Will Singapore and Malaysia go to war in the name of chili crab? – A study in gastronomical intrigues
September 18, 2009
(This essay is dedicated to Missy Dotty, the kind owner of this site – Happy Birthday, my butterfly – yours always Darkness of the brotherhood ) The mood is taunt and hyper tense…no I am talking about my daily travails on the MRT like how long can one stare at a pretty girl in a short skirt without coming across as a crazed suicide bomber….I am talking about something far more serious…yes, food wars. To be precise the principle of food sovereignty – it would be hilarious, if only it wasn’t taken so seriously – tell me is chilli crab Malaysian or Singaporean? What about laksa, is it ours or theirs? Are we going to the Hague?
So what’s really going on here? Well, let’s see it’s certainly not didacticism, not directly per se at least, neither does it seem to be entirely xenophobic polemics either though I dont doubt, it’s often dressed up as such. If anything it’s a riff on the equivalent scale of bottled air i.e nothing. But having said the food war is a big nothing doesn’t mean that it’s not worth jumping up and down for.
In fact food has always been a contentious subject. And one reason for that is because it’s always been more than just food and carries with it a whole spectrum of motifs, symbolisms and identity. That could well be the reason why at every WTO summit, it’s almost de riguer for anti-globalization militants to smash the windows of McDonalds and Starbucks – they’re often seen (real or imagined) as the icons of American capitalist hegemony.
It would seem what’s happening these days is a new phenomenon, but its really an ongoing melee that’s as old as the hills – even today the ubiquitous croissant is still frowned upon in the muslim world as many consider it a culinary barbed repartee; since its unique crescent shape symbolizes the defeat of the Ottomans at Vienna in 1683 – as the French would literally say when they munch on their fav staple, we had them (the muslim invaders) for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The Jews are no different; they dip their bread in salt to symbolize the beginning and end of the sab-bath; as salt has always been the symbol of the great perserver Hark-mathi-ter (that’s why your pay is called salary and not chili padi); it speaks of permanence and eternity - with the Jews, it speaks of Gods unchanging covenant with his chosen people – I will always love you like no other!
My point is when we speak about food; we aren’t just talking about food…….as it’s often steeped in tradition, history and heritage.
My personal experience of food wars goes all the way back to the period just before America invaded Iraq during a business trip; when a culinary fatwah was issued against “French fries” which was surreptitiously renamed “American” fries and even came with a mini sized star and stripes flag, presumably to warn diners if they ever dared to order French fries, then they’re likely to be served a tablespoon of rat poison to go with it – it was ridiculous but understandable considering how so many ordinary Americans considered the French denouncation of the Iraqi invasion a downright love America spoiler.
But this isn’t just a celluloid version of pulp fiction with lashings of French dressing and a side dish of chutney, it’s very real and it carries with it serious undertones about nationhood, identity, heritage etc – which is increasingly politicized and even seen as something worth protecting at every cost and opportunity – the whole idea may have something to do with how so many people through out the world succumb to the charms of a bygone age when food was really a mirror of their cultural heritage. Sounds valedictory, but nonetheless it doesn’t discount the fact many may even identify themselves with food to such an extent, it may even be the only way of linking us to our ancestors, binding us together and thereby giving us all a sense of belonging – that’s why it’s so important.
Only to me I can’t but help feel, it’s like two ticks arguing who owns the dog. As these days the whole idea of food is increasingly so open minded that it’s brains are even spilling out – don’t believe me; when was the last time you held a tomato the size of a football in a hypermarket? How did it get so big? I rest my case.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the whole idea of getting more for less with the aid of bio-science – only it would make me immeasurably happier if the genetically modified food movement didn’t read like some Sci-Fi Mangellian horror story – where different genes ranging from hardy cannabis weed to the DNA of tadpoles are all good to go in the name of mass producing food of mass destruction – cross broccoli with strawberries and you get crunchy purple broccoli that taste a lot like high end Brussel sprouts. Cross a chicken with a tadpole and you get poultry with only the cuts you like to eat: legs that run forever, big breast and no brains (not a bad commercial idea for selling an extreme make over to the fairer sex in Singapore) – cross a gorilla with a mango and what do you get? Well, whatever it is, I’ve probably wouldn’t stand around and argue with it – you get my drift nothing these days is kosher any longer. Prognosis: the age of real food has gone the way of silicone tits, fake eyelashes and veneer porcelian implants - it died a long time ago, all we really have is one big rojak minus the geylang serai dead rat.
To add fuel to the already impassionate food wars; we also need to square off the food accounts with that other Slobodan Milosevic cum Adolf Hitler of the culinary world. Yes, fusion food which just happens to be equivalent of the assasin creed to everything that was once original, pure and unalloyed– here the mantra is everything is good to go, no such thing East or West here. Everything just goes into one big United Nations wok where the whole world is mixed in a heady mix of condiments and given a good stir and voila you have something that is completely inedible – that probably also causes you cancer of the wallet.
Food I am reminded is hardly food – Recently LKY even took a swipe at the golden arches, where we warned Obama & Co about how the world is increasingly associating the American persona with the evils of artery clogging inducing hamburgers and whole idea of chain stores that paradoxically strip national identity like paint stripper.
Yes, it’s all terribly confusing – how something that is so innocuous, benign and everyday can even find itself suddenly embroiled in power & politics. And that’s really the cue for me to take a break as all this talk about food is really making me very hungry. But before I adjourn for chow: who will prevail? Will our Laksa be invaded by the Malaysian version? What about our Lontong’s can they hold out against the peanut brigade of the Javanese…..who knows, nonetheless one thing is for certain; things are likely to get hotter and spicier with the stirring and if there’s going to be any resolution to the makansutra impasse, expect it not to settled in either Singapore or Malaysia, but rather a distant faraway land called Absurdistan.
The Brotherhood Press 2009 – this tribute has been posted in SLF 1 to 7 (our new gaming portal based in Malaysia) / Phi Beta Kappa / Ikiran / The Strangelands / Just Stuff.
This is something that I’ve been toying with for a new book…….maybe……..perhaps…only a few problems here; don’t really like the set pieces; the characters seem card boardish; plot seems a tad petulant and self-indulgent. To cap it off, everyone is either dying or trying to end their life – apart from that, I think it’s a great template for a block buster – Darkness 2009
September 14, 2009
Did you miss out on this? Will Singapore and Malaysia go to war in the name of chili crab? – A study in gastronomical intrigues September 18, 2009
The “war” between bloggers and mainstreamers is notable for the amount of civil disobedience on both sides. But even this pales in comparisons with wars between bloggers and bloggers.
Who is Singanews? What is their agenda? Do they have a right to project into blogosphere? You know what? To me those questions only really make sense if you believe in some claptrap about what constitutes acceptable blogging – that’s a bit like talking about spitting cobra’s in Scotland – the thing doesn’t exist!
That’s one reason why I am choosing to sit this one out. Whether out of a live-and-let-live philosophy, or a heartfelt indifference to the question is something that I shall leave for a future date – I am not even going to broach those issues; not yet, at least.
My reason for deferring judgment is very simple; no Da Vinci code to it. I haven’t seen what Singanews has to offer yet; as far as I am concerned that’s the long and short of it – let me share one thing with all of you; you don’t need 10 bullet points to bring down an elephant; you just need one decent shot right between the eyes and there you have it. kaboom! The rest is mere commentary.
If you’ve already made up your mind about Singanews; then you’re either a complete idiot or a reincarnation of Nostradamus. Because I cannot possibly see how you can even draw a definitive conclusion about a thing in the absence of information – that’s not how intelligent folk go about the business of appraising stuff – they go with the flow and if it rubs the wrong way; they step aside and watch it go over a cliff – but they never ever form judgments before they’ve chewed on the cake. Never!
The way I see it; any social initiative has a right to project online providing they aren’t in the business of spreading hate, disharmony and discord; matters little to me whether it’s political, technological, religious or even the lunatic fringe; providing they’re not playing with matches or fabricating nuclear weapons in some garden shed – they all have the right to decent starting blocks and the benefit of good light.
You chew on that! Because I am dishing out wisdom here; the stakes are higher than you think! – as the danger of narrowing our focus on what constitutes acceptable blogging is it’s bound to drive out the thinking quotient in the internet in the long run – and that’s really the mother of wrong turns; as that’s the cue for someone to come around and tell you what is good and bad, right and wrong etc – next thing you know, you’re putting up your hands for urination breaks – so one day if you end up fat, lonely, poor and find yourself having to snuggle up to a Taiwanese silicone sex doll because no one wants to fuck you - you have no one to blame, but yourself – because you never ever once bothered to use your brain; you never ever once insisted on the right to work it through by saying, “shut the fuck up and let me work it through at my own time and space…I’ve get back to you in good time”; you just surrendered your most precious asset; your right to think to some gay galdaff (whose only claim to fame incidentally, is to blog for ten years and show us all how, it’s possible to still end up in square one and still prove there is such a thing called perpetual motion) or some supremo legend-in-my-own-mind site called theonlinecitizen who told you all to jump up and down like a jack rabbit and off you go like a buy one, get one free wind up mouse! – you deserve your miserable lot as you just bought lock, stock and barrel into the seven habits of highly ineffective folk – the way I see it, you deserve to run out of petrol, keel over and die! I ain’t even going to move one millimeter to save you as you may after all be doing the human race a favor!
Call it tough love, but that’s the low down – it doesn’t get better than that; if this isn’t a nice message; you roll with it as best you can. I’ve make it up to you and be nice to you in my next post. But as it stands; this is as good as it gets; you better get with it! Wisdom that is.
September 11, 2009
All gamers please be informed. A new space station bearing the Free Neutral Royal Persian flag will be comissioned @ sector 850.390.771 @ Primus time: 09587301 to coordinate the growing space traffic and interplanetary com-sat in this new space trade route - this new space station is our latest Dimitri class platform with geo-orbital capabilities - over 300 Dimitri class space stations currently serve throughout the known universe with unparalleled success and reliability.
We will be naming this exceptional gift the KDD Tamally Maak; our hope is it will bring peace, prosperity and ever lasting friendship throughout the known universe.
A complete lock down of the network will be enabled at 13-09-09 @ 1630 GMT (Primus time: 0956391) / all channels from Single line feed (SLF’s) No.1 to No.7 will stand down for a period of 30 minutes when the space station is comissioned - please do not be alarmed; gamers in this sector are likely to experience possible lost of com-sat, this is normal - we bear letters directly from her royal highness Princess Sorhyana of the Imperial Persian court and throughout the comissioning of this space station. As always we come in the name of Peace, we will also be flying the flags of the free legation – please help us to circulate this message to all known channels. We are also requesting for volunteers who are proficient in written Arabic; some of us know how to speak it, but very few us can write well; please report to bay 7 in Project Entropia @ 12-09-09 / 1300 hr GMT - KOHO.
Did you miss out on this? Get it here! The Words We Regularly Use To Say Nothing Is Something – A Study in the travesty of reason
It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it just hits the spot – no I am not talking about my Friday night binges with the local Bangla’s troupe in the void deck. I am referring to the deeply satisfying experience of watching a well crafted sci-fi film that goes beyond your average two in one; let-me waste-your-time-and-insult-your-intelligence flick.
The story is set in Johannesburg South Africa, the first thing that comes thick in the first half of the movie is the narrative has a reality based documentary feel about it.
The plot goes like this: 25 years ago an alien spaceship roughly the size of Sengkang suddenly appears over a city.
When men with no necks armed with assault rifles decide to check the distressed alien ship, they discover loads of aliens who are basically the equivalent of starving Ethiopians; the long and short is we are told the aliens took a wrong turn and can never return back home so we humans dump in a refugee camp called District 9.
What fascinates me about this movie was how the script turns many of our assumptions about alien movies upside down – in District 9, the aliens aren’t depicted as the take me to your leader master of the universe typecast – they come across as inter-galactic karung guni dispossessed nohopers all rolled up into one flea bag – no alien power there.
In the sardonic words of their human overseers: “they’re nothing more than prawns” – your gold fish probably has more rights than them. As they’re subjected to all sorts of inhuman treatment (now you know why inalienable rights count for squat), everyone it seems to want a piece of them.
Arms manufacturers go ga-ga over alien weapons technology. Electronic chip makers are enamored by their cybernetics based control systems. Politicians use the alien as a way of sowing discord to get their grubby hands on the levers of power. Businessmen see the settlement of aliens very much in the way prison services these days are outsourced to private firms – even your friendly Nigerian scam artist who used to trawl the internet are doing brisk business with aliens peddling expired cat food for alien trinkets.
The long and short of it is everyone wants a piece of the alien action. The story in the first half basically unfolds at roughly the speed of a motorized wheel chair – the main protagonist is a company man who goes by the name of Wikus – he’s basically the equivalent of your friendly HDB officer, dengue inspector and local PAP kommissar who keeps knocking on your door because his job is to remind you doors are made to be knocked on.
One day Wikus stumbles on the equivalent of an alien A*Star bio tech experiment – he accidentally maces himself and his DNA goes all wonky and he becomes one of the hunted prawns.
And this is really the point when the plot begins to take off in earnest – as not only do we see a dramatic change in the supremely indifferent Wikus who till then basically considered all aliens as chattels, but we even get to see a sort of metamorphosis going on where Wikus even ends up identifying with the plight of the aliens he once terrified.
When that happens, a shift occurs; not a big one, but enough to remind us how we humans may not be so different from even aliens.
District 9 is really the quintessential tabula rasa – just as some people may consider Michelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine chapel as nothing more than a colorful comic; others may see it in even profound terms and regard it even as a tour de force of the human creative spirit.
For me what you make of a film is really what you choose to add to it and never what you may take from it – District 9 is one of those movies that borders on the noir; there is loads of room for improvisation and whatever you decide to take from the power to trouble.
As the set pieces that make up the human versus alien conflict can just as well be replaced by how we typically see ourselves in relation to society at large – here I am referring to our beliefs and values which differentiate us from those who may not have the same mindscape – it could well be how we choose to regard those who hold different religious beliefs or even something as trite as many of our assumptions about Bangladeshi expatriates or the seemingly ubiquitous house maid – stretch it further and you could perhaps even juxtapose it to draw out a whole lot of disturbing metaphors, motifs and montages: the foreign talents versus home grown debate, Singaporean Malays and Malaysian Malays, us versus them, internet versus officialdom. The set pieces may be different, but they all belong to the same stripe and would undoubtedly find themselves right at home in the human versus alien genre – You think, you have a God given right to take away my rights in the name of X,Y and Z? District 9 punctuates that belief with a disturbing coda: You better think again! Lest you find yourself getting fucked when it all comes full circle The list of comparatives are really only limited by ones imagination – only lets be perfectly clear about what the plot is really all about from start to end: it’s an engagement in one of man’s oldest hobbies in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness at the expense of others.
A recurrent theme plays out in District 9; one that bears striking resemblance to the theme Joseph Conrad wrote about in “the heart of darkness.” Where he mentioned, in the age of empire how it is well known that curious men go prying into all sorts of places and come out of them with all sorts of spoils.
As we watch the horror unfolding before Wikus eyes as he tries to slalom safely through the labyrinth of business, politics and power – one is left with the indelible belief what Conrad once shared remains true even to this day and I suspect the future: he warns us not only of the evils of false pride, but also of the spoils that will come back and bite us if we fail to square off the accounts with humanity; along with how crumbly our whole notion of “civilization” and “superiority” really is. As when we boil even the best argument down to crud, the real justification that empowers one person to disrespect another is simply predicated on one timeless piece of desiccated cow dung.
“The conquest of the earth, which most means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter nose than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”
No District 9 is definitely not “war and peace.” But it’s not an irreverent goody good versus evil take, like “Star Wars” either – it’s definitely none of these things – the only unifying force I would claim for it’s place in the Sci-Fi flick hall of fame is it’s remarkably true to itself even in the classical tradition of story telling; it’s doesn’t try too hard; it even lacks the essential quality of keenness – like that other book that takes one down a narrow sliver of water somewhere in Congo called the heart of Darkness; all it really does is allow us to discover the limits of what it means to remain gainfully human, for that reason alone – District 9 abides.
Darkness 2009 – The brotherhood press 2009 / This essay has been published in SLF 1 to 7 / Ekunaba / Phi Beta Kappa / Just Stuff / Strangelanders / Ikaran.
September 7, 2009
Get the latest Sci-Fi Movie Review from the Brotherhood Why District 9 Teaches You About Humanity – A Study in the Power to Disturb
I am writing this on the train – so let’s dive straight into the deep end. Agree or disagree? The English language could do with a spot of spring cleaning, where it may even benefit from doing away with certain phrases that have become so confusing and denuded with multiple meanings – as some words can no longer convey meaning coherently without confusing all of us.
What you say to that? One more time please. Agree or not? What are we talking about exactly?
Well to be precise, its double speak, that pelt rack where words basically get stretch till they die only to be reincarnated into something that is closer to the living dead – George Orwell once wrote about it his narcomantic novel 1984, where along with apocalyptic warnings about pineapple eyed machines that are no larger than houseflies scurrying around spying on every word and deeds; he mentioned how if we continue to remain bovine about how words are used: eventually language will become so encrusted with hidden meanings their real meaning can only fritter away – or, worse, they get dragooned only to be “rehashed to make lies sound truthful to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. He advised: “If one gets rid of these bad habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards rebirth.”
I’m talking about the general clichés that are bandied around with impunity that we may already be marinating in for so long that we may not even be conscious of this corrosive process of chelating, leaching or scouring – unless we really take the effort to say to ourselves, “Hey! What does this mean?” – I am talking about phrases that you and I come across on a daily basis – phrases posing as objective descriptions of events and how they may even have a hidden agenda that subconsciously shape the way we regularly make sense of our world.
An obvious example is the phrase “nation building” – sounds benign enough – after all who could possibly deny every nation needs to be shored up with the odd beam and pillar – only as far as euphemism go who would have ever imagined what it actually means is a card blanche to gut out real narratives for doggy bites for the sole purpose of keeping the status quo ante – where I suspect the operating logic takes it cue from bikini management 101; the vital parts have to be always covered up; as for the rest, its really what we all expect to see.
Another phrase is “strategic,” that’s basically the quintessential crowbar to circumvent any need for “accountability” and “transparency.” Like a magic incantation once something is stamped with the word, “strategic”; what invariably happens is it disappears into a black hole and we are all left making teeth sucking sounds wondering what’s going to happen next – usually nothing happens and we all pack our bags and go back home. To paraphrase: for “strategic” reasons we have every right to give you the mushroom treatment – keep you in the dark and feed you shit. You can’t complain, because its “strategic.” The classical circular argument.
Even the seemingly plain and straightforward isn’t spared from run around treatment – take the case of “equality?” What does it actually mean, well as I recently discovered, it belongs to the same league as unicorns, leprechauns and tooth fairies – and since mother nature remains supremely indifferent to the whole idea of equality, then it doesn’t really exist except perhaps when it comes to premature aging, hair loss and bad teeth. The long and short of it is there is no such thing as equality, don’t get worked up, take a stress pill it’s all in your mind; a figment of your imagination.
What about the much bandied around term “constructive engagement?” What does that really mean? Surely even that phrase hasn’t been given the spring cleaning treatment? Au Contraire, as we can see it can mean anything from condoning genocide to even naming Orchids after Burmese mass murderers and from what little I have been able to gather from the “new improved” P-65 blog (I much prefer those talking heads reminds me of my hunting trophies that hangs in my toilet), even such a benign phrase is capable of evoking sinister images – as what it really means is, if you cant accept what I have say, then you are either immature, unconstructive or some bent on a spot of mayhem. Prognosis: What I have to say is important; what you have to say counts for squat. You need to grow a brain. It’s not my fault if you can’t see my logic; you are the problem, not the solution. Do come back and try again.
My point this afternoon is to emphasize how real meaning can suddenly run away from a word or phrase and replaced by something completely different to reframe our cognitive blue print that we may not even be aware of it: my personal favorite is “life time employment.” Again it evokes that all familiar balm of cosy insiderism where we may perhaps conjure up chicken soup images of stress free senior citizens ambling along to turn the wheel of life in their golden years; only if you really want to catch the latest horror flick of glorious life of battery chicken starring Ah Kong and Ah Mah – do check it out in your nearest golden arches and just watch for yourself how demeaning “life time employment” can actually be when the elderly have to work in conditions designed by time and motion experts.
What about “streaming.” – sounds like some exotic urination technique to avoid prostate complications right – who really feels moved when they hear it? – No one but what we are in fact talking about is good olde fashion zoo keeping – where someone tags and proceeds to pigeon holes some poor sod and issues them a laminated card with the words, “from today onwards, this is your lot, don’t turn left or right, just keep to the road and try to make the best of it.” Never mind that they could be late bloomers like Albert Einstein; never mind that both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates suffered from averagely abysmal academic careers – I am sure all these are just minor kinks in the greater scheme of things – in short, it’s all grist to the mill.
The one phrase that riles me no end has to be “out of context.” This one really takes the cake as the five chili mother of nothingness. I swear, if I should hear it one more time, I will promptly puke up on my cat. Usually it’s framed along the lines of sobriety – “you have taken my words out of context.” I would allow this phrase the benefit of good light if only it wasn’t used and abused so often as some get-out-of-jail free card on the cheap for anybody who is caught back pedaling on what they once said, wrote or did. As we all witnessed recently in the curious case of Sadavisan when he was inexplicably seized by some morbid fear to grab for dear life in the name of “self preservation” and pull a write up from the theonlinecitizen.
Yes, I agree sometimes, a quote can be taken out of context, only my point is if you are to lay claim to such defense, the onus should be on you to furnish the original context and explain why the quote couldn’t possibly apply. Instead, what invariably happens is the default, where the person invoking “out of context” imputes that everyone accusing him for trying to pull off the caper of the century is a contender for the Nostradamus ESP of the year prize – to be perfectly honest with all of you; no phrase has ever harried me to the point of terminal dejection – I even once had a pretty girl in a short dainty skirt SMS me, “care to check out my box tonight? I’ve make it worth your while” Only to be told latter when I appeared in her flat with a bottle of buy one get one free wine that what she really meant was I should help her wire up her xbox – and when I accused her of misleading me, she said, “you took my words out of context” and that was the cue for her brothers with no necks to put my body “out of context” – after that I spent two weeks “out of context” from my self, as I lost all sensation of my lower jaw; as for that femme fatale she eventually became so “out of context” from my idea of what a level headed girl should be, I just ejected her “out of context” from my mind and relegated her stripe of level headedness to a far more pragmatic purpose (that by the way is another grand nonsense of a word – pragmatic – that has lost all it’s meaning like reusable teabags) good for putting tiger and peanuts on whenever I watched football on telly – out of context my foot lah! Go and die lah!
There you have it, the sum of all my trails and tribulations with words, vocabulary and phrases that get defaced just as a coin loses it’s engraving after it has been in circulation for too long – there are many more mouthfuls of diatribe I could offer along with battleships of stories of how they have been either erased and denuded of their true meaning; that do very little to further our understanding – the politics of envy – responsible blogging – constructive criticism – the list is endless, but really, its too depressing.
If only they can all learn to call a spade a spade – if only they can all say, we don’t want you to know because if you know how badly we all fucked up then we all look terribly silly – if only, they could just say what they really mean and be true to themselves and others; then perhaps we can begin to sit down, talk and find a country within a country by the name of common ground.
Darkness 2009 – The Brotherhood Press 2009
Kick back and relax. This is as smooth as amber on slope. The way I see it, when the shit piles up real high, there is no better way to deal with than to sit it out somewhere down wind as it goes right by. No need to fight it – no need to even make things right – no need!
Just let nature run it’s course. Everything is cool – somethings in life, you make it happen – somethings, you just have to allow it to happen – I reckon when it comes to this sort of stuff, it has to be the latter.
I never ever sweat the small stuff!
September 1, 2009
Good. Now that the dust has finally settled, lets dive into the juicy bits of the Lee vs Sadasivan saga – tell me, was Sadasivan woefully idealistic when he suggested revisiting of the tenets in our National Pledge as a prescriptive cure for the “lamentable” signs of our times? Did Lee senior overact when he dismissed Sadasivan’s speech as a soufflé that cannot be meaningfully weaved into policy-making machinery to yield anything of value?
One clue to unravel this delightful mystery may lie in why Lee senior labeled Sadasivan’s speech as “dangerous.” Seems odd to me, don’t you think so – mmmmmh….as “dangerous” is a term that’s closer to the stuff that I regularly do these days on the train – like how long can one stare at a pretty girl without coming across as a crazed suicide bomber?
Let’s dive in. The long and short of why what was recently served up in Parliament was none other than puffer fish may have something to do with the relationship between history and power. A seemingly compelling argument goes as follows. History if you didn’t know it has always played a preponderant role in shaping collective consciousness – the adage coined by William Lund underscores the importance of history on society.
“We study the past to understand the present; we understand the present to guide the future.”
To put it crudely: if you want to control the present and future, then you need to make sure you have the past (history) in your back pocket – here the assumption is it’s not nearly enough to be just part of history; one needs to be able to be able to make it – do that and what you do is set the house rules and we all know the house always wins.
Now you understand the role of history and how it features so prominently in shaping the present – if you need further confirmation on why history is so crucial in the scheme of power & politics; then just look at what happens when history takes a wrong turn – take for example, the US misadventure in Iraq – how true is when Bush junior proclaimed to the UN general assembly circa Feb 2003 that all men aspire towards freedom?
Indeed no one denies that’s palpably true, only had Mr plank head Bush hit the history books instead of just running with the Simple Simon CIA factbook account on Iraq – what he and his motley crew would have realized Iraq is a country in which ethnicity plays a crucial role in politics and had he drilled deeper, he would have certainly realized the stripe of freedom coveted by the average Iraqi has very little to do with the American or EU variant and everything to do with the sum of all the fears of every US planner, as it’s closer to self styled Shiite Iranian theocracy. Prognosis: Bush & Co fucked up big time.
You could just as well use this template of how history takes a wrong turn to explain everything from why despite nearly 5 decades of unrelenting efforts to promote the Malays through the National Economic Policy, the BN has repeatedly failed to realize even a fraction of their goals in distributing wealth. And perhaps even why Adolf Hitler’s invasion of the USSR in the 1940’s was doomed from the word go – here, the operating logic seems to be: get your history wrong and you’re in deep shit; get it right and you come out the other side smelling of roses.
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
This could account for why history or rather historical fidelity i.e keeping to the historical accounts has always been contentious and emotive- today, it’s even de riguer for society to publicly repudiate historical appropriation – I felt this acutely, when the old red brick Library was torn down and replaced by another glass and steel structure that exuded all the charms of a Soviet warehouse – somewhere deep down in my psyche a collie was yelping, ” No! This should not be allowed to happen…they’re scrubing out my history” That same sensation of loss if you juxtapose it on the broader canvas of life may account for why Chinese and Korean diplomats regularly protest every September when the Japanese historical instute rolls out a new edition of history books – it could also explain why when the Pendet dance was featured recently in a visit Malaysia ad, so many Indonesians felt aggrieved. The objection appears to be a genuine collective concern - history should be kept unadulterated, to paraphrase, no one has a right to appropriate anothers history – it’s dangerous – as it belongs to us, not you!
To me, the crux of the problem isn’t so much the learning part as Santayana lamented, rather a large chunk of the problem has to do with really dumb people who believe they have a God given right to surreptitiously embellish, bent and confect facts in order to justify a set of actions which would otherwise have been impossible to pull off, that to me is the real problem– again it matters little whether what that ideal happens to be, could well be something trivial like the history of your averagely miserable childhood spent on some padang that is now another food court – or even something jugular like imperialism, land grabs, unmitigated censorship or even the non productive stance taken by Tan Tarn How on how and why online credibility can only be attained by stepping out from the anonymous tag – neither does it require extraordinary métier to accomplish this perceptive shift either; all that is required is to promote the ideal into the upper reaches of mythology, once it’s up there, the whole idea takes it’s cue from the tao of the Jumbo jet where it just cruises along happily with minimum resistance as it begins to acquires the appellation of the sacred. As I said, it matters little what the ideal is – it could well be leveraging on something frivolous like a dream Idi Amin once had that justified the mass expulsion of Asians from Uganda – to the rants of Nazi’s who once coined the term lebensraum to justify land grabs and beach head landings or even something as venerated as our pledge.
That has to be “dangerous.” As once the set pieces that make up history are successfully coupled with mythology, the truth as we know it can only only be expected to peel off from what once transpired and die – and since the sacred cannot be defiled, then its futile to insist that it should be testable or scrupolously keep to the truth. Since bias is very point of mythmaking the tenets and raison that makes up this fairytale has to be closer to a fait accompli than something that emerged from a reasoned and exhaustive discourse. (if you’re wondering why this sounds like a circular argument that the Bush administration once used to sell recreation caravans as mobile weapons lab; wonder no more, as that’s what happens when fact acquires a sacred status; they have the power to silence the contrarian view faster than an elephant gun)
The question, is do we really want that corrosive type (correction, allow me to paraphrase) of political narrative that’s closer to mythology than fact? How wise can it be to fuse the whole idea of the good life with the whole idea of the pledge? Does that bracket or extend the field of discussion? Does it open or narrow the social narrative? Can we even afford it? How do we even begin to square off the accounts between fact and myth when all kinds of stuff which have nothing to do with each other are stacked up to form an argument? How might that proposition even serve the imperative of driving out the bad to produce the good?
I really have no idea – what I do know is in the context of the question posed: how wise is it to couple the whole idea of the good life with something as mythical as the pledge is the issue raised have to be very close to the classical hubris that has always vexed every society – clarity.
Here I don’t doubt for one moment, the human condition may even militate against our sense and sensibilities by buying hook, line and sinker into the claptrap by somehow invoking the magical properties in our pledge, we can somehow make right all the ills of our times. Tragic realism even suggest the whole idea of marinating ourselves in endless spandrels of truths may even slake our yearning (real or imagined, though the latter is likely the case) to return to some by gone age of innocence – when everything was once white, cotton wooly and happiest – the paradox of our age is as we progress; many of us may actually find reality less appealing. That could account for why so many people these days seem to be turning their backs on reality – but just because something is striven for doesn’t necessary make it real or even worthy – it just means we are jumping from one hot pot to another.
If you’re in doubt, as to how powerful an astringent the combination of myth and history can be – then just visit the Louvre in Paris and try to figure out how well-to-do and moderately educated Americans frequently complain how despite their countless attempts; they cant seem to find Mrs Jesus resting place – that’s should serve to underscore why it doesn’t pay for anyone to confect their spandrels of truths by piggy bagging on historical facts! It leads us astray – we end up in the hall of mirrors.
My feel is doesn’t pay for us to harbor false hope and it pays even less to put the likes of Sadanvisan on the pedestal – if we do that, we’re just setting ourselves up for a fall and as for soufflés, no one denies they bring comfort and joy along with tooth decay to the masses; only lets be perfectly realistic they dont have the power to effect real and meaningful change by themselves – real change can never be had on the cheapy cheap – if history teaches us anything that can only come from reasoned, exhaustive and factual discourse - there are no short cuts.
Tragic realism only serves to confirm homily sugary narratives that hold out the promise of solving all the ills of our society in one swipe don’t exist except in the realm of the fantasy– again, it matters little whether the solution is to be found in religion, the directors cut of the latest Korean love serial, or even something as venerated as our pledge – as much as we wish to delude ourselves real progress is to be found in sweet rhetoric, metaphors, images and motifs they cant for one moment be a substitute for reasoned discourse predicated on hard nosed fact approach. The low down is it cannot – my feel is a good start point may to render clear and unambigious the line between history and myth. As for the pledge, it should remain the pledge; no one should be allowed to gloss over it or use it as a basis for effecting change.
If change should come, then it should be able to stand on the merit of its two feet; it should be testable, reasoned, open to inquiry and above all spandrel free so that anyone can give it a decent punch and kick without having to hold back and feel guilty that they may be taking on something that is venerated or holy – IMHO that’s the only way to reliably produce the good life, anything short of that has to be as the Americans say just history.
Here one may very easily draw the straight line conclusion; Lee senior won the fight hands down; from where I am standing no doubt about it; only let’s be clear, it’s hardly the clean classical one thrust kill that I would have much preferred – this one is messy as it raises a host of disturbing questions that even threatens to undermine Lee seniors authority and argument and there in the seemingly benign and safe, lies the powder, ball and flint that awaits the explosion – that unfortunately, we shall leave for part 2.