Introduction: Contradictions in Society

This is an introduction to a new section of this blog which is called ‘Contradictions in Society’. This section will serve to clarify the points that I will make in the first part of my project entitled ‘Visions of an Alternative Society’. Just to remind readers: the first part is titled – ‘Why should there be an alternative society’. The first part is basically a series of justifications for the need of an alternative society. One of the points which I will eventually make is that: there are many contradictions in the present state of society.  

So what are the contradictions in society? Of course it will be difficult just to list them in one entry. There are so many contradictions in society. Some are obvious, while many require a bit more explanation. In this entry I will point out two examples. These examples are taken from folklore and from history. The two examples should be common knowledge to readers. 

Remember the fable about the swordfish and the Temasek (Singapore) island? [There are a number of versions of this story, but I will use this one]. So swarms of swordfish attack the island, many died and virtually no viable solution was found until one boy came out with a brilliant idea.  So the boy solved the problem. But what happened to the boy?

Another example is the loyalty of Hang Tuah to the Sultan even though he was previously sentenced to death by this Sultan. Why should Hang Tuah be loyal to the Sultan?  

In both stories, I think the initial message that was intended for the audience is that one must serve the society. So the boy served his society by suggesting an idea; whilst Hang Tuah serve his Sultan. However, the implicit message is that there is often a high cost. The boy was eventually killed. And Hang Tuah, in order to serve his Sultan eventually has to kill his best friend. This is one contradiction in society – How do you expect people to contribute to society if their contributions have to done at unnecessarily great costs? 

The second aspect of the stories has to do with the power structures within the society. This applies to both examples, but more so for the Hang Tuah story.  In some conversations with friends, I have used the Hang Tuah story to illustrate one the fundamental weakness of the old Malay sultanate: which is the absolutism of power held by one person or by a clique within the ruling elites. I was telling my friends that if Hang Tuah were visionary, he should have joined Hang Jebat and depose the absolute powers of the Sultan. (Hang Jebat did invite him to join forces). And perhaps if this incident were to happen, we may get some semblance of a Magna Carta, perhaps the first in the Malay Archipelago.  

Magna Carta is a document limiting the absolutism of the King in England. Some historian attributed this document as a crucial instrument in the development of democracy and the democratic institutions in that country. In fact, if I am not mistaken, some authors say that this document also helps England to move away from feudalism, albeit in a very slow manner.  Whatever it is, such developments do not happen in the Malay world; in fact the Malay world sank into a serious situation of underdevelopment and colonization (by more advanced European powers). One very obvious effect of colonization is the present boundaries of the country (for the peninsula), which was basically determined by the British-Dutch 1824 treaty and the British-Siam 1909 treaty. Also, until today the economic effects of years of colonization are still being felt. For one, many countries in this region lack the productive capacity to produce original products and services. In fact as a region we rely too much on foreign investments, to the point of unnecessarily begging foreign companies just to come and set shop. Well these companies do come and many of us work there to produce products (or parts of products) that are designed elsewhere. 

There are many more contradictions in society. So far I have dealt with the past. But what about the present? In this section, I will deal with them one by one, …of course….in a manner that suits my preferences.


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