If diversity is defined along the lines of race and belief, it is just fitting to call this place the most diverse nation in the world. We are a nation that, nearly half a century after its inception (yes, Malaysia was formed in 1963 not 1957), still grapples with the fact that we are composed of the people so diverse that whatever decisions made by not only our government, but also our people, are defined by our inherent diversity. Perhaps sickened by having to live in such a heterogenous society (many Malaysians decry not being born in a homogenous nation-state like, say, Denmark, where everyone is ethnically, linguistically and culturally Danish), our people have started to carve thin but visible lines to delineate things that are mine and yours. Like a lion fiercely guarding his territory, the different races in Malaysia have tried their hardest to defend whatever rights they think are theirs. Our schools must teach Science and Mathematics in Our native language, echoes a man hell-bent towards preserving what is left of the right of his people to be educated in their mother tongue. Because the said right is more important, who cares about putting the pupils into a single, unified school where they can intermingle? We are Muslim and this is an Islamic country echoes another Malaysian whose main concern is about his co-religionists’ right to be protected from reading certain books which contain non-mainstream religious ideas. Who cares about the country’s ever-growing inter-faith divides as long as these people are satisfied?
With the people fighting for their respective community’s rights, what have been left of the country? We are left with a country where different people have different expectations on how the government should treat them. While the French have their Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite concept as a guiding principle of the type of nation France should eventually turn into, in Malaysia we have a melange of different aspirations, some similar, some very different. Add contradictions into the equation and voila, we end up getting a concoction of expectations nobody is able to fulfil. A nation of unfilled expectations is a nation of unhappy people. Unhappiness, however, when kept for a long time leads to a feeling of hopelessness, and in Malaysia this feeling breeds something rather destructive: pessimism bordering on nihilism.
Arthur Schopenhauer, whose work compares the human intellect to a lame man who can see, but who rides on the shoulder of the blind giant of Will, explicitly states that the pessimistic people can never be fully satisfied. This exactly explains the reason why Malaysians, after enjoying years of healthy economic growth and relative prosperity, still feel deeply unhappy. Very few Malaysians nowadays suffer from having to live the penurious existence prevalent in many other relatively young nations in the Third World, but our pessimistic point of view means that whatever material comfort that we are currently enjoying is just like a speck of dust: its being there is without much significance.
With many Malaysians growing disenchanted with how their collective aspirations are not fulfilled, many of them retreat to considering only their aspiration as the only thing that matters. This produces a society of individuals whose personal interest is the only issue that matters to them. Call this a selfish society, but this is what Malaysians have turned into. Many Malaysians seek respite from their bouts of disappointment by working round the clock to afford a pad at Mont Kiara and the prestigious WWW plate number. Ironically, the individualism seen here goes parallel with the increasing influence of religion in our daily lives. Many Malaysians, cocooned in their own sphere of private lives and individual interest, turn to God for they have lost faith in having human being, the government included, to help them out of their individual struggle. This is the status quo of the day. Gone are the days of weekly gotong-royong; this is a different society than it was when our Independence was still at its nascent stage, when optimism prevailed.
Our refusal to see changes also means that Malaysians are easy to be indoctrinated: their point of view, if they have any, is nothing but transient; they are not likely to accept new ideas and think beyond their normal grasp. This explains the existence of two contrasting camps within Malaysian media: the mainstream media and the alternative media, each printing news and articles tailor-written to satisfy people from each side of the political divide who only want to read what they want and hear what they expect to hear. Benefits of the doubt is non-existent. We like to be indoctrinated, and we will eventually indoctrinate others in the future. Vilification of people, fellow Malaysians, who decide to be politically centrist or different, is rife. Again, this is our status quo.
History has shown that there will always be a degree of resistance every time a status quo is being challenged. People, from neo-progressives to traditionalists, will always be keen to only stick to what is familiar to them. This is the reason why when PEMANDU is working on the transformation program the people have their reservations. The organization, whose raison d’etre is to, yes, transform the nation, is accused of being useless, a sheer waste of public fund, and the puppet of the government. This is because Malaysians are not used to the idea that real, positive changes, are possible. Pessimistic Malaysians, as they hold on tightly to the idea of positive changes being elusive, also don’t harbor much hope in our democracy, which is reflected by the millions of Malaysians who have yet to register to vote. When a group of citizens fight to have clean elections in the country, many Malaysians hurl unsavory accusations, with some calling the leader of the movement a traitor. Some even want her to be hanged. While the means used by the organization to achieve their objective may be questionable, it is definitely bizarre to think that a sane, rational citizen would want to go against having free, clean, fraud-free elections. Having said all that, we, Malaysians are not universally destructive. We tend to be self-destructive, instead. After all, most of us applaud the political changes and the democratization of the Arab world as seen recently. So engrossed we are with our self-hatred in the sense that we are happy when good changes happen to others while we deprive ourselves of the rights to such.
Pessimism is, indeed, the biggest problem plaguing Malaysia of today. How is this to be countered remains to be seen, but a shame it is if this makes Malaysians overlook the many good things there are in life just because of this. Just like K in Kafka’s magnum opus ‘The Trial’ who, upon losing all hope and contracting the disease of pessimism, says that he feels ‘like a dog” as he waits for his death. We, Malaysians, are more dignified than that, so let’s cast the pessimism away and do something.