Wednesday, April 24

Stupidity and ignorance

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“THERE is nothing worse in life than being stupid. Stupidity comes because you are ignorant. Ignorance comes because you never read any book in your life,” Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem said during the launch of the Asia Foundation’s operations in Sarawak.

There is much stupidity these days. Of late many high-ranking politicians seem to be in competition to see who can say the most stupid things. This is not the place to do a survey of those less-than-intelligent statements by some VIPs but suffice to say that in a warped sense, they are pretty impressive.

They are of the level of the remark by the former Philippine President Estrada, who complained to a restaurant manager when a waitress ignored his gesture and failed to come over to his table. “Sir, I have been fingering your waitress for a long time, but she just doesn’t want to come.” Well, at least Estrada had the sense of humour to allow a compilation of his silliest sayings be published.

It seems for now the front runner for the Malaysian stupid remarks contest is the Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob who said that former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was “like a coma patient waiting for death” in reference to the latter’s decision to quit Umno.

Bravo to the Minister, he manages to add a dose of malice to his imbecility. There is a saying, “cream rises to the top”, but then again so does scum.

The honourable Chief Minister is only partially right when he said, “Ignorance comes because you never read any book in your life.”

It is not just about reading; it is about what one reads and more importantly how one interprets the materials read. Reading is not the main reason for stupidity.

It is reading with an uncritical mind. It is the inability to assess the validity of what one reads. Perhaps it is not just a question of the paucity of grey matter in the head, it is more of the lack of desire (or more correctly, the habit) to question. It has something to do with the attitude of the mind.

We have been conditioned from young to accept things that have been foisted upon us and to swallow them hook, line and sinker. The education system and the general culture have seen to it. As one social activist said, “Our minds have been bonsified” (as in being stunted like a bonsai).

Talking about the shackling of the mind by the education system and the attitude of the teachers, I recall 25 years ago when we came back to Sarawak, after spending half a lifetime overseas, my daughter had this unhappy experience.

She was just nine then and had been attending a progressive school in London where they were encouraged to question. One day she came home rather tearful. She was asked to write lines, 500 times: “I must not talk in class” or something to that effect. Apparently she had been interrupting the teacher with why, what and how.

That was 25 years ago and lately many have come out lamenting the state of our so-called educated youths. Among others the CEO of TalentCorp, Johan Mahmood Merican, who said, “Graduates these days are lacking critical thinking skills.” (According to its brochure TalentCorp was established in 2011 under the Prime Minister’s Department. One of its main missions is to reach out and attract Malaysian graduates and experienced professionals overseas to seek opportunities back home and also to persuade them to collaborate and share their knowledge with other Malaysians from wherever they are.)

Many others also pitched in, in the same vein. One national daily headlined a couple of years ago ‘Education system not producing thinking graduates, say experts’.

That being the case thus, it came as a shock to learn that inspector general of police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar warned Malaysians against attending an academic course about Marxism organised for later this month, saying it is against the law.

He wrote on his official Twitter account, “Not just the organiser, participants who attend this course are going against the law and action will also be taken”.

However, the IGP did not elaborate what law the organiser or participants would be violating by attending the course.

Incidentally, Marxism is the socioeconomic theory based on the teachings of German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Marxist thoughts have always been part of the essential curriculum of Social Science courses in the best universities of the world. Presently,with the world facing perhaps capitalism’s worst crisis since the 1930s, Marxist analyses are now gaining more traction in public dialogues about economy and society.

The Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013 to 2025 claims to “develop 21st Century skills such as critical and creative thinking” and further laments that our graduates lack critical thinking and communication skills. How does this noble intention square with the latest pronouncement by the IGP?

My question is, “Are we condemning ourselves to stupidity because we deny ourselves, or being denied, the avenue to rise above ignorance?”