August 15, 2008
What is the Truth, anymore?
In this confused, bemuddled era, I wrote this piece to reflect the frustrations of a LOT of people I know.
Again, a piece published in Malaysian Today end of last month, a paper distributed to students around the country (universities I think?).
What is The Truth, anymore?
If our parents had taught us well, we would have grown up being conscious of the difference between what is true and false. We would also have been drilled to “tell the truth” at all times (or get a beating for failing to do so).
Instead, upon graduation one instead enters into the professional working world and receives a completely opposite lesson: of how to tell half-truths in order to profit oneself in the corporate world, to provide complete falsehoods as long as one’s own family and careers are protected. Indeed, it becomes an uphill task for the young graduate to decipher what is reasonably truthful or not. In a world of blurry greys, the blacks and whites fade away into the background.
This is exacerbated in the political realm. Enter Malaysia, the country whose political landscape is peppered with deceit and lies, up to a point where citizens are continually scratching their heads to get at the mere semblance of the “truth”.
The recent escapades of our politicians have set a completely new level altogether of what constitutes truth, or untruth. Recapping some of the incidents that took place in recent weeks leaves us discombobulated. First, there was a police report made by a former aide of ex-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, Saiful Bukhari, claiming that he was sodomised by Anwar; but Anwar’s camp denying it.
Then you also had, in a separate unfolding case, Raja Petra signing a statutory declaration that the present Deputy Prime Minister’s wife Rosmah was present at the murder of Mongolian lady Altantuya; Rosmah denying it; the Private Investigator of the presently investigated Razak Baginda (for this same murder) signing another statutory declaration with alarming revelations but thereafter retracting it a day later; him and his family going missing; and multiple other reports and defamatory suits being placed back and forth.
This melodramatic series of affairs certainly makes for the most ridiculous of situations.
In the midst of all the crossfire, it has become increasingly difficult for the common man on the street to sift through all these complicated messages and know for certain what facts can or cannot be reasonably relied on any longer. Even something as simple as whether Anwar Ibrahim was stripped naked or not (he claims he was; the hospital claims that he was not) cannot be clarified for certain.
These bits of misinformation are becoming increasingly exasperating for those who would love to sift aside the politics of the situation and focus on developing proper reform and governance measures.
Not getting at the truth is something common and to be expected in this world of relativism and postmodern interpretation. In many other larger and more grievous of situations, citizens also hampered after the truth, which up to today they are not thoroughly satisfied with. The American attack on Iraq, for example, is an incident that still infuriates many of its own citizens, where they feel that insufficient information was provided to them at the time, eventually making for a miscalculated move to attack.
However, why it is of utmost importance right now is this: That these truths are inextricably linked to citizens’ evaluations of present and potential future leaders. These are the facts that will eventually form and shape our perceptions of who we think are capable or incapable of heading Malaysia in the long run.
If we, the people, are fed wrong information (through biased messages in the media), and thereafter form wrong perceptions of leaders, then we ultimately make bad decisions at electing our representatives. This is the danger that we must caution against – giving a popular vote to someone based on false and misrepresented information.
Hence, the frustration lies in the fact that crystal clear truths will not be laid out for the Malaysian public, especially when it comes to political information; personal facts and that to do with integrity of character.
Having understood this as a given, the solution then lies in what Malaysians should do to ascertain and glean truths out of the mish-mash of information available to us out there. One way is to ensure that one has ready access to a whole variety of information sources, whether it is through mainstream media or alternative media online. There is a gamut of platforms from which one is able to collect facts, sort through them in one’s rational mind, and come to reasoned conclusions as a result. This means reading not just one newspaper but different types of papers, authors, blogs, online websites, and so on.
People should also put on their thinking caps and decipher which individuals or parties have vested interests and strategic objectives (to achieve certain ends) when they make public statements. Nothing exists in isolation. Be wise in the way you come to conclusions (and never, ever a hurried conclusion).
In this dog-eat-dog world where politicians are painted as greedy, hungry, vicious, double-tongued and too strategic for their own sakes, the onus is put upon the rakyat to sift through the layered meanings of their speeches, statements and the media. In a way, the objective of an enlightened citizenry is to burst open the curtains of a dark, dusty room to let in rays that would shed light on truths. We know that full truths will never be given to us in totality, but one must continually strive for it, lest the country eventually has its lifeline fed on lies, and more lies.
Tricia Yeoh is the Director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies. Along with 26 million other Malaysians, she wishes the truth would prevail, really. Check out www.cpps.org.my for more information.
23rd July 2008