SEPT 27 — Malaysian politicians are unique beings. It is difficult to find this breed in other democracies. The public statements made are remarkable, not for its wit but for its reeking arrogance. In most democracies, it is a norm for public figures to conceal their arrogance under a facade of conviviality. But in Malaysia, the arrogance of our politicians is ostensible.
Take for example what Nazri Aziz said when questioned about his son’s position at his Ministry. Along with saying that his son wasn’t under the government’s payroll, his riposte was that his critics were stupid. This is no different from Zahid Hamidi who suggested that Malaysians who are disillusioned with the political system should leave the country.
Moral superiority is displayed by these ministers who belittle their critics.
We’re also familiar with those in power who summarily dismisses the reasonable complains of the public by giving us ridiculous advice. Let’s not forget the people who said “If the price of ______ (fill in the blanks with chicken, property, vegetables etc) is too expensive, don’t buy it”.
These statements smack of arrogance as it shows that those in power do not intend to delve into the problems of average people like you and me. Dismissing them is a lot easier than trying to justify and address the problems. It gives them a bit of spotlight as well.
An arrogant attitude is unbecoming of members of a civilian government.
But why are they arrogant?
Arrogance has many permutations and nuances. These forms of arrogance are a lived reality – affecting our everyday lives.
In the Romantic philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s polemical The Social Contract, he wrote that the people of England are only free during election time. When MPs are elected, slavery overtakes society.
What he meant was that politicians would be servile only during election time, promising the moon and stars to garner votes. But as soon as their position is secured, they won’t give a damn about us common folk.
While this may be true with most politicians in Malaysia, there are some who deem themselves as masters even before winning the elections.
One of them is the deputy high priest of Malay rights, Zulkifli Noordin, who was 101 per cent confident of securing the Parliamentary seat for Shah Alam. In a pre-election interview, he adamantly boasted to a reporter that he will absolutely win the elections. No hypothetical situations were allowed to be imagined. He was arrogant even before the elections.
He lost the elections, yet gained a whopping 38,000 votes.
Zul Noordin’s vanity is a form of arrogance which is due to him constructing and construing himself as an object of desire. For some reason, he zealously believed that he was wanted by others and as such, had the capacity to be arrogant. He is deluded about his self-worth and projected his sphere of influence far beyond reality.
This form of arrogance is common among the bourgeoisie as well. Just look at high flying financiers and footballers who ask for high wages and respect, believing that they are in high demand.
Shame is a concept that is common among the bourgeoisie where in their worldview, status and position in society is essential. For those who are in abject poverty, shame is present, but is not as accentuated as how it is among the bourgeoisie.
Shame is an inescapable torment for the bourgeoisie whenever they commit some transgression – this is especially true for our politicians who live under the scrutiny of the court of public opinion. They can’t get rid of it; it hangs above them like the sword of Damocles.
Even in feudal societies, shame is an integral element within the aristocracy. The nobility is expected to be chivalrous and honourable. In medieval Japan, the Samurai, a class above traders and farmers would commit seppuku if they committed a dishonourable act.
Such is the power of shame.
But in Malaysia, when blamed for incompetency, politicians disguise their feelings of shame by lashing out at others or try to appeal to some crass nationalism. They impose their authority by using their repository of power and influence. This ends up with a projection of arrogance. Arrogance is used to divert the shame that burns a gaping hole in their pride.
Instead of shame having power over the politician, the politician uses his power to control shame.
Another example would be those in the financial sector. During the 2008 financial meltdown, large banks in the States needed to be bailed out. The CEOs of big banks were blamed for the failures of the banks. Nevertheless, without any sense of honour, they demanded huge sums as golden parachutes for their services. They did so because they had power.
No contrition was expressed. Without a doubt these bankers must have felt ashamed of themselves. Yet, securing an opulent future was more important.
The omniscient government
In Malaysia, the mindset that the government knows best is still prevalent despite Najib Razak’s claims. This arrogant attitude has more to do with institutions than individuals – a sort of governmentality if you will. It stems from intellectual superiority, where the institution believes that it has the ability and technique to organise the masses, without needing to consult them.
The worst form of arrogance manifested itself with AUKU, where the government believed it was superior to students and entitled to impinge on student freedoms – by painting students as volatile and impressionable. Thankfully, that vile law has been scrapped.
However, the status quo of the government knowing best is still present. Take a look at the TPPA and the secrecy surrounding it. So many details are hidden from us and we are kept in the dark.
The lack of transparency and accountability only serves to confirm the enduring era of arrogant governance.
Zero tolerance on arrogance
Having explored the various types of arrogance that is pervasive in Malaysian society, the best course of action is to reprimand our leaders whenever arrogance rears its ugly head. Show your disapproval. Petition them. Respond. Resist the arrogance.
Never forget that they once and will always think that they are better than you – when in fact they are only just skilful in political manoeuvring.
We need to have a zero tolerance attitude towards arrogance. We are the masters of our country, and our politicians are our servants.
Put them in their rightful place.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.