I believe that what we in Malaysia and in fact the world is grappling with, are the bombardment of values and underpinnings of “liberal democracies” against the existing local culture tradition and history. This clash is fundamentally exacerbated by the advent of internet which Ohmae correctly predicted back then, converged values mainly of the more advanced nations.
The concept of democracy, liberty, equality and freedom as seen in the advanced countries have engulfed the Internet, appealing to many to be the desired outcome. But many have failed, not only to realise the debate and philopsophy behind such concepts, but the different milieus that came with it. We see as of today in Egypt the absurd overthrowing of a legitimate elected president Morsi in the name of people’s democratic wishes. I for instance encountered numerous debates with people in the past calling for fairness justice and equality but have not the slightest clue what these entail. What we see now in Egypt or for that matter in Malaysia are the clashes between these appealing ideologies with the values, tradition and local mores.
What many failed to see is that these “liberal democracies” are not firmed and comes with ideological and historical context. Bentham’s and Mill’s utilitarian concept where an action bringing the greatest benefit for the greatest number should prevail, forms a major underpinning of this ideology. For this to work, capitalism comes hand in hand and delivers utilitarianism. Free market, where profit is the primary motive, will yield the greatest good for the greatest number. Thus they believe that the government should not interfere in the free market.
These concepts however are not absolute. They have been tempered with “welfarism” (eg minimum wage requirement) and even self preservation (eg agricultural subsididies). Rawles promulgated social justice in wealth distribution. Inequality should be distributed to the least disadvantaged. Certain individual interests should prevail over utilitarianism. They’ve adjusted these idealisms to their needs.
The concept of equality as in “All men are equal” is another instance where it has not been fully appreciated by many. What is considered equal? Is it equal in opportunity? Equal share of resources? Equal rights? Equality of respect? Equality in representation?
The liberal democracies have gone through these debates and developed to where they are now after years and years of tribulations. We must appreciate this. The Egyptians must realise that these ideals cannot work with them on a wholesale basis. The reasoned actions of liberal democracies cannot be transposed when Egyptians do not have such history. There are existing deeply held convictions and values which have been acquired through family, social group or religion which need to be considered. The Egyptians need to amend and modify these ideals accordingly. They also need to prioritize.
Similarly here in Malaysia. Though we have an advanced economy, we interfere in many areas. We have never started equal. Not in terms of resources, opportunity, rights and even representation. We recognised our inequality and we have through negotiation of giving and take tinkered our rights liberty and freedom. We have many differences. But we understand and empathize with each other. As a result we have come to a pragmatic social contract in our constitution.
We have never based our constitution on idealism. Unlike other constitution there is no provision at all which expressly provide prevailing ideas. None whatsoever. No utilitarianism. No free market capitalism ideology. Neither is there distributive justice and unfettered equality. Our constitution discriminates recognizing our differences, ethnicity and history. Our constitution discriminates religion giving preference to Islam. Our constitution even provides unequal privileges based on place of residence. In our original constitution, a rural resident has a higher voting weightage than those in urban area and this is still the same position now.
In our haste to impose these idealism, we have forgotten our history tradition and differences. We think we’re a liberal democracy and condemn and belittle others for not promoting these idealism. Rather than negotiate we are proud in pulling us further apart by being purely partisan in line with the gridlock democracies in the west. We have lost the tradition to respect be sensitive emphathize and pull our rank closer.
We need to ponder this. I’m still hopeful as a Malaysian. Situation in 2013 has been much better than pre 2013 where I find now more people becoming pragmatic in pushing for liberal democracy concepts. We must stay this course to differentiate, engage, negotiate and move ahead.