Sunday, December 15, 2013

Politics In the Era of the Facebook Generation: Spiritual Pearl or Brittle Rust in the Soul?

As I was driving one quiet Sunday morning to my neighborhood church, through the dusty streets and back-roads of Sunway Commercial estate, I thought about God's plan for Malaysia, a developing country in Asia caught in the middle income trap. Malaysia has certainly changed in the past few years, especially after two stormy and lively general elections. But the change can be described as a slow submersion of fresh courage in the psyche of the nation. Unlike Thailand, political change in Malaysia never amounted to a revolution in the streets despite the size of the Bersih rallies.

As I drove, one thought occurred: "The political awakening of this nation will open the door for spiritual awakening." I always thought that the spiritual awakening is the cause for political change but political reforms and liberalisation, slow as it is in varying speeds across Asia (Indonesia, Singapore, China), have triggered the need to question our deeply held beliefs and value systems. Years of political oppression and suppression can either harden a man's heart or humble him so that he is prepared to meet the greater challenges, which is the battle of the spirit against the worldly values of power. Thus, the crystallisation of political oppression can, if we allow it, either change our souls' character into brittle rust or a weather-beaten shining pearl. The Malaysian middle class has entered a new realm of political freedom to express their outrage at the injustice of the ruling government. (The Web and viral networks like Facebook and YouTube have opened up channels of communication wherein citizens can vent their anger and frustrations built up over decades.)

In perspective, the political awakening of Asian society in the past five years (2009-2013) has been tremendous due to three major game-changers: (1) globalisation of trade already started since 2001 when China entered the World Trade Organisation (2) the popular spread of the Internet as an information and political tool of communications and (3) the global financial crisis of 2008/2009 which exposed the vulnerabilities of emerging markets to the credit-driven developed countries.

But much as political reform is welcomed by all sound minded citizens, the changes that we Asian sovereign states face these days are testing the limits of human mental and spiritual endurance. How can Asians strive for higher material well being in societies divided by a widening gap between the lower middle class and the rich? The social pressures to get ahead of one's peers (individually or as a nation) are causing intense tensions in the psyche of Asians, making us question the core meaning of our daily struggles: does man live just to have more and more material goods or is there something more than this consumer-bourgeois existence?

At the edge of this inner tension, the political landscape is also shifting as the old power elite is threatened by a citizenry that is not as tolerant about injustice as it's forefathers. Thus, there is political chaos in Thailand, Turkey, the Middle East where the Arab Spring has turned into an Arab winter of discontent. Some political analysts view chaos as the well proven strategy of the globalists/external enemies to take control over nations. And the superficiality of the Generation Y who are so gullible in what they read and see on Facebook poses as the Achilles heel for Asia. Once their young are easily deceived by the media and political spin masters, the future leadership of Asian nations will be compromised.

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