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Excerpt from “That war on knowledge: Power, privilege, and education – Part I”

December 20, 2012

First published in Sideviews of The Malaysian Insider on Dec 20

Understanding. Reflection. Humility. Wriggling out of one’s own skin.

For a country half a decade old, we have very little of those qualities. We shout and scream about the injustices and immorality of others, while remaining unaware of how we are complicit in our own prejudices and bigotry.

We rail against neo-imperialism and neo-colonialism, while remaining impervious to how the very set-up of our nation-state, especially our social and economic policies, and daily lifestyle choices, are enabling factors for such ideologies.

For a small nation with policies and social-reengineering plans rolling out year after year in the hope of elevating ourselves into the society of the First World, we create the illusion that we are heading somewhere with the construction of ever-shining new physical artefacts, proud that we are recognised for our famed twin towers, shopping Mecca, investment friendliness, and multiculturalism.

After all, it does not require too much of a mental shift, or deeper revolution, to invest millions in advertisement campaigns touting the brand of “Malaysia, truly Asia,” or having corporate videos to publicise to the world (and our own citizens abroad) about what a wonderful place Kuala Lumpur is, especially if you belong to a certain class of people practising specific professions or are involved in particular businesses.

For all the decades of planning, beginning with the NEP in the 1970s, all with the hope of creating that middle layer of the bourgeoisie in order to transform our society into one of a modern economic class system in place of feudalism.

Instead, we ended up with a strange juxtaposition of a new class system created through the mini-industrial revolutions of the 1970s and 1980s with that of a feudal system left intact, our nine kings taking their turns to become the next alpha Monarch. However, the zebra does not change its stripes, or the leopard its spots; they merely put on branded new clothes to go with the times.

Moving from feudal privilege to bourgeoisie privilege, those of the pre-independence aristocracy merely re-branded to become active and privileged capital players in the new economy, with a head start.

There was once a plan, a plan to create social mobility and access for all. But as many economists would tell you, and it does not bear me repeating again, the social and economic gap has widened considerably (a Google search will bring you to speed on all the articles arguing from different ends of the spectrum on this issue).

Now, an additional chasm is included, and this, even in the gilded age of the Internet, is the informational, educational and knowledge gap. The reason this is so is because, even with Malaysia’s attempt at having good informational infrastructural capability, the way in which the information is disseminated has enabled those with greater “insider knowledge,” or the funds to access those knowledge, to hit the ground running.

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