Славься, Отечество наше свободное

I was about four years old when I discovered an old encyclopaedia-cum-atlas belonging to my grand-uncle, which together with a battered copy of the Chambers dictionary was all that survived him after he was killed in the Second World War.

I was intrigued by all the pink bits in the atlas and so my father taught me to read it. The first country-name I learnt to say properly was “Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics”. I learnt this before I learnt the names of the states of my own country, Malaysia.

It was 1979. This was the era of Brezhnev. Important events that year included the Iranian Revolution, Maggie Thatcher becoming PM, the Baader-Meinhof Group’s assassination attempt on Alexander Haig, the IRA’s assassination of Louis Mountbatten, and the debut of the first Star Trek movie at the Smithsonian. I got this from Wikipedia.

Together with the lesson in geography, my father told me about the Domino Theory, nuclear weapons, and the zero-sum game. I was four at the time. All I thought about thereafter was the constant possibility of utter nuclear destruction, how it might be achieved, and how it had so far been prevented. I learnt my first romanised Russian—Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti—before I learnt Malay. I learnt about the Central Intelligence Agency and our own Special Branch before my multiplication tables.

The lesson my father wished to impart was that our home lay fewer than 2,000 miles from a major Soviet satellite (Vietnam), that the Malayan Communist Party was still on active patrol in the jungle, and that our country would inevitably become little more than a diplomatic pawn in a superpower game of blindfolded chess. At worst, we might become the site of a nasty proxy war. Unless our people did something about it.

The only thing that lay between us and utter destruction was our pursuit of our national interest. This, for the moment, meant our membership in, and leadership of, things like the Non-Aligned Movement and the Association of South-East Asian Nations. Domestically, we expressed the same in things like our national airline (built despite a deck stacked against us), our merchant navy, and so on. Above all we had an enemy that posed a threat greater to us than our own collective petty differences.

We learnt to live with it. In many ways we thrived under it if only because it prevented the Malays and Chinese from slitting each other’s and everyone else’s throats. The question was survival and the fact of our survival as a mostly independent state was a matter of some pride.

We packed off the best of our people to study abroad or else they had the benefit of a colonial education. Those that went away came back to us. Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh, Kirkby, Brinsford Lodge, Sandhurst, Dartmouth, the Antipodes. Not as toffee-nosed weasels or complaisant politicians in bespoke suits but as people with backbones who hid iron fists in velvet gloves and did things in the national interest.

Today, we have no idea what the national interest is. What we have is a dominant middle class which sole reality, like the mythical Juju-bird, involves putting its head up its arse. We have both “friends” and “enemies” that change with the rapidity of Twitter-feed updates. We sneer at the very idea of “national”: the flag, the national car, the railway service, and so on. We have no conception of what our foreign policy is, otherwise we’d sneer at that too.

There is good reason to sneer. Bureaucratic rubbish and misguided political policy has cheapened or prostituted every one of these. The upshot is that the middle class is united above all in one way only: its inability to believe in a damned thing beyond itself.

It sneers at the new “Nons”. The Non-Us. The poor. The rich. The conservative. The wrong type of pious. The dispossessed. The foreign.

The poor are so uneducated that they keep voting in their oppressors. The rich are in bed with the oppressors and besides, all their money is really mine what with the taxes and monopolies (what a damned Bolshie idea). The conservatives hate gays. The wrong type of pious hate everyone. The dispossessed smell funny. The foreign can’t seem to do simple tasks no matter how many times I beat them and hamahgahd they still want a day off each month. What cheek.

What have we become?

We predicate particular desires onto general needs. We equate the Universal Good with whatever particular Want comes into our heads. We equate single days of protest with “moral-political action” on the scale of the Everlasting Cosmic Orgasm. We are liberal/homosexual/socialist/nationalist/Islamist/Christian without fear and if you don’t like it you can get the f. out of Malaysia. Only our interests matter because we know best. In the same vein, we grant that middle class desires are what our country should aspire to (political change, social reform, accountability, transparency, etc. etc.).

What we really are is a nation of losers.

We demand cheap flights and excellent service because The People deserve it. We demand LGBT rights of recognition under the law because The People deserve it. We demand cheap housing, high salaries, easier access to underpaid labour, whatever the hell we think of, because We the Right-Thinking People deserve it. “Vote Wisely” we like to say. What the blazes does that mean?

We demand everything because we deserve it. We demand not a damned thing because it is in the national interest. We care not at all to step outside ourselves just for a moment regardless of all that hypocritical nonsense we like to spout.

Before you Vote Wisely, pay your domestic helper the wage you would demand to do the same job.

The Cold War was a terrible time. But I knew who our enemies were. And I knew who we were. And we brooked no slavery either to the West or the USSR. Or to anyone.