Archive for nationalism

Against Anti-Corruption

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , on July 28, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

No, I’m not an idiot, because by that title I certainly do not mean I am pro corruption. Yes, indeed corruption is a big problem, especially when you live in a country that is among the world’s most corrupt states. However, I see a big trap in viewing corruption as the main problem. Corruption is a problem, but Žižekian as I am I tend to be critical of how this problem is perceived, i.e. what questions are asked and what actions are taken to resolve this problem.

Broadly speaking, the mainstream history of post-1998 Indonesia can mainly be summed up as follows: (1) the decline of state due to flourishing corruption and (2) the rise and insurgency of Islam proclaiming itself to be the political move to take if we are to get out of this socio-political mess at all. I, however, remain skeptic to these notions — I believe that both corruption and fundamentalist Islam are but mere dummies, one dummy problem followed by one dummy solution. And here is the ultimate proof: we know we prefer corruption to authoritarian bureaucracy (bribing culture is part of the Indonesia “traffic safety” code), and we know we will never achieve a total Muslim state. We are not idiots. They are battles already lost before the start, done for the mere sake of “sadomasochistic pleasures of postmodern society that longs for a disciplinary paternal figure” (Žižek).

You want a bigger catch? Consider this: corruption does not exist. (And neither does “fundamental Muslims” who believe they can make the world better by destroying shops — I have blogged the latter here (though I am always open to further analysis) and on this post I will concentrate on the former.) In what sense does corruption not exist? Frankly, I think we know: it does not exist in the precise sense that we, in our stupid daily self-existence, would never say “Oh, I have just practiced corruption.” We bypass laws by money in a much more subtle way, under pretenses of norms and ethics, time management, daily codes of life, and so on, forever mystified. To think in more Lacanian terms, “corruption” never exists as a signifier related to the self — it is always a signifier of the acts of the other, and as such, always presents itself as a spectral predicate that is done by the other supposed to take the blame, ever evasive by its very linguistic nature.

Žižekian once again, this is how ideology precisely functions: ideology is not “I am a state official” or “I am a Muslim” — it is “I am a state official, but nevertheless…” and “I am a Muslim, but nevertheless…” Ideology is precisely this negation, this distantiation of formal codes and the claim that we are “nevertheless (a human being with feelings, etc)”. In fact, our daily acts of actual corruption (bribing authorities, etc) takes place precisely in this sphere of “nevertheless-ness” — as a state official I never do corruption, but nevertheless I am a human being who logically needs to make money for my children’s education and maintain relations in my social circle, so I engage myself in exchanging of gift tokens since that is my most socially conforming option. Anti-corruption is deemed to be forever a wrong battle to its very linguistic core.

The second point of why corruption is a trap is that it renders all institutional practices as though otherwise harmless. I am a Marxist here, and if there is a lesson we learn from the Marxist tradition is that social structures based on capitalism are fundamentally violent, even when they are not corrupted. An easy example would be the sky-high rocketing costs of education. This is not the result of corruption, but it is corrupt in its very manifested structure that allows only those with money to attain proper education. BHMN universities overcomes bribery itself by externalizing bribery into its very legal structure. Gross crude moves like this one becomes secondary at the thoughts of “anti-corruption”, even though it illustrates the more fundamental obscene social pathology: capitalist greed.

To actually solve problems we will do well by rethinking their definition and rendition. It is not enough to take these problems for granted, since they are most likely already veiled by the ideological operation of self-distantiation (the “nevertheless-ness” I explicated above). Rethinking what we mean by “fighting corruption” is a necessary step before taking any action, so as to not fall into further traps by making hasty actions without a proper cognitive mapping. Our enemy, as I like to put it, is never corruption, or the lack of fear for God, for they are mere symptoms that can be appropriated by anyone to support their own greedy causes. Our problem is corporatism. Our enemy is not how we conduct and manage our greed. It is greed itself.

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Cultural Preservation and the Logic of the Zoo

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , on June 13, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

I went to Jawa Timur Park the other day, basically just having a good time with my friends. What struck me most, however, is how this contemporary theme park is laid out. So much can be drawn, as my obsessive inner cultural analyst turned my simple recreational trip into another intellectual analysis of a third world’s nationalist respect for their traditions. I shall expand this elsewhere in Indonesian, but here is my thesis briefly.

The very concept of the educational theme park is of course the standard one in which they strive to preserve Indonesian heritage by showcasing customs and artifacts for people to admire. What strikes me, however, is the very texture of their display, i.e. these certain routes you are supposed to follow from entrance to exit, as it were. Immediately after showcasing cultural artifacts, the track brought us to displays of plants and animals. And then it’s back to cultural heritage, then it’s either fossils exhibition or the reptile zoo. In front of a a giant statue of the Javanese mythical hero Ken Arok as a backdrop of a giant water world, Dipsy and Po from the Teletubbies walk around greeting kids.

I am not merely talking about this crude Marxian notion of how everything becomes commodified and so on, but also, more importantly, of how they need to be presented as some sort of heroic capitalist action to save the national cultural heritage. The mystification is, of course, unconscious, as with other mystifications of commodities as mystical objects — the proverbial model businessman always believes he is doing a good thing. The ultimate anthropocentric gesture for me is not that of ruthlessly killing animals (as this would be too monstrous and against the idea of our superior kindness towards the other) but precisely that of keeping them in cages for us to enjoy. Then, are these acts of preserving cultural heritage not an act of putting ourselves behind bars, treating our cultural heritage as fascinating animals?

This, I think, illustrates the most dangerous trap if we are to preserve cultural heritage. It is a false cultural heritage — a mere visual heritage that can so easily be adopted into today’s capitalist ideology. To be a true traditional-nationalist (for lack of a better phrase), I think we should reject this idea that our cultural legacy is a visual-ornamental one, daring to look for its more ideological sides. The problem is not that our cultural heritage is disappearing and we have to make it appear — it is that our cultural heritage appear too much behind the zoo bars of global capitalism.