#BukanBodoh: What the Malaysian middle-class needs to understand about the poor

FEBRUARY 8 — It astounds me that some people, particularly middle-class Malaysians, have this notion that caring about international affairs will somehow keep you from caring about domestic matters.

In this, Malaysians have a lot in common with people against the resettlement of refugees in their home countries.

The arguments generally go thus:

“We have so many poor people here, why doesn't the government look after them instead of refugees!”

“We have our own problems, let the richer countries handle it!”

“Refugees will just bring crime and terrorism!”

It's not just refugees that our middle-class seem to have a problem with. There are days I think we should feel blessed that Malaysians are generally lazy pacifists, because otherwise I'm pretty sure TTDI, Bangsar and Damansara Heights would be on fire and there would be heads on spikes.

The disconnect between the monied classes (I'm putting the middle-class and rich in the same basket here) and the poor is troubling.

It is disturbing that so many middle-class people I meet generally like blaming the poor for their conditions and for keeping BN in power.

“I don't feel sorry for the poor, it's their fault they voted for BN,” said one middle-class Malaysian and do not get me started on the people who complain about “those people” who have too many children.

There are times when I wonder that if the world was thrown into disarray tomorrow, the middle-class would suggest sterilising poor people; you know, just so they don't breed and burden our welfare system.

Malaysia is complicated. To understand why a certain segment of society makes decisions the way it does, we have to take into account culture, history and social conditioning.

The Malay heartland, especially, is a mystery to certain middle-class and rich non-Malays who, with the sophisticated reasoning of Teletubbies, prefer to just label rural Malays as stupid, ignorant and lazy.

I'd really like to tie these people to chairs while I go through a long, droning Power Point presentation where I go through slides about social conditioning, the effects of feudalism and how the British were a little too successful when it came to their “divide and conquer” policy.

Then you have MCA politicians who justify the GST by saying that, oh look, now those poor Malays will be paying taxes too and not just us, the people who actually work hard.

I've even had someone tell me that there should be special government queues for those who pay taxes so they can be served first.

To these people: how would you fare without these people who wash your cars, plant your rice, serve you at restaurants and make your expensive phones? And you dare begrudge them your tax money? You dare pretend you are better than them when, if a virus wiped out every single working class person in the world, you lot would probably starve.

Money is not an indicator of character; riches is not a barometer of a person's worth. When there is systematic inequality and suffering, everyone should be concerned. As the Scandinavian countries have shown, giving everyone access to opportunities such as housing and education, benefits society as a whole.

Yet rich people in more capitalist-leaning countries such as the US, and yes, Malaysia, think it's oppressing rich people when they have to pay more taxes meaning that instead of buying five Lamborghinis a year they can “only” buy two.

This inward-looking approach to social issues, concentrating only on issues inside your own borders is ridiculous. If, for instance, the international community had tried to resolve the Syrian war years ago, there wouldn't be so many Syrian refugees now.

Malaysians have to start asking “why” and “what” instead of just looking for the “who” when it comes to addressing issues. And calling people who do not support your causes or political stances “stupid” does not win them over to your side.

In the meantime, perhaps the monied class needs to spend less time complaining about coffees and condos and start understanding how and why the other side lives. If you complain people do not understand you or your leanings, perhaps the problem is that you did not first seek to understand them.

I'll just be over here, reading Marx and plotting the downfall of the bourgeoisie by poisoning their coffee.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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