Allegory of the Cave
Plato’s Cave Mahathir Built – for Malays
Among the most widely cited stories from Plato’s book Republic (ca 514–520), the Allegory of the Cave is almost always compulsory reading for Year One philosophy students, in epistemology in particular (a branch of philosophy based on the notion popularized by Marcel Proust: what you know is never yours). Briefly the story goes like this:
Plato’s main character Socrates is describing a group of people who have all of their lives lived in a cave. They see nothing else but the shadows of themselves and all their possessions projected onto the wall of the cave by a fire lit behind them. Over time, the shadows make up their only sense of reality outside of themselves, nothing else. Such is their world to the extent that they begin to give names to those shadows. Then the story goes further: among the captives, one person leaves, indeed escapes. Out in the open, struck suddenly by light, the ex-prisoner is stung under the glare of the sun. He turns away and in his mind there are only the shadows he remembers. But, slowly as his eyes adjust to the new environment, he sees not just reflections in the water but the water itself; he sees actual people and things; he experiences day turn to night; he can look at the sun, and back at the shadows cast by it, and he begins to reason; he begins to ask and attempts to answer the Why. Indeed, he is ‘able to reason’ about things around him. He is liberated. (Suffice for our purpose, we shall end here because the story continues, such as the prisoner returning to the cave.)
The Malays are these prisoners; Umno is their cave; Mahathir Mohamad the man projecting those shadows for the prisoners to see.
Looked at in this way, is Mahathir then the escaped prisoner, the man who had in the beginning shepherded the Malays into the cave? Yet, and paradoxically, he’s the same man who have told the prisoners that their world is all that they see on the wall. He even gave names to those shadows: the Chinese, the keling, the Islamic state, and why Malays are different from them; he tells Malays who they are and what; that this is their cave, don’t go outside; it’s all you have, it’s an exclusive Malay world, and is the best there is.
Now, suddenly under the glare of Najib, stung by another world outside, another reality, the cave — that is, the Malay world — isn’t really what Mahathir had first imagined it to be. The Malays shouldn’t be there at all, Mahathir says. He, in fact, has a new cave, a new party built just for Malays; he has a new Umno.
What Caveman Kadir Sees
The allegory not only calls into question Mahathir’s reliability and credibility as well his actual understanding of the world inside the cave and outside, and that which is false and made up, and that which is true and objective, it especially creates a new political dilemma for the Malays: outside Umno, their cave, is there another? Does Mahathir want to transfer the Malays from one cave to the other?
Can the like of Kadir Jasin, a Mahathir hatchetman, ever understand the lesson in this allegory of the Malay cave? Can Kadir penetrate the underlying concept in the word called reality? Can he see beyond the shadows and into the light outside?
He is saying, in effect, the new Malay party is a new liberating force but a force that still resides inside the cave — an impossibility in the circumstances. Then, outside and on the fields of the Opposition, he has actually pitched a tent to draw recruits and in order to satisfy (and this comes from him) the political pleasures of PKR and DAP and Amanah onlookers. Indeed, the new party functions like a traveling circus and Kadir is nothing but its MC clown.
Here, in Kadir’s apologia:
It was partly their [Opposition’s] wish that the former Umno leaders form a political party that takes on Umno but limit the possibility of a conflict with other Malay/Muslim-based parties. While those who come from multi-racial parities, principally the PKR and DAP, would not like to see another multi-racial party vying for support and, worse still, stealing their members.
But they were unanimous that the new Malay/Bumiputera-based party would play an important role in the existing opposition coalition. On their part, the ex- and axed-Umno leaders have been aware from the outset that any political role they are expected to play has to be based on providing the Malays with an alternative to Umno.
Since when has Mahathir begun deferring to the views of other people? Especially one coming from a Chinese? Or an Indian?
Kadir’s rationale is so typical of Mahathirism past: When called into question the ethical-basis of a decision — that is, why perpetuate Umno’s racism — he lays the blame squarely on the doorsteps of other people. The only difference this time is that Kadir hasn’t the gall to openly said it is the fault of the Chinese.
But, wait for the day Umno v.1 and Umno v.2 are in a straight fight in Kuala Kangsar or Sungai Besar, going after the same Malay votes. The Umno v.2 candidate will be bringing out the keris and then the trophies of Chinese heads and, after that, Islam for good measure. This is not conjecture; it has happened in a dozen general elections, the inevitable outcome of fighting over the same piece of Malaiyoo pie. It’s the exact same way Umno and PAS has fought each other; so why should the future be any different living inside another cave?
Escape from the Cave
Yet that’s the fundamental issue Kadir hasn’t bothered to address in his apology: what’s the difference between Mahathir and Najib, between Umno v.1 and v.2 In its stead, Kadir goes around circling and blaming others for being who and what they themselves really are: a bunch of bigots no different from anyone else in Umno, Najib included. If Umno v.2 is sincere, let’s see Kadir kill this clause in their raison d’etre:
Ia bermatlamat mewarisi, meneruskan dan memperbaharui perjuangan Melayu/Bumiputera dalam era globalisasi, reformasi, ketelusan dan keterbukaan. [In translation: The party aims to renew the fight of the Malays and bumiputera in the era of globalisation, reformation, transparency and openness.]
Here’s the alternative:
The party aims to lead the Malays and bumiputera out from the vestiges of corruption, nepotism and cronyism and move the Malay into a reconstituted society, their lives onward into a progressive, reformed-minded, transparent, open and plural part of a new and greater Malaysia.
As it stands, instead, Umno v.2 has nothing else but short term goals for, as they say, a marriage of convenience. It has no greater philosophy and no depth of ideas except to re-hatch tired old cliches that Umno v.1 is so much better at. Any Malay would have to ask Kadir: ‘What’s the fucking difference, Dato?‘
Can’t you see, Kadir: Najib isn’t the core of the problem; he is purely incidental, the manifestation of Umno, which in its turn is the monster keeping him. Without Umno behind, without the shadows trapped in the cave, Najib would have been long gone.
Enough with your caves and your shadow bluffing. Go out into the sun. Look at the sky, the trees, see your reflection in the water, the shadows cast by the light, and perhaps then you might even begin to know how to reason, even to reason yourself out of your stupidity and bigotry. That would be a start.
Kadir’s sense of reality projected alone onto his screen. He is stuck in his cave and dare not go out for fear of what he might discover, the truth: ‘There is no such thing as ketuanan; it’s just a shadow, doesn’t exist, isn’t real.‘ When that happens, everything in the past falls flat. They become a lie. In that circumstance, what’s caveman Kadir to do?
So how, Kadir? You were lying? And you are mother-fucking liar? No?