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Millenium C moves on - MGG Pillai
By web aNtu

4/1/2000 5:21 am Tue

The Millennium: The Caravanserai Moves On

So, the Prime Minister had his wish to be in office on the first of January of the two-thousandths year of Our Lord. He is not yet into the third millennium of that Birth. For that, he would have to wait a year. Like most events, latter day certainties has its origins in doubt, a#sumptions, even falsehood. Does this matter? No. But mindless year-end festivities and celebrations help these on, along with 24 hour television channels, to provide soporifics for the people. The List Makers are out in full force. Time Magazine made Genghis Khan the Man of the Millennium, the man who conquered the world at the beginning to establish a colonial empire never since emulated. I thought Sir Isaac Newton, as the supreme man of ideas this millennium had seen, should have been, standing head over shoulders as he does of every other. But then Rotary District 330 makes Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed its Man of the Millennium as it met over the weekend in Kuala Lumpur. In short, these lists are irrelevant, provides nothing more than an immediate and temporary sensory pleasure, and replaces the need to think. Thinking, after all, is a rare activity these days, supplemented as it is by 24-hour television channels, the consequent absence of reading, private moments for reflection. One has to be antisocial these days to indulge in that.

The Millennium craze made fools of ourselves, with its round-the-world coverage on satellite television, to enhance the dominant Western culture on to the rest of the world. The popping of champagne bottles on such an important day, a#suming it is, is abhorent to the Muslim as it is to the Hindu or Buddhist. . For the marking of the Second Millennium is a cultural, more than a scientific, landmark, irrelevant to any but from that culture. It is not the Second Millennium for the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and hundreds of others whose cultural traditions with no connexion with the Child born in a Bethlehem stable. That is framed in technology, with its need for certainty in a world where there is none. Neil Postman calls it technopoly and argues that for the past 400 hundred years culture takes second place to technology in an uneven contest. What this ensures is the dominance of one view, the loss of nuances and finer points of argument as the opposition is rubbished with statistics and the certainty of the scientific method. Contrary views are discouraged, the person making them attacked for disloyalty, treason and worse. This absolute reliance on technology has fearsome long term consequences for such ideals as democracy, social consciousness, the mere act of living.

Singapore believes she can defy culture and human nature in a society which makes no concessions to normal human fallibility, doubt and uncertainty. Malaysia tries to acquire a similar regimen but fails on account of cultural resistance, both amongst the leaders and the people. Most cabinet ministers and senior civil servants would not know how to operate their personal computers, let alone under the broader issues of the craze for a technopolic society. The hurried often ill-thought out technological conversions have little relevance to daily life. But it is a boon to those in power to manipulate minds and peoples. The latest fads are eagerly lapped up: the Multimedia Super Corridor, CyberJaya, telemedicine, computerised offices, the replacement of workers by computers. Malaysia's Westport in Port Klang advertises itself in hype -- its computer simulation of what it would be in the technological future is something out of Star Wars than of stark reality -- is a joke. This fad is not only deficient but dangerous in the hands of a government, especially without checks and balances. The Elections Commission would have been more efficient and proficient if it relied upon manual labour than technology: fewer mistakes, more accurate electoral lists, with much complaints after the recent elections not there. In any case, efficiency is irrelevant in isolation.

Technology's greater danger is its intrusion into our lives, when it attempts to mould our views and thoughts, building up an unseen, unmentioned internal revulsion that frighteningly reveals itself when it is too late to react. It is like a pyramid scheme, each jarring of the subconscious providing one more digit piling upon each other until it explodes into mindless violence or social disruptions. A democracy is dangerous, in the conventional wisdom that goes for public debate in Malaysia, if too many from the opposition are returned. In the technological age, democracy means, in effect, to return one party convincingly into power. So the world's greatest democracy is in tatters because no one party got a convincing majority. The Thai and Indonesian democratic experiments, by this definition, must necessarily fail since the debates can be fractuous and the goverment having to explain its policies. This technological dominance of the coming Millennium restricts individual rights, made worse by technological soporifics of mindless, canned television programmes -- the adult equivalent to the baby's rubber teat -- that make for reality these days. Even the news is to entertain, no more to inform.

The impact on the Malaysian condition is incalculable. It could have prolonged the coming clash if the government had astutely, as Singapore does, kept a step ahead of the opposition. It did not. The public reaction to this technological orchestration came sooner. It would in Singapore too. All it needs is one mistaken step. Malaysia has made its. Singapore awaits it. More than the battle between secular and fundamental Islam, the political battle here is between a technological state and a humanist cultural people with Islam an all-important backdrop. The humanist cultural hinterland fights this battle with the stored-up hidden anger at the destruction of its worldview against a monolithical compartmentalised technological system. The Mahathir-Anwar battle encapsulates this conflict, as the UMNO-PAS battle over Islam. It is a headlong clash between two alien worldviews, as important to Malaysia as the Cold War was to the world. This, in itself, is neither new nor earthshaking. Genghis Khan did at the beginning of the First Millennium. The millennial caravanserai, having rested, moves on.

M.G.G. Pillai