When spirits go numb | The star
THE best way to stop a society’s progress is to teach citizens not to think critically or use their minds in any way. Without critical thinking, we just follow the norm. We do not even question our interpretation of the “norm”.
In cases where our conscience or our “common sense” prompts us to behave differently, we can become fearful. This fear leads us to behave “like everyone else” or “as usual”.
Without thinking creatively, we cannot find effective solutions to our life problems. We keep repeating the same behaviors that created the problems in the first place, such as racism, social exclusion, or inefficiency.
A person who refuses to think becomes the pawn of others – politicians, opportunists, religious charlatans, swindlers, etc.
Although there are a lot of good people around, there are always dastardly hyena-like human beings who want to take advantage of you or abuse your trust.
If you allow yourself to be ignorant or refuse to think, you risk being hurt emotionally, financially, physically, and even humiliated in life.
You have to grow and mature in life. If you stagnate – or worse, regress – you may experience cruelty. It is the nature of life.
Observe the newborn. His eyes wander everywhere, looking at each person and everything around him. He wants to know and consumes information, thus accumulating knowledge.
Children are curious, experimental, physically and mentally active and constantly learning. You don’t see any lethargy or fatigue in them.
I believe that children have an instinct to know and to accumulate knowledge. The question is: do adults encourage or hinder this drive?
Parents, institutions and society in general exert a major influence in shaping the mentalities and characters of children.
What kind of values are transmitted? Are the content of home conversations and school curricula of a quality that will make a decent human being and a useful citizen?
This will determine the national or collective mood, character and quality of citizens. And this will in turn determine the quality of the nation.
It is totally useless to have the best possible slogans, a false sense of confidence and pride if we lack substance and a critical or creative spirit.
Without substance, we will disappoint and suffer in the long run. We will be left behind by everyone else in the world in our ‘syok sendiri-ness’. Even God cannot help us if we deliberately choose to be stupid and immoral in character.
It is dangerously amusing that in our country, while certain clothes are considered immoral, corruption is not. Therefore, I must clarify that immoral behavior includes bribery, being paid shamelessly not to work (and yet expecting respect), stealing the rights of the poor and needy, and cheating the people you are paid for. There are also those who preach lies in the name of God for profit.
Such negative behaviors become endemic and seemingly acceptable in a society where the majority of citizens are ignorant, trained not to think critically or to live in abject poverty or fear.
It is inexplicable that citizens allow themselves to be impoverished by a privileged few who are vulgarly rich – unless these citizens are ignorant, reckless or fearful.
It is naive and foolish to expect foxes not to eat chickens when you close your eyes or leave the chickens unprotected.
Obviously, the foxes will want you to close your eyes, or better yet, to be blind.
The best way to blind someone is to make them ignorant or prevent them from thinking, especially critically and creatively.
The habit of not thinking critically is a trait that is consistently cultivated over time. It is possible, for example, to numb the thinking capacities of citizens institutionally through the educational system, religious institutions and even through the law.
It goes without saying that the general content and structure of the national education system and its philosophy shape the minds of its citizens.
The language support chosen, the programs and the values taught as well as the quality and commitment of the teachers are essential.
The degree of control that religious institutions exercise over the freedom of thought, expression and creativity of their adherents will clearly affect the capacity and level of critical thinking. Is religion interpreted to encourage or discourage reflection?
The type of laws passed by Parliament – whether they aim to produce thinking or slavish citizens – will impact the national attitude towards thought and knowledge.
Bureaucratic determination of what kind of books could be read, what issues could be discussed and debated publicly would affect a nation’s level of civilization.
Does the law motivate or inhibit intellectual growth in the country? When stupidity becomes fashionable or becomes a norm, thought becomes an obstacle.
In the long run, society may get used to mediocre thinking and may even adopt stupidity as the dominant culture.
The media, which is still a dominant shaper of values, will have to pander to the popular culture of low-level thinking or non-thinking, setting off a vicious cycle. Therefore, what is released is about popularity and timing rather than what is substantial and long-term.
I urge the government, as a policy, to seriously address the quality of our levels of general thinking by encouraging an atmosphere of reading, reflection and accumulation of knowledge.
Senior Advocate Datuk Seri Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos is the founder and chairman of Yayasan Rapera, an NGO that promotes community learning activities and compassionate thinking among Malaysians. The opinions expressed here are entirely his own.