Encoding cultural traits.
I know, my interpretation of the achievement-normed Malay will not go down well with many Malays. But then I have been known not to go with the flow most of the times. I am hoping my divergent view of the Malay will spark a lively debate as what constitutes the real Malay. How can a Malay find his place in
It is a fact, that in relation to the other races, the Malays in general lagged behind in many departments. Assuming we are in agreement with this general observation, we next proceed to identify the single most important set of factors that made the Malay as such. Where do we begin with our forensic exercise?
Culture. Other than his religion, the next important thing in life for the Malays is their culture. I am not referring here about those cultural manifestations such as singing, dancing, artistic expressions in life. I am most interested to view culture as the repository or the treasury of ingrained habits and values. In particular, the ingrained habits and values that define the Malays as homo economicus for example. Homo economicus, or Economic man, is the concept in some economic theories of humans as rational, perfectly informed and self-interested actors who desire wealth, avoid unnecessary labor, and have the ability to make judgments towards those ends. Homo economicus is a term used for an approximation or model of Homo sapiens that acts to obtain the highest possible well-being for himself given available information about opportunities and other constraints, both natural and institutional, on his ability to achieve his predetermined goals. He is rational in the sense that as an individual, he seeks to attain very specific and predetermined goals to the greatest extent with the least possible cost.
We then ask, what is the basic institutional constraint that bears itself on the Malayman? I think we can generally accept that the basic institution that defines the Malayman is his family unit. The family in practical terms, manufactures the set of values and habits that make the homo economicus. The family unit thus plays a pivotal role in setting the cultural blueprint
In eastern societies, the individual exists in the context of his family. The family is part of the extended family, and then friends and the wider society. The ruler or the government does not try to provide for a person what the family best provides. The family is the safety net for people in the east.
And how important are the cultural values? Allow me to take readers back in time. In 1927 to be exact when Zainal Abidin Ahmad aka Zaaba wrote about the poverty of Malays. He said something like this:-
The Malays generally speaking are poor. Indeed being poor is almost second nature to them. Obviously the Malays are poor in terms of income measurables but the most debilitating poverty occurs in the form of impoverishment in ambitions, in resolve and discipline, and impoverishment of certain habits and characteristics and nobler behaviour. In 1927, it was understandable that Zaaba spoke in volumes to describe what is essentially, a store or treasury barren in cultural values.
The values that the family infuse in or graft onto their progeny, become then, the single most important set of factors determining success or lack thereof. And as we can see, interference or intervention into the family unit, may result in different outcomes. Consider western and eastern societies.
The situation in the west differs fundamentally. Most western countries became strong economies and came to be seen as so successful that their governments think they could fulfil all the obligations that in less modern societies are fulfilled by the family. What are some of the outcome of this parenting culture? Among them, it encouraged alternative families, single mothers for instance, believing that government could provide the support to make up for the absent father. That according to some observers lead eventually to the breakdown of the family unit in western societies.
In eastern society, the starting point is always the family. The individual finds his relevance in the context of the family. The family unit nourishes him with values and habits. Lee Kuan Yew for example cited the well known Chinese aphorism which encapsulates this idea: Xiushen qijia zhiguo pingtianxia. Xiushen means look after yourself, cultivate yourself, do everything to make yourself useful; Qijia, look after the family; Zhiguo, look after your country; Pingtianxia, all is peaceful under heaven.