From the comfort of our armchairs
DEC 27 — Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, the armchair. All hail the ingenious inventor who came up with the idea of affixing comfortable armrests to sitting furniture.
It is generous and cosy. It usually fits one. It is what most people look forward to after a day of stressful deadlines and difficult bosses in the office. It goes very well with a television set and a can of beer (or Coca-Cola, for the non-drinkers).
It’s very comfortable. We lean back. We dig our elbows into the squishy armrests. We feel at ease. We feel at home.
From our armchairs we face animated screens and we watch (or read) the local news. From our armchairs, we face people and we talk, comment and criticise.
It is so easy. It is so comfortable. We never want to leave our seats. It is easy to talk, because talk is cheap.
We flip through the papers and skim the headlines. The government announces a new project — an MRT line connecting numerous areas which will increase general accessibility in the Klang Valley. We sneer and make derisive comments on how it is once again “feeding time” for the cronies. Then we throw in that little “racial politics” card just for an added kick, and say that the project was intended to punish the pro-opposition Chinese just because it happens to involve the acquisition of Petaling Street.
Somehow, the fact that we would all probably benefit greatly from the MRT line, just as we currently do from the LRT and Monorail services, goes unnoticed. Who wants to talk about that? It’s boring, and it’s stating the obvious. No, it has to be about the cronyism and the money-swindling, we say firmly. Besides, the country would be in absolute ruins if it weren’t for we who sit in our armchairs and point our fingers at all the shenanigans the government gets up to.
And then we reach for another can of beer.
Bored with the standard fodder that all mainstream papers feed us, we log onto the Internet and access alternative media. The Internet, being a fertile breeding ground for emerging talent and intellect, is a fresh marketplace of alternative ideas.
We read articles, written by none other than our fellow rakyat, proposing new ideas and policies for more efficient crime control, or to curb loan sharks, or to reduce the bullying of consumers by big establishments.
We dismiss them one by one and say it would never work. Why? Corruption will nip the new policy in the bud. That, or the lack of enforcement.
Actually, why stop there? We go the whole nine yards and launch the one-size-fits-all argument, that any sort of solution (short of kicking out the entire government altogether) to any sort of problem will never work, because nobody will carry out that solution. We shoot every last idea down, not because of its merits or lack thereof, but because we think that the government won’t put it to work, or that any implementation will be poorly done.
Any idea is crap, we argue, because Barisan Nasional will screw it up. So, undilah Pakatan Rakyat! Like a broken record, we rinse and repeat this argument for every new article that appears in cyberspace. It’s a convenient argument, because we don’t really need to think, judge and evaluate the particular merits of each individual idea. Why would anyone want to do that? It’s exhausting.
So what’s the point of suggesting anything new at all, if it is true that all possible solutions, short of having a brand new government, are useless?
We shrug and pop open our third can of beer. We don’t have any better ideas to contribute, but that’s not our job anyway. It is not for us to add anything of value to the discussion, oh no, we decide what is of value and what isn’t. For we are the great armchair critics, perched on our padded thrones, delivering our sardonic judgments from behind online screens of convenient anonymity.
Unsatisfied, we go a step further and we get personal. It is insufficient for us to parade around shooting ideas down and rewriting articles for the writers themselves, oh no, our armchairs grant us greater powers than that.
To the fresh-faced university student who tries to see both sides of the argument, we accuse him of being exceedingly naive and wet behind the ears. We accuse him of being paid by the government to write what he writes. We note that he is currently studying in one of the best universities in the world, and promptly take it to a personal level: “Why do you write such stupid stuff which I disagree with? Hasn’t your Ivy League education taught you anything?”
To the writer who spent a considerable amount of effort trying to provide an academic analysis on a particular government policy, say, on the feasibility of the JPA scholarship programme, we lambast him for “wasting his time”, and ridicule him for not writing an article that focuses, instead, on corruption.
To the writer who chronicled several observations of her own, we jeer and sneer, accusing her of being ignorant and having “not done any research”, just because we know a friend of a friend of a friend who experienced something to the contrary.
We don’t write anything ourselves because we don’t have anything better to say.
But we condemn writers for having the audacity to write about Topic A, when we want to read about unrelated topic B.
We fling unwarranted personal attacks just because we can.
We brutally kill off ideas.
And we do all this from the comfort of our armchairs, in our safe, air-conditioned rooms.
* Yizhen Fung has recently completed her undergraduate studies in the University of Oxford. This will be her last article for this column.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.