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Sakmongkol ak 47

ariff.sabri@gmail.com

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Melayu: Cultural Blueprint for prosperity(2)

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 Malaysia?

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.

15 comments:

Jed Yoong 17 December 2008 at 22:37  

I disagree.
Your analysis of culture would be accurate in a closed isolated society but that does not describe Malaysia now.
If you are talking about values and norms, in my humble opinion, it should, at this point, go back to Islam or if you are Western educated, more liberal values.
In KL, it's sometimes impossible to distinguish a Chinese from a Malay, esp if both have similar features, either more Malay or Chinese. On a practical level, it's festivals, religion and customs that sets each cultural group apart.
As I've argued in my recent post, 'cos Islam, the professed religion on Malays, is universal and encompasses more than Malays, even this can't be used to define Malays.

sakmongkol AK47 17 December 2008 at 22:57  

jed yoong,

you are missing the point here jed. i made it clear i am not talking about culture as artistic expressions( in your take, festivals, customs etc). i am talking about culture as repository of values that relate to homo economicus- what values can facilitate homo economicus.

confuseus 17 December 2008 at 23:02  

Very intellectual, Sir.
Yes culture plays a big role and it can be inherited regardless of the social environment and education background.

One Royal professor (not sure about his race though) also claimed that one of the reason why Malays are backwards because they eat too much belacan instead of soyabean.... and this came from a person who also like to pass his time browsing thru rental DVDs.

Confuseus says "A much simpler answer to all these puzzle is a sine wave. What goes up must come down and vv, what differs is the time continuum"

satD 18 December 2008 at 00:50  

Yes Dato Sak......start small...

Anonymous,  18 December 2008 at 11:07  

Reading!

Many of my Malay acquitants (yes I have many) have tons of books in the house. They cover all topics, especially Islam.

Yet, many of these word treasures r covering with dust for lack of human touch!

Just like one commentator mentioned about the baby grand & yet nobody in the house played even a note!

This is just for the case of Malay 'elites'.

Then the reading record for the mid & lower income Malays that I known of is either Gila2 or Kosmo or mostly nought.

gwlnet

Anonymous,  18 December 2008 at 11:46  

Allow me to expand this Chinese aphorism a little bit more.

"Xiushen Qijia Zhiguo Pingtianxia"

or

修身、齐家、治国、平天下 - 《礼记·大学》

It apply mainly to the conducts of politician. Though it also used to describe the pre-requisites of true leadership.

It subscribes to the fact that a true benevolent leader must achieve these 4 conditions before they can claim governorship.

Xiushen - achieve enlightenment within self-behaviourship

Qijia - to manage one's household in proper equilibrium

Zhiguo - administrate the country in good order

Pingtianxia - ability to bring peace to the world

The emperor must be a person that has encompassed all these 4 concepts.

The premiers/generals must at least has the tint of the first 3.

The administrators/lieutenants must have the ability of Xiushen & Qijia

Then the kampung heads must have achieved Xiushen in order to qualified.

Its a multi-tier utopian concept apply to ALL humanity.

gwlnet

Jed Yoong 18 December 2008 at 12:03  

Sakmongkol

Customs are not "artistic" expressions but signify a culture's belief systems.
Because Malays are MUSLIMS, there is no need for wordy, lengthy analysis as their value systems are based on Islam.
But because of earlier Hindu, Chinese, what have you influences, a distinct set of practice has also emerged, as remnants of older value systems.
No need to use big Latin words like homo economicus, etc.
CHEERs.

amir,  18 December 2008 at 14:15  

melayu kutuk melayu tapi tidak menggunakan bahasa melayu. apa sangat yang melayu nya kalau masa nak mengutuk/menyedarkan anak bangsa pun tak pakai bahasa melayu. isy isy isy.....melayu, melayu.....

Malaysian Tigress 18 December 2008 at 19:17  

Woi amir,

Dato sak ade blog melayu jugak la...isk isk isk....

BTW Dato...actually agree with Jed here...the "cultural" blueprint for prosperity is already there, laid out in the Quran, clearly. If only we take the time to kupas it as readily as we kupas all the other great works and foreign "values".

Starting with the self, amanah terhadap tanggungan/family, behavior towards others, our neighbors, the society at large (jemaah) and the environment around us and striving constantly towards good deeds. What are good deeds? Certainly not limited to the solat 5 waktu, although that is the pillar of our faith a constant reminder as to who we are and who we answer to, as man forgets all too easily.

The useful and the reformer Muslim is the ideal example that Islamic education (Tarbiya ) seeks to produce. Such individuals are praised in the Quran which says: "They Believe in Allah and the last day. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. And they hasten in all good works. They are in the ranks of the righteous." Sura 3/v114

If each member of the community is useful and a reformer, then the scope of evil and corruption in the society will be very small and limited indeed.

The extent of evil and corruption in any society increases when its members become selfish and egotistic and where each one cares only for himself and his own interest regardless of the common good and the collective interest.

Malaysian Tigress 18 December 2008 at 19:19  

sorry, that was an excerpt from a khutbah :

The useful and the reformer Muslim is the ideal example that Islamic education (Tarbiya ) seeks to produce. Such individuals are praised in the Quran which says: "They Believe in Allah and the last day. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. And they hasten in all good works. They are in the ranks of the righteous." Sura 3/v114

If each member of the community is useful and a reformer, then the scope of evil and corruption in the society will be very small and limited indeed.

The extent of evil and corruption in any society increases when its members become selfish and egotistic and where each one cares only for himself and his own interest regardless of the common good and the collective interest.

jazrul 22 May 2009 at 09:49  

Then the kampung heads must have achieved Xiushen in order to qualified.


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jazrul 29 May 2009 at 16:26  

Many of my Malay acquitants (yes I have many) have tons of books in the house.

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fauzi 18 June 2009 at 09:49  

even this can't be used to define Malays.

malaysia seo

jazrul 8 July 2009 at 11:26  

On a practical level, it's festivals, religion and customs that sets each cultural group apart.

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