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COMMENTARY, Jan 2 — In 1991, before he became a Tun, Dr Mahathir Mohamad had a very big dream to turn Malaysia into a civilisation to rival those in the West.
He envisioned a Malaysia with super skyscrapers and locally-made cars zipping up and down the highways.
At the same time, Malaysia would draw the world’s top tech talents here to create a new knowledge-based economy and put money in every citizen’s pocket.
It’s been nearly 30 years. We have Babylonic towers. We also have cars made by Proton and Perodua and multiple highways on the peninsula side of Malaysia and a major one being built in Borneo across the South China Sea.
We don’t quite have the tech talents. Not for want of trying. Those we birthed and incubated at home chose to spread their wings to Singapore and Australia, then New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, even the African continent, and needless to say, the West, despite the economic and social turmoil in those countries.
And for the vast majority of us Malaysians who choose to remain within these borders, we stumble bleary eyed from day to day, juggling various tasks to feed ourselves and earn enough to line our patchy pockets.
That dream of a sophisticated civilisation that is an international envy appears hollow. More so after the architect of Wawasan 2020 threw out that dream and is now trying to sell us a new vision of shared prosperity for all.
Our internal cynics can only hear the doomsday prophets crying about Malaysia’s downfall in a sea of corruption and rotten leaders, even in this twilight of authoritarianism.
But to fall back on that old cliche, every cloud has a silver lining. We may not all be swimming in gold and sleeping in silk (or 1,000-thread count Egyptian cotton), but our society today has grown richer in a way our self-sufficient grandparents and even our parents born in the years immediately after World War Two could never have envisioned.
The wealth is in information.
While our purses may not be bursting at the seams, we possess the means and methods to find out things, thanks to the internet and advanced modes that have speeded up communications between peoples.
Stranded in a flood? Help is on the way, through a coordinated relay of video, photo and audio messages that allow rescuers to wade through the muck and arrive at the location with pinpoint accuracy.
Homeless and/or starving in the city? Urban volunteers have set up soup kitchens, funded in part from their own not-so-full pockets and in part donations in cash and in kind from businesses.
Or someone shares the story on social media and another person steps forward to provide help, often anonymously, shying away from publicity and owning up only when amateur sleuths succeed in tracing them through their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn profiles and highlight it on the same platforms.
Which is how news organisations often find out about their deeds and report them.
Even Malaysians living in long-isolated communities bereft of the most basic of amenities like tap water and electricity are finally receiving help to ensure not just their survival but their future development as a people, thanks to the generosity of socially responsible individuals and corporations through information relayed through word-of-mouth but increasingly social media.
Just to make it clear, I am not making light of the socio-economic problems in Malaysia today, much of which is caused by the political elite who have grown fat from the largesse at their disposal.
My point is that these modern-day systems of peer-assisted aid were not set up by governments. They grew organically through the sharing of information.
One person hears something, passes it on, and on, and on. This is the universal beauty in doing for others as you would like done for you, a common refrain in most if not all religions.
This is Malaysia’s people power. One harnessed for peace and prosperity without inciting an uprising through any physically violent means.
This is the sophisticated civilisation I wish for my homeland. I have the conviction it will come true.