Archive for December 20th, 2009

Dao: The Way

Zaid Ibrahim, Kelantanese, genuine Malay not half Yemeni, favoured by the heavens yet upright, learned man, a junzi in the classical tradition,  has to be unpacked in order to be understood. To be understood in this way means that he was, before, heard but not entirely fathomed; the robin sings at dawn for no one but to the stars the night before.

For this and other reasons, he could not have lasted in Umno and he has no mass following, unlike Anwar Ibrahim, whose intellectual vigor is often compromised and diluted by personal deficiencies, including a penchant for rabble-rousing, but who intuitively understands that the key to effective politics and governance is simply to position competent people in the right places.

The trouble is that Anwar believes too much in a pre-established, pre-defined order, an already worked-out system (roadmap is a common parlance; the NEP, socialism, Umno are examples) rather than in individuals, in the virtues lodged in personal characters, so that people appointed will invariably execute the appointed tasks, the tweeking to come after. Zaid is the opposite. So, he cannot muster a 10,000-strong horde, baking in the sun while listening to his speeches that urge them to fight the FRU batons and water canons.

This is why Zaid and Anwar are a team, for the latter because Pakatan Rakyat is stuck at birth, a stillbirth, with the likes of the Zulkifli Noordins and the Hasans of the PAS, the voodoo ulama doctors, yelping at Anwar’s heels to deliver the child feet first (stupid man that Dr Hasan). Zaid’s purpose is to now save the baby, poor kid, hence the so-called Pakatan “convention”.

Therein, therefore, is Zaid. Did they – the turbaned men, the Anglophiles (no, I’m-not-a-Chinaman types), the ex-Umno hacks, the voodoo doctors, the leftist-right (consider a certain Chua), the liberal greenies (think of Eli) – did they really, truly understand him and where his heart lies?

To begin to comprehend Zaid is to have fore-knowledge, technically an a priori understanding, and this can be made accessible, at least partly, by deconstructing that man, head first. (Malaysia Today, looking for things to fill its banal pages each day, has posted the entire Zaid speech and not probably because they thought it might be profound. Malaysiakini didn’t see the import of the Zaid’s significance, and even if they did, you’d have to pay for something others have heard for free. Like McDonalds, the editors there run the business as if it were a Yankee information franchise. Malaysian Insider? The conceit of them: they run it like they are the Bank of England, the anointed ones to make everybody information rich.)

It is a gem, but for the points for contention.

Zaid begins with a quote from the daodejing (道德經 circa  550BC which makes the book author/s Confucius contemporaries). Probably he might not have recognised the source of the idea, or if he does, would he  be willing to attribute the source? What will the Turbaned Ones think (assuming they know about the dao)?

Few things are more intrinsically Chinese than the daodejing; it talks of, for example, the Yellow Emperor and the inference of Chinese as sons. Brief snatches of a text (as in Zaid’s opening line) is always dangerous because it leaves out context. Here it is from Chapter 64 (the book is split into two nearly equal-length sections, maybe totalling 76, dao 道 and de 德). Contrary to popular perception the book is not just metaphysical; it has references to Newtonian physical laws, eg., force begets force.

其安易持,其未兆易謀。其脆易泮,其微易散。為之於未有,治之於未亂。合抱之木,生於毫末;九層之臺,起於累土;千里之行,始於足下。為者敗之,執者失 之。是以聖人無為故無敗;無執故無失。民之從事,常於幾成而敗之。慎終如始,則無敗事,是以聖人欲不欲,不貴難得之貨;學不學,復衆人之所過,以輔萬物之 自然,而不敢為。

Ask not for the full translation – in the West, there are more than 200 versions. But note the relevant parts highlighted in bold: that’s the Zaid opening line – 千里之行,始於足下 qianli zhixing, shiwu zuxia, literally a thousand li (li is Chinese measure, equals roughly a mile) it travels, begins below foot. In English grammatical form: the journey of a thousand li begins with a single step.

Zaid’s translation is nearly exact in wording, precise in meaning. But for context return to the original dao text and the preceding lines that contain ideas like, act before it is preceded; impose order before disorder. Why? Because, “from the tiniest sprout grows the tree, big as an arm” (Chinese original 合抱之木,生於毫末), after which you’re going to have trouble uprooting it.

Therein, in the daodejing context, is also the crux, the ultimate message, the germinating seed in Zaid’s speech, which isn’t talking merely about how arduous or how long is the journey for Pakatan going to Putrajaya. But truth be told, Malaysia stepped out on the wrong foot and it has deteriorated ever since. He was even specific about when it began: 1957. This means one has to go backwards, to 1957, and start all over again. Hence, National Liberation, the title given to the speech, infers the uprooting, an upending of an old order – not just of the government but also established thoughts, habits, the usual ways of doing things – the whole unshackling of 52 years of history (Khoo Kay Kim is going to be out of a job) so that the journey can begin anew. Umno has been a substitute colonial power and has to be ejected. Says he:

“We have not only to check, we have to reverse the slide…”

If starting right is absolutely necessary, then the journey – the Malaysian journey – has to embark on an entirely different course, a different direction. Changing the ship captain mid-sea solves nothing.

Here, Zaid is refuting the contention of Razaleigh Hamzah, who erroneously, even if sincerely, thought that Umno’s problem is largely a leadership problem. If Umno has good leaders, Malaysia will be good for all. Zaid’s rebuttal to Razaleigh:

“(The new captain) is like a magician come to do conjuring tricks at a children’s party. … (So) the whole exercise mistakes the activity for change for the essence of change.”

The “essence of change”: what does Zaid mean?

One way to disentangle the phrase is to return to the daodejing because in the character-word dao, commonly translated as “way” or “Way” upper case for its metaphysical concept, is the inter-connected, simultaneous and multiple notions of direction, truth, reason, method, path – all of which make up for the idea in, or the essence of, change.

Zaid, more than he knows it or will admit because of his religion and politics, is a Daoist, a Confucian, true to the traditions of the junzi (君子) principles of exemplary conduct, thought, and leadership.

Confucius Corrects a DAP Dasar

Will that (above) mean that nobody needs to leave the country tomorrow, and the streets and women will be safe from the Bungs and the police?

Boon Kia Meng, DAP street worker, eats nasi lemak, good man perhaps, PAS collaborator, reads Hannah Arendt (so he infers), is evidently a conduit for the Pakatan Rakyat convention. Here, he has supplied, the operating principles of a future government so that, for the benefit of the Anglophile DAP members, below is a lesson in English. The lesson isn’t just linguistic. It also has to do with Kongzi (孔夫子) who in preceding George Orwell on matters of truthfulness has told that if your term meanings are wrong, how could you ever do right? Italics in parentheses replace the deleted parts:

We have resolved in our Dasar Pakatan Rakyat to:

1) Put a clear and decisive (E)nd (for all time) to the politics of racism (culture of discrimination) and discrimination (politics of racism) in all government policies(,) and legislation(s), (public culture, thoughts and processes).

2) Restore (Acknowledge) the Supremacy of the Federal Constitution and the Rule of Law, where there will be greater democratization in (justice and fairness shall rule and administer) all public institutions, organs of government, the courts and other law enforcement agencies .

3) Develop (an environment for) a truly People’s (free and open) economy [Remark: people’s economy? The DAP makes it sound like it is going to run a communist enterprise.] as opposed to an economy that has benefitted cronies and those with vested interests (racially constructed and) where corruption and wasteful public spending will be vigorously combated (thrive but which we resolve to end). We will instill greater transparency and (promise openness and) accountability in government and the public sector.

4) Restore meaning to Federalism where States’ rights are defended and economic wealth will be shared on a fair and equitable basis, including tax revenues and oil royalties. (Respect Federalism: render unto the States that which belong to the States.)

5) Abolish the ISA and all oppressive and draconian laws that infringe every Malaysians’ fundamental liberties and human rights (any and all fundamental freedoms and civil rights). [Remark: redundant words deleted. Laws are by definition oppressive and draconian because they invariably infringe on a person in various degrees. Singular/plural inconsistency; “every” is singular. There is no thing called “human rights”. No rights are human or inalienable, all rights are artificial constructs, so no government, Pakatan included, shall accord to itself the power to negotiate, define, grant, offer, accede to, remove, or modify in any way the supposed “human” rights which in their essence and in their construction are civil in purpose.]

6) For all and without distinction for group preferences or priorities develop, promote, support, fund, and aid education, transport, health care and other related social services, in particular the arts and the cultured life.

6) Arrest the years of under-investment and bad planning in our education, transport and health-care systems, where greater resources will be mustered and better managed for their revitalization and the well-being of all Malaysians.

7) Develop a social protection agenda to ensure all marginalized and vulnerable groups are protected and their welfare safe-guarded.

8) Enhance greater democratic and cultural space for the flourishing of a vibrant multiculturalism and also for the arts and literature.

The last three items were removed and replaced with a single declarative statement.

Even in edited form, the Dasar sounds pedestrian, something old: it has come to be an expected thing. But, maybe they’ll get it right this time. Or maybe they won’t, because how could they if the terms were not right from the beginning. See how Malaysia’s problems have philosophical roots? Learn from Zaid.


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