Higher thinking, the Internet and censorship
|Kapil is an advertising strategist based in KL, who likes nothing better than to figure out why people behave the way they do. Naturally this forces him to spend most of his time lounging in coffeeshops and bars. He can be reached at [email protected]|
JULY 18 — At a recent Malaysian Young Thinkers convention at UTM, the prime minister reportedly asked the country’s youth to adopt “higher thinking” skills and not be influenced by negative comments on the Net or to take to the streets to air their grievances.
They should instead follow the example of the government’s Blue Ocean Strategy and Urban Transformation Centre as models of higher thinking and innovation.
All innovation is a process of understanding current reality and trying to fill gaps and improve on the status quo. Indeed, the Urban Transformation Centre, which brings together all federal and state agencies under one roof, is born out of an understanding of the negativity engendered by making the common man run from pillar to post to get things done.
Therefore it seems strange that higher thinking is being equated with rejecting negative commentary on the Internet. How is one supposed to make up one’s mind on any issue without being able to understand both sides of the story?
Of course given that this is the same government that bans books, cartoons and films at the drop of a hat and hauls up ordinary people for asking for free and fair elections, maybe this is what they call higher thinking.
On the one hand, access to information is restricted at any time it is seen as inimical to the interests of the government, and on the other, people are exhorted to reject any such information they may access over the Internet in the interests of higher thinking.
There is certainly a case to be made for the achievements of the government and by extension Barisan Nasional (BN), but to ask people to blindly accept these without enquiry and then call it higher thinking is intellectually dishonest.
This is precisely the kind of prescription that leads to an arid intellectual landscape that causes social and economic regression, not innovation and progress. When citizens are treated as children with limited rights to intellectual debate and encouraged to swallow wholesale one side of a story which is then celebrated as higher thinking, expect intellectual stagnation.
The end result is the level of political debate descending to legislators levelling wild allegations of sexual impropriety against rivals and others asking for activists to be hanged for treason for questioning electoral malpractice. Are Cabinet ministers under fire for corruption allegations, calling whistleblowers “jambu” (pretty boy) an example of higher thinking?
Having said that, it is ironically on the same Internet that Malaysians are coming together in ever growing numbers to participate in an ever maturing level of intellectual discourse and debate, where vibrant interactive conversations presenting differing points of view allow people to draw well-informed conclusions on topics of the day.
Where the current education system with its focus on rote learning mired in language flip-flops and biased curricula is widely acknowledged to be on a downward spiral, the Internet is becoming an important tool for students with a questioning bent of mind.
Where the mainstream media (MSM) follows the PM’s formula to a T by giving only one side of a story, the Internet provides access to both sides. English MSM allows only The Star or the NST, but the Internet allows them The Malaysian Insider as well as Malaysiakini and a host of publications spanning the political spectrum.
A spirit of enquiry, critical to social, political, economic and even spiritual development is being fostered on the Internet, the only medium where public opinion is shaped by a competition between ideas, not propaganda and the muzzling of differing voices.
There is a reason why a column like this, which seeks to critique ideas rather than swear allegiance to one political coalition or the other, is only available on the Internet, and why it includes a comments section.
By advocating a return to the days of “the government knows best” the PM is running against the tide of freedom of expression being celebrated around the world and making a mockery of the real meaning of higher thinking and innovation.
A multi-racial country like Malaysia is better placed than many in hoping to leave its mark on the century of ideas, but it requires more debates on competing ideas of race, religion, developmental priorities and political leadership, not a blind adherence to the opinion of those in power.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.