The Politics of Pragmatism

By Yin, Wad 5, Tanjung Rambutan

What is “pragmatism”, this word which has been much bandied about by self-proclaimed “realists” (another word in danger of becoming hackneyed). Veering from the narrow dictionary definition and to put it in the Malaysian context, it means that if something is too difficult to change one should be pragmatic and accept the “reality” of the situation. In other words, to accept what is unacceptable because these pragmatists/realists think change is impossible.  Or if one were less generous, that they are too apathetic to attempt change. All changes require sacrifice. Raising your head above the parapet involves risks. Something most Malaysians will not do.

Example of how Malaysians use both words: “Don’t waste your time lah, be pragmatic man, face reality, cannot change situation wan, so don’t waste your time”.

If these realists had their way, Old Black Joe would still be picking cotton.  After all, the odds are stacked against them. These pragmatists/realists would have accepted it if the owners were a little kinder – better working conditions.  After all dogs have a great life if the owners are kind.

China should have succumbed to the international drug lords peddling opium; accepting the reality of the overwhelming power of the West and Japan.

Colonies stretching from the Americas to Africa and Asia should have remained colonies, what chance have they against their colonial masters. They control the army, police, government and they have their mandors/kapitans/penghulus to keep the natives quiet. A realist would accept the status quo and pragmatists would find a way to live with it.

Today Negroes (to dispense with political-correctness) in the U.S. may not be picking cotton but “they sure ain’t respected like dem White Folk”. Martin Luther King Jr has marched them a long way to dignity, but George Floyds are still happening. The thing is, African Americans (euphemism for Negroes) are fighting back; they have not resigned themselves to pragmatism nor accepted reality. They realise that until you push back, Black Lives don’t matter. Reality is what you make for yourself, not something forced on you because you are too apathetic or timid to push back.

Thanks to Mandela apartheid has ended. He could have surrendered at the Altar of Pragmatism, be a Realist and learned to live with the overwhelming power of the Whites.  

Palestinians have no chance against an Israel supported by the mighty U.S. and Western Europe. Why not be pragmatic. They have jobs, they have water and electricity, life such as it is, goes on. Life is not always kind but let’s be realistic. Apa mahu buat?

That’s how pragmatists think, you get my drift?

History is littered with examples of changes instigated by people who are too stubborn to be pragmatic and too dumb to accept reality; too unreasonable to accept the easy option of “the lesser of two evils”. A good slave owner is an improvement is it not – the lesser of two evils? An enlightened apartheid would make life easier surely and good colonial masters can be a better option than some of the leaders who govern their own people.

A more benign Israeli Government would be a lesser evil than Netanyahu surely. Palestinians should be realists and accept it. Be pragmatic, half a loaf is better than none. Palestinians would at least still have jobs, still have water and electricity; yes, Settlers will still be stealing their land but non-acceptance would mean what little they have would be taken away from them.

The Politics of Pragmatism

MCA and MIC have a record of not standing up for the Non-Malays in the face of the erosion of their legitimate rights. The typical Chinese response would be, don’t make waves. As long as we can make money that is enough. Their politics of pragmatism has got us where we are today. DAP is singing from the same hymn book.

The whole country cried for the second coming of Mahathir Mohammed in 2018. There were a few dissenters; very few, and their voices were drowned out in the chorus of Hallelujahs of those desperate for salvation.

Let’s be Realistic (they convinced themselves) without Mahathir we cannot beat Najib. We need him to deliver the Malay votes. That was the overriding argument. Sleep with the devil if he can deliver heaven. Anyway what can a nonagenarian do? DAP and PKR have the most votes. All well and good but the devil did not deliver the Malay votes. His party won only 5 seats. What havoc the old man wreak.

We often (mis)calculate too much instead of following our convictions.

Anwar showed his true colours in the first big test of his government. What happened to his public proclamation to rid Malaysia of corrupt politicians. After convincing Malaysians that he will not tolerate corruption he decides to half pardon Najib. Is it moral weakness or Machiavellianism? Whatever, in a single act he destroyed his own credibility.

Anwar’s supporters and apologists argue that Malaysians must be pragmatic and realistic. He had no choice. The same tired argument of “the lesser of two evils” surfaces. But  he said there was no pressure from UMNO to pardon Najib. Why then?

The “Lesser of Two Evils” Argument

The weakness of the “lesser of two evils” argument of the pragmatists/realists and incidentally also the message peddled by DAP, is that they only see two options – the bad and the less bad.

“Sir, do you want your left ball cut out or the right ball” Which is less painful? This is the argument of losers.

Life is not just this or that, there is also “the other”. There are many nuances, many complexities, all sorts of possible permutations. Life and politics are dynamic, change is waiting to happen; all it needs is a trigger.

 It does not mean that if PH is toppled that PN will take government. It does not mean that if Najib is refused a pardon UMNO will join PN. First of all, will PN accept UMNO? On what terms? Will Zahid accept a minor role? Not all members of UMNO agree with the demand for Najib’s pardon – only his staunch supporters. It does not mean if Najib is refused a pardon Malays will run amok.  Let’s give credit to those Malays who stand up for what is right and that includes UMNO members. Just as we should acknowledge those DAP members who refuse to toe the party line on a matter of conscience and principle and would dare speak their mind. Or the ex-MP from PKR who left the party to protest the commutation of Najib’s sentence.

Anwar’s “dI najibkan” of the sentence and fine (supported by DAP and the other parties) is not to save Malaysians from the greater evil. It’s to save their own skin – presumably a lesser evil. Those who pride themselves pragmatists and realists should recognise that and stop making excuses for Anwar and for themselves.

We have the right to demand a higher standard of ethics from those who hold public office and who we pay, that they stand on principles and not expediency.

Stand for what is right and you will be surprised how many will stand with you. Reading the mood of the country, I wager if there is a referendum based on the principle of letting justice take its course, Malaysians will want Najib to face the full sentence passed by the court.

The commutation of Najib’s sentence is not the only issue we face. What about poverty, education, institutional racism and so on. Every time we are faced with these issues we put them off because “the time is not right”.  Because we can learn to live with the lesser evil; that the imagined alternative could be worse.

Pragmatists/Realists Beware

There will always be a reason why “now” is not the time to act, why we should live with the situation however uncomfortable it is, the fear of what we might get – better the devil we know.

A lobster can get used to the water in the pot until it finds out too late that it is boiling.

Apparently six decades of increasingly hot water has taught Pragmatists and Realists nothing.

In life there are red lines we must not cross, sometimes enough is enough, sometimes we have to do what is right and let the consequences take care of themselves.

There is nothing brave about standing up for one’s convictions. There are times we need to stand up and be counted. We cannot hide behind “pragmatism” and demand of those who dare raise their heads above the parapet that they should face “reality”. A self-created reality I must say.

Politicians will always do what is right for them and convince you that they are the lesser evil.

Pragmatists and Realists are their collaborators.           

Politicians will always do what is good for them and try to convince you that they are the lesser evil. Anwar’s pardon of Najib is self-serving. PKR grassroot has seen through it and are revolting.

There is a fine line between between pragmatism and Machiavellianism. “You can fool some of the people all of the time but you cannot fool all the people all of the time”. Malaysians are not so easily fooled

Yin       Ward 5           Tanjong Rambutan

Rebuilding Malaysia

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