reposted because he got a laugh out of it. This was a spoof of the kind of nonsense normally ascribed, rightly or wrongly, to Government ‘cybertroopers’, and of which Patrick had been getting quite a bit of lately.
I managed to outrage a fair number of people who were apparently unfamiliar with the idea of a send-up, and who weren’t the least bit suspicious about the kind of language I was using, or the fact that I posted under my real name. For that matter, they didn’t see a subsequent comment I made under the post laughing at them.
I have stopped laughing as this is really quite sad and proves what Marina calls the disease of hyperpartisanship. If the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, how can we possibly expect to employ even the most rudimentary checks on our politicians when we are so blinded by hate?
I believe strongly in a firm parliamentary opposition, but the ‘us’ and ‘them’ of the Barisan Nasional and the Pakatan Rakyat has done nothing but encourage public mindlessness and the near-orgasmic fascination with doctrines and extremes. I lay the blame for this at the feet of the late Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, for whom I otherwise have a great deal of respect and admiration, because he utterly failed to foresee that a tool of government can turn quickly into a means of oppression when the guarantees on its limits are easily subverted simply by using that tool:
“I maintained then and I maintain now the view that the Internal Security Act is essential to the security of this country especially when democracy is interpreted the way it is interpreted in this country. To those in opposition to the Government, democracy is interpreted to mean absolute freedom, even the freedom to subvert the nation. When cornered by the argument that democracy in the western sense means freedom in an ordered society, and an ordered society is one in which the rule of law prevails, they seek refuge in the slogan that we should not imitate western democracy one hundred percent. I am convinced that the Internal Security Act as practised in Malaysia is not contrary to the fundamentals of democracy. Abuse of the Act can be prevented by vigilant public opinion via elections, a free press and above all the parliament.” (in Ooi Kee Beng ,The Reluctant Politician, ISEAS, 2006, pp. 131-132.)
First we feared the Act, then we feared to act. We feared to speak, and then we feared to think. Now we are no longer able to distinguish the free from the shackled, the true from the false, the good from the bad. Ismail’s means of preserving the rule of law was in fact the instrument of its destruction.
What happens when Parliament is paralysed by abject complaisance, or conversely frothing in mindless opposition for whatever reason (and these apply to either side at any given time)? What happens when the Press is neutered by legislation? What happens when students and academics have been systematically barred from free enquiry in the Universities for 30 years?
Can we hope even for the inadequate mirage of public vigilance, let alone the real thing? And is it any wonder that our leaders should so spectacularly fail to lead?
When was the last time you heard a politician tell the public “you, my greedy little friends, are wrong”?