The Day The House Came Down On A Souffle – Part 1
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.