Atchafalaya Swamp

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

50 Posts to Independence # 4

The Dumbing Down of the Malaysian Electorate

Undi lah untuk aku, bangang

THE ELECTION IS LOOMING close - that much is certain. What is worrying is that the "dumbing down" has begun.

So how do you dumb down the electorate? Why, by controlling what they see, read and hear. The less the voters know, the more "ill-informed" they will be, and this is what some quarters would like to see happen. The media that is already "under-control" will thus be free to put a spin on everything.

Why fear the bogeyman?

So this is where the bogeyman comes in. And the bogeyman is RPK.

Speaking of the bogeyman, if I may digress, I googled the word and what I read tickled me, no thanks to part ancestry on my paternal side. I quote Micha F. Lindemans from the online Encyclopedia Mythica :

Bogeymen possibly come from the "bugis," who were pirates from Indonesia and Malaysia. English and French sailors brought the tales home and anglicized it, telling their children "If you're bad, the bugisman will come and get you!" Eventually, bugis got changed to bogey. (Ryan Tuccinardi)

RPK, as a couple of million of us Malaysians know, is an Anak Raja Bugis (hmmm, the acronym ARB would clash would somebody else's who's in the spotlight too, albeit for very different "crimes"). So, some generations back harried mothers in Scotland and England were using the spectre of this mythical malevolent creature to "scare" their children. In Malay / Indonesian mythology the equivalent would be momok. For the sake of lingual uniformity lets just call our bogeyman, momok.

In the eyes of the ruling party, RPK is indeed the momok. But this particular momok was roaming free all along until someone decided that the general election was near and that the ghosts need to be sequestered. Hey, put that Gin back in the Bottle. Maybe the Scottish mums generations ago and our own beloved mothers were right: If you are bad, the bogeyman will get you. But the warnings of yore was, understandably, meant for children only. Now, by the same logic, you mean to tell me that the ruling politicians in UMNO should fear this momok too? Why? Is it because they are "bad"?

So let us go back to the "dumbing down" premise. Control the flow the information (read: thrash the "negative" articles or websites) and you control the voters. Theres no need for those walking the Corridors of Power to over-react. No worries, man. The voters are inherently dumb, and the politicians, in their hearts of hearts, thinks this is true. Likewise, the feeling is probably mutual: the voters think their politicians are dumb too.

How so?

The Irrational Voter

Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University, in his book "The Myth of the Rational Voter", claims, 'In a democracy voters systematically favor irrational policies', adding, 'rational politicians give them what they (irrationally) want.'

Caplan is of course talking about the American electorate. But the voters in the Third World and developing countries are no less dumber too. So we can assume that his theories apply in equal measure here, since we also purport to be a democracy.

Caplan says that 'ignorant voters do not vote randomly'. He went on to theorize the "Four Biases" that makes voters 'demand policies that actually makes themselves worse off'. I like this one: Looks like voters love shooting themselves in the foot.

Caplan's four biases being:

  1. In a complex world voters are naturally ignorant about most things. The first is voters don't undertand how the pursuit of profits can lead to public benefits: therefore voters have an "anti-market bias".

  2. Foreigners (kaum pendatangs) are often being made scapegoats to all social ills: hence the "anti-foreign bias". Sounds familiar? Migrants bring benefits to a country you will agree, yes? Please remember your ancestors were once in this category too.

  3. Voters think that prosperity equates with employment when in reality a nation's "output" or production is what really counts. Caplan calls this "make-work bias". To illustrate, I quite a joke that is popular among economists: A western economist visits China during the time of Chairman Mao. He sees thousands of workers building a huge dam with shovels. He asks the mandor: "Why don't they use a mechanical digger?" "That would put people out of work," replies the mandor. "Oh," says the economist, "if it's jobs you want, then take away their shovels and give them spoons". Of course, for the individual worker it makes good sense to be employed in such a fashion. But the nation, in general, "loses". So it's how a nations' resources are best utilized (production) rather than (pardon the pun) spoonfeeding the masses that will contribute to their economic well being.

  4. Caplan calls the final one "pessimism bias". Meaning, voters will always think that they're worse-off than they really are. They fallaciously think that economic conditions are bad by merely looking at prices of petrol, cigarrettes or the Mamak's roti canai. Naturally, this "pessimism bias" is likely to be exploited by the opposition: Vote for me, and things will get better. But will they?

Anyway, I'm neither an economist nor a journalist. I was just quoting excerpts from Caplan's book which is currently a hit among economists.

I'm almost inclined to think that if Caplan's premises are indeed true, democracy as practiced here, there and everywhere is indeed flawed. Simply because we cannot expect every voter to fully grasp the intricacies of economics and politics. Same goes to the politicians too: they can't be expected to be well-informed. So we're all Dumb and getting Dumber.

So I say to the powers that be, no worries. Just feed the electorate what they want to hear and you have won already. No need to unnecessarily spend the people's money creating anti-blogging comittees and such, just for this one lone Momok.

Unless...unless, of course that the politicians fear that the electorate is smart and getting smarter? (God forbid!)

So it's not the momok they're afraid of after all. One momok alone cannot make anyone fall from the Corridors of Power. One momok alone cannot make a difference; after all, the momok controls just one vote - his own.

So now we have it: What the politicians really fear is the voters themselves. Like Caplan's book describes, just tell the voters what they want to hear. Easy peasy. Are voters "feared" because they do not trust their politicians anymore? Is this the reason to clamp down on bloggers - which, by the way, the DPM has subsequently denied?

The element of trust between voters and their politicians is fast receding, and bloggers like RPK, Jeff Ooi, Rocky and the like are to be blamed for helping breach this tenuous link? How so? These uber-bloggers are simply doing their duty exposing the misdeeds of those walking the Corridors of Power.

Is this the reason for the government's unhealthy preoccupation to reign in the momok, or momoks?

The Scottish mums of bygone days were probably right: The bogeyman might get you after all, but only if you happen to be bad.

If you're good, why worry?

[See also The Star Report, "No Crackdown On Bloggers" - http://star-techcentral.com/tech/story.asp?file=/2007/7/24/technology/20070724113208&sec=technology]


I dedicate the post above as my small contribution to Poetic Justice -- 50 Posts to Independence , a project that Nizam Bashir had initiated.

My headache now is who to choose as my "victim". So many deserving Malaysians out there who blog . . . but one of my closest (girl) friends immediately comes to mind. She is, without a doubt, a true Malaysian. I've never met anyone so as "socially conscious" as her. Listen to me. Just get on to her site and you know what I'm talking about. What's more - her birthday conveniently falls on August the 31st!

So I bring you #3 ... Galadriel!

Here are the rest of the "more deserving" entries:

50, 49, 48, 47, 46, 45, 44, 43, 42, 41, 40, 39, 38, 37, 36, 35, 34, 33, 32,31, 30, 29, 28, 27, 26, 25, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7 , 6, 5, and me at # 4.

Happy 50th Birthday, Malaysia!


Nak Tak Nak said...

What saddens me is that many would be bought by these spin doctors. My dissenting vote may not win but that would not stop me.

Mat Salo said...

Dear NTN,

It may or it may not (win), but that's what democracy is all about. At least it gives the electorate a chance to voice their displeasure...and hope they take notice!

Salaam Chegu.

tokasid said...

Salam Mat salo:

Very good write up bro, what with quotes from Caplan.

Basically voters all over the world are the same, at least in most countries. They want something better but at the same time are afraid to make drastic changes. Maybe the bought the rationale: if you change govt you might be worse-off. Or better stick to a known devil than an unknown angel.
Very few voters dare to make drastic actions like South Korea.

In Malaysia, our minds have been brainwashed that only UMNO and BN can lead the country. If you choose others, that will be the end of Malaysia. No foreign companies will invest here anymore.

They brainwashed and offred you with many "feel Good' things which caters to all levels of society.

To those who love to make millions, we'll there are megaprojects for you.As long as you support us and back our campaigns financially, there's nothing to worry about. We'll create more 'white elephants' for you. We'll create stupid,useless but super-expensive jetties( like the one in Melaka near the soon-to-be Hilton).Or we can build more Medan Ikan Bakar with is still unusable like in Kuala Kedah.
Or we can ask you to propose an incernerator like the one we plan in Broga( not Drogba the Chelsea poacher)and we'll pay you millions when we had to scrapped off the project.

To the youngsters esp Melayus...what do you need? Non-stop entertainment! No problemo children. We'll give you that and at the same time we'll take something away from you. We'll take your money via the smses reality prgmmes and we'll take your brain so you cant think well. And you're not suppose to think negatively about the govt.Do not, I repeat, DO NOT read webmedia or blogs.

To those who like to live in the fast lane(literally): you can become Mat and Minah rempits. We'll ask Putera UMNO to take you in.

To the rural folks...hey we'll resurface your road,repaint the masjid and surau and the balairaya. Psst...not to forget a kain pelikat and batik for pakcik and makcik. Ahh!!And RM 50.00 buat belanja dapur sikit pakcik. This is not rasuah.Ini maknanya gomen prihatin pada orang kampong.

So, basically the ruling govt is giving us what we want and telling us what we need.

Like che'gu: I vote to practice my rights not to elected a corrupt govt. I have done my part.I can sleep well at night.
Unfortunately my vote was not enough to boot them out.

What do do maa...thats life.

acciaccatura said...

salam mat salo,
fulamak! if only you have this in bahasa melayu as the problem is always at the kampung-kampung. i cant believe when i heard one makcik like me agrees that the government should go against bloggers.

some will be surprise if first they read it in malay and later realise its a version of an english one!

shar101 said...

Yo MS,

You're doing political satires now?

Ada bakat, beb. Memang pedas.

Must be the suppressed 'displeasure' within you gushing forth into another eloquent prose.

Wanna apply for a part-time job with the UMNO cyber-troopers? I hear they are looking for a general to lead the F-troop (Go google for the movie synopsis, ok). The current boss went a.w.o.l. which is 'absconded with one lesbo'. Ouuchhhh!

Bila nak balik, bro?

jaflam said...

MS ...power is good to make change .... But then absolute power tends to corrupt. Hope those in power will learn to use power in discreet .... Meanwhile voters must learn not to give absolute power to the rakusman. Luckily I am a " Banjarman " not Bugisman/ Bogeyman so they cannot voodoo me.

Mat Salo said...

Bro' DokTA,

Heh ..looks like your excellent comment is deserving on its own as a blog, bro'.. not 'merely' as comment.. :)

To DokTa, Bro' Shar, Chegu N and E:

I tell you, I don't like to write about this stuff, it takes hell of lot out of me (because it's not a subject I'm really familiar with).

Besides that, I'm busy drilling away on a kapal 24/7 buat pening kepala aje pikir about this. But can't mop around and just blog about mundane stuff when there's 'something wrong' back home. I'm just doing my small part, I guess.

I know you guys feel strongly about this too, so I take my hats off to you for voicing your displeasure in your own blogs...

Err shar, according to galadriel, we're all WHORES. But I prefer to think I'm a high-class one. What? RM2750/mo.(neg) to be Cyber-Whore? Naaah...

As far as 'balik' is concerned, black gold price per tong being what it is.. looks like it'll be a while yet...*sigh*

Mat Salo said...


Haha. Almost missed your commet here. Agree, absolute power corrupts absolutely..

Easy for us to say maybe .. we've never been in a position to wield power. With all that power comes great responsibility. Thank God, I'm just a small fry (ada hikmah kot?):)

Banjar? Banjarmasin is about a day's drive from where I am. It's in KAL-SEL, whereas I'm in KAL-TIM. Bang, you ni orang Perak ke, Bagan Serai therabouts or Muar, Johor side?




i have tagged you to join in the merdeka blogathon -- 50 posts to Merdeka intiated by Nizam Bashir.
please go to my blog.
and read.
it's in the run-up to our 50th merdeka!

thanks, bro. I know you;re a sport.


and oh, bro,
you have a week to do it (deadline Aug 4) and you have to tag someone.

thank youuuuuuuu

galadriel said...

Whoa Macha!

U gone intellectual on the voting population eh? Enjoyed reading this.

U know wot, u shud come back and run for Parliament too. I have this perverse wish to see how an idealistic man would fare in mainstream Malaysian politics.

Ada baca The Picture of Dorian Gray ka? A good tale of the corruption of the soul.

Now thanks for the tip on bugisman. I'll watch out for them....heheh.

However, some may have a pressing need right now for pesticide,for a Minang moron fly that's been buzzing annoyingly.

QueenB said...

what an excellent piece! mind if I re-post or link it to citizenthinktank.com?

Mat Salo said...

Thanks, QB for your thoughts re: my late FIL post... Seems we share similar fates... QB, of course I'll be honored if you think it's a good enough piece...

QueenB said...

will let my compatriots know and u take care of yourself & your family!