Side Views

Bersih 2.0, Perkasa and the ‘middle-ground’ fallacy — Pak Sako

June 24, 2011

JUNE 24 — Based on my analysis, I believe the government faked the plane crash and demolished the World Trade Center North Tower with explosives. The South Tower, in a simultaneous but unrelated plot, was brought down by actual terrorists. — Randall Munroe, on taking the middle ground, in xkcd.com

An article entitled “Bersih 2.0 — is there a third alternative?” appeared in The Malaysian Insider. The author, Anas Zubedy, attempted a clever-clogs proposal.

He argued that since Perkasa has vowed to take to the streets with the Bersih 2.0 gathering, to prevent disruptions, why not go for the “centrist’s” solution to everything: take the magical “middle-ground approach” and call off both demonstrations in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Here is a case of the Pavlovian grasping for a middle path, or a golden mean compromise, whenever a dilemma arises. It leads neither to the correct answer nor to a just solution. This false compromise either signals a weakness of resolve that misses the whole point of a situation, or masks a sly strategy that claims “moderation” to blunt progressive action (painted falsely as extreme) so that the conservative status quo prevails.

This latter employs the “Overton Window” technique — aggressively promote an opposing extreme (e.g. by using Perkasa) so that the range (or “window”) of policies that the general public might see as acceptable shifts closer towards the side of the extreme. Previously plausible reformist movements and improvements will thereby be neutralised; they would have exited the frame and be viewed now as unacceptable or impracticable.

Now if there are indeed two incendiary polar extremes that could result in grave harm for all, defusing a stand-off by considering some middle ground may be justified. But Bersih’s demands are nowhere near extreme.

Unlike the demands of Perkasa, an overwhelming majority of Malaysians would desire what Bersih desires — free and fair elections, a fundamental democratic requirement. It is hard to see how Bersih’s plan for a peaceful and orderly demonstration is a danger or threat to Malaysian society. Bersih has clearly stated their eight demands (see their website). Assess their logic and reasoning.

The question that the authorities should be asking is what exactly are Perkasa and Umno Youth marching for. Are they in support of Bersih’s demand? If so, all is well and good. The more the merrier.

Anas Zubedy’s neutering “third alternative” of moving the march to the dead of Putrajaya is blinkered. Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of the rally, to civilly advocate Bersih’s views in the broadest public space and urge the government to correct administrative shortcomings that are seen as anti-democratic?

Anas Zubedy prophesied that a couple of hours of organised marches on a single day will result in disruptions of such a scale that “our foreign-born Indonesians and Bangladeshi brothers and sisters” will starve and that businesses will suddenly be unable to “make a profit to continue providing employment to the thousands”. Business areas must be avoided, and we should be prepared to compensate for any loss of income, said Zubedy.

Did the days and weeks of industrial strikes by the French over the years reduce France to a banana republic? Didn’t the French public willingly bear the brunt of the costs of their actions?

Temporary and moderate sacrifices in material gain and comfort out of the spirit of solidarity are sometimes necessary for achieving certain noble societal goals. Liberty and justice for society as a whole cannot be given some price tag and then rejected by wrongly comparing these with a speculated single day’s sum of income loss for certain sub-groups. A true economist would flatly state that this is no subject for cost-benefit analysis.

If the authorities co-operate out of goodwill with the Bersih organisers in managing the march, and are willing to disarm any troublemaker without fear or favour, there should be absolutely no disruption that could lead to any permanent loss of livelihood or limbs. If anything, clever and adaptable businesses would profit substantially by catering food or drinks to the Bersih crowd. The net result could very well be positive.

* Pak Sako reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.