The Malaysian Dilemma

by Rie

Not a very subtle jab at the book I’m currently reading: The Malay Dilemma.

But, then, it isn’t really a jab as much as it is a reflection of the warming, unstirred pot in my head.

If you knew me personally, you’d know that one of my hobbies is to occupy a person’s mind. (It’s my attempt at building telepathic connections.) The brilliant thing about books is that they are the well-edited vomitus of minds.

Anyway, my main point: I sort of see what Dr. M means. As far as I have read, he advocates not quite the melting pot of cultures as he does a sterilising and stripping of foreign influences. If only he could bleach my skin and paint it a more langsat-yellow. He isn’t wrong in thinking that that would eliminate racial conflict; the problem with racial conflict is that the colour of our skin is quite an accurate predictor of the way we’ve been raised (and how differently). Different roots grow different trees. Trees growing too closely together are weeds; deciding which are true weeds is all relative, so you may as well chop off those which are foreign.

Someone has written in the margins of this library book. He/she is quite indignant. “What makes the Malay culture more valuable than the Indian or Chinese cultures?”

I think the more interesting question to ask is: “What would happen if Malay culture did supercede all the others?”

It’s fascinating because it wouldn’t matter (edit: wouldn’t help the Malays as much as one would think). In as much as they want to enforce their supremacy, a push toward homogeneity would make everything too equal. Identical trees growing closely will still choke each other. Somehow.

(Also, it’s difficult to imagine.)

Dr. M, interestingly enough, noted that one problem with the Malays is that they are more inbred than other races. (If you had to read that sentence twice, I don’t blame you. I read that chapter twice.)

Cultural homogeneity would be the result of cultural inbreeding. As Dr. M stated, inbreeding (in the genetic sense) was the habit of rulers to stay in power. If he uses that as an excuse of the Malays’ inability to compete…well…I don’t think that works out very well.

Yet, he’s still not completely wrong. It is easier to rule a people who all want the same thing. It’s just that, if they really were of identical minds, a single infective, wayward thought could take them all down. I don’t think they’d have the adaptability to respond intelligently. They’d just feed back on each other’s sameness; they’d bloat themselves on the same ideas and move nowhere. They would implode.

(Of course, in real life, even weeds are  different enough to have the fittest prevail.)

There is a Malay phrase: “jati diri”. Oft cited as the panacea to all social ills, I had it drilled into my high school vocabulary. (The phrase is useful for essays on smoking, gangs, alcohol, etc., because the answer to resisting anything negative was to possess this “jati diri”.) The thing is, jati diri is a nuanced way of saying, “Be your Malay self. These are our values. We return to them to resist the dark forces of the white people.”

But jati diri also means being your pure, untainted self. I looked this up in the official Malay dictionary. I mean, the translation is my own but I’m pretty good at Malay, okay? You just have to trust me. The dictionary goes on to say that being this pure self is to have the unique characteristics that make you and your culture individual. Individual as in different from others.

That’s just weird.

I am not Malay. But I am very much Malaysian. I’m part of that narcissistic generation that embraced social media, so my identity is really quite fluid. My generation was also really big on that globalisation thing; geographical and cultural borders getting blurred for the win.

So, riddle me this: what am I? Does it matter?

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