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Malaysia - a scientific bolehland (?)

As we approach yet another year of Merdeka/Independence, we are challenged with yet critical questions on developmentalism - how progressive and scientific have we become, as the pledge embalmed in the preamble of the Rukunegara?

How has modernisation helped us develop the necessary skills to become good citizens? How have we used science to fuel the engine of growth that is not synonymous with a Lotus-engine fuelling Formula One vehicle in the Sepang circuit - engines that will bring this nation to a massive heart attack on the fast track of progress?

Arriving from abroad and approaching the baggage claim area of the KL International Airport, one must marvel at the feeling of tremendous progress Malaysia has achieved, with the first-class infrastructure installed onto the landscape. There one sees a shopper's paradise - as if yet another facility for our national retail therapy has been built serving the wives of the rich and the powerful of the Malaysian and the international global power elite.

En route to Kuala Lumpur, one sees the magnificent buildings with their architecture the “Islamic way” or Moorish-styled to remind one of Malaysia that insisted upon the Malay-Muslim ideology driven by the notion of progress and modernisation that emphasises on human, scientific, and moral values.

The architecture of Putrajaya and Cyberjaya - twin cities emblematic of high growth Asian Despotic style - attest to the country's commitment to radical change in the conception of the developmentalist agenda.

Malaysia has now turned into a Scientific Bolehland in which the can-do philosophy of high and ornamental growth embraced by the ruling regime is fashioned after the notion of science, framed religiously, dominantly Islamic (albeit framed, as a matter of convenience, ideologically.) That is the image of scientific and technological advancement.

That image of “progress-we-must-scientifically-we ought to be-morally we insist” is beautiful as a fa├žade. The notion of scientific progress is adequate to show the world how this country has triumphed over colonialism and which has now progressed further than the land of her colonial master that recently produced a London riot.

But if one travels around the country as an anthropologist of hypermodern developmentalism, one could see the contradictions of capitalist advancement - exemplifying the half-bakedness of how science is understood in society, what has become of the meaning of technological progress, how science is demystified in the public discourse, how scientific knowledge is disseminated into the schools, and finally how much the discourse of developmentalist agenda is misunderstood to mean the race to embark upon real estate projects that have little bearing on the meaning of human progress and liberation.

How has science been “enculturalised” and deployed ideologically is of concern to those interested in Malaysia's brand of Asian capitalism.

The ability to know what progress means

Science, from the Latin “scientia” means “to know” and to be “scientific” means to be ”knowledgeable”. What this means in Malaysia as a scientific bolehland is the ability to know what progress means from a system of knowing about one path of developmentalism.

What we see installed in our landscape of progress are testaments and architectures of political and economic power that are based on a shoved-in-the-brain-of the founding-fathers'-and-mothers' notion of neo-colonialist agenda of human progress.

How much science as an enterprise of verifying and falsifying and accepting or rejecting of this or that hypothesis, in this case ideas and notions of progress in this Scientific Bolehland, is a concern - are our policymakers using analyses and findings from impact studies in order to “develop and modernise” this country?

How much are scientific findings respected and used for driving growth and environmental protection, conservation, and preservation? How much is science used in helping develop the culture of modernization in its most progressive sense?

How much is science is used to make our schools more equitable and the resources shared equitably so that the original twin-pronged idea of the New Economic Policy - eradicating poverty and restructuring society - is developed justifiably?

Most importantly, how much is political ideology dictating the developmental that ought to benefit from good findings from scientific research - those that put science at the service of society first and puts human beings at the centre of the universe of the chakra of human progress?

We seem to be progressing in a very uneven way - the class divisions in society manifesting itself not only in cities but also in the suburbs and hinterlands and principalities.

Travelling the length and breath of this country, one could see the semiotics of social change, in a land that prides itself in high growth but humiliates itself in the political will to understand alternate development paradigm that not only addresses the issue of equity, equitability, and intellectual and environmental sustainability via science and technology, but the problem of respect of human and constitutional rights.

That is what we have become - a scientific bolehland. Perhaps a pseudo-scientific land of First World infrastructure and Third World intellectual demeanour.

Source: Azly Rahman

DR AZLY RAHMAN, who was born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York) doctorate in International Education Development and Master's degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 300 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience spans Malaysia and the United States, over a wide range of subjects from elementary to graduate education. He currently resides in the United States.

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