Destructive Nationalism: Why We Should Avoid It

First of all, I would like to say that this writing is dedicated to two persons. The first one is Sharlini Eriza Putri since it is developed based on my daily conversation with her regarding her thesis in low carbon energy policy in Indonesia. Secondly, it is dedicated to one of security guards on my campus where I had nearly 3 hours conversation about Indonesia. This writing then mainly talks about nationalism and to be specific: the destructive nationalism. How could nationalism be destructive and why can it be so bad for building Indonesia? Does it mean that liberalization should occur in Indonesia? What is the trade-off in this regard? This writing then tries to explore all the questions and hypothesize the possible answers.

Destructive nationalism

One day I had a talk with a security guard in my campus. We talked about many things and one of them is about nationalism. Firstly, he praised the achievement obtained by Garuda Indonesia since it has been widely acknowledged worldwide for its professionalism and high quality service. It is not strange at all that the company deserves many awards from aviation organizations across the globe. However, he continued to talk, he was quite disappointed with the fact that many public companies could not attain similar satisfactory level as obtained by Garuda Indonesia. In this respect, he blamed that Indonesia Government was too lenient for its companies that actually had to be financially sustained by itself. For him, taking as an example, a public company that won a tender in Indonesia Government’s project did not deserved to be praised because there was a tendency that the connection between the government and company were too strong to be broke out even by other companies who offered higher efficiency in building the project. He then criticized this condition because he had an experience in a private company in which “time is money” is the sole principal and where the boss should think how to make their business sustain even without government support. “But if we sell the public company to private one –namely to liberalize it- we will be deemed for not to be a nationalist. But that is the case. Sometimes everything is not so efficient and our public company cannot grab much money because of corruption and they are never taught about how to compete with the other ones just because they have Government on their back. It does also seem that it is no longer an obligation for them to run their business as usual: namely to be financially stable and competitive.”

I then talked with my Sharlini where she and I often shared our thoughts about her thesis. She also has similar concern as the security guard. However, her focus is mainly aimed at energy sector where renewable energy has not been the priority in Indonesia due to the lack of grand strategy in the sector. Moreover, according to her, it does also seem that there is reluctance in Indonesia regarding foreign investment in energy sector. In Indonesia, electricity cannot be sold by private companies and should be provided by PLN, a public company in Indonesia that deals with electricity. The problem comes when foreign people wants to alleviate the dire circumstances faced by people living in rural areas where electricity is really a luxurious matter. In this regard, they should integrate their system with electricity grid owned by PLN and later PLN will buy the electricity according to the price agreed by both parties. The question is: how if the electricity grid is not there in the rural areas? Should we integrate the system with the electricity grid available in PLN system and then only increases the inefficiency? On the other hand, it is actually the main task of PLN to guarantee that all Indonesians should have electricity access. Thus, there is a contradiction in this matter. On one hand, the electricity provided by the foreign organizations can be considered to be not in line with Indonesia’s main policy in electricity but on the other hand the infrastructure is not yet available to deliver electricity for people in rural areas and inequality access towards electricity does prevail in this matter. Should then we hold our nationalism ethic or let this matter go with pure liberalization?

From this conversation, I find that there is actually a condition where nationalism can be very destructive. In this respect, I call the condition as destructive nationalism. Destructive nationalism can be defined as the condition where our tendency towards nationalism is very tense and high until a point where it has successfully blinded our eyes towards our main goal, namely to deliver prosperity for all Indonesians. In this condition, we can justify our action as nationalist but on the other side, it only aggravates Indonesians who are not satisfied with the performance of Indonesia Government. Destructive nationalism is then very dangerous. Its effects might not be felt right now but it will slowly release painful effects where its accumulation only leads to degeneration. Thus, how can we define the condition based on the above examples?

Destructive nationalism occurs when we have a tendency to choose public companies to finish the public project despite their inefficiency. This can happen merely because the companies have connection with government and in the name of nationalism, we prefer to directly determine the public companies as the winner. Destructive nationalism can also happen when we are reluctant to close down public companies that do not perform well and cannot achieve satisfactory level. On the other hand, we continuously inject financial aid to the companies in the name of nationalism and preserve the right of doing so. Destructive nationalism then also occurs when we reject foreign investment in electricity just because we are very determined to strictly hold on to our policy in retaining the right of PLN to deliver electricity yet insufficient electricity infrastructure does still prevail. In this regard, PLN should be the one who sells the electricity and all electricity that can be individually provided should be sold to the company and integrated on its grid. Despite that it will increase the inefficiency of the whole system, nationalism justifies the action. In short, destructive nationalism can occur because of irrationality equipped with nationalism euphoria lingers our mindset.

Instantaneous bad effects coming out from such disposition may not be direct. However, as time goes on and accumulation occurs, the effects may be very persistent. First of all, it can lead Indonesians to think that all their public companies are doing well despite the contradictory facts. This will bring then down the transparency culture and can further lead to declining the trust between society and government. Secondly, Indonesia will be very reluctant towards the presence of foreign companies, justifying the act as non-nationalist; while the fact is we still need them in some areas. Thirdly and the most important bad effect is it will exacerbate the inequality in this country because lack of infrastructure and incentives of the public companies can be a justification for suspending projects regarding rural areas development in Indonesia. Thus, how can Indonesians avoid this destructive nationalism mindset? What should we do in order to preserve our national interest with rationality? The answer is mainly located on the development of every single Indonesian to shift their paradigm about nationalism.

First of all, it is important to note that globalization is unavoidable phenomenon. Since every country is now connected one to the others, globalization can be seen as “normal” phenomenon. Thus, it is actually not a strange phenomenon to see foreign companies invest in other countries. What Indonesians have to do is to improve the quality its public companies in order to increase its competitiveness level. This is the reason why every young generation should contribute in this grand project. By fulfilling public companies with talented people, its competitiveness level will increase and it will be ready to compete with other companies. In this current globalized world, competitiveness is more important rather than connectivity since the true quality of a company lies on its ability to professionally handle a project and not relies mainly on irrational government support. Thus, be a nationalist in a professional way and not on nepotism.

Secondly, it should be noted that not every foreign investment is non-nationalist. There are conditions where Indonesia has not yet acquired sufficient level of expertise amount in several areas. In this case, foreign investment is indeed required if we are going to excel in the matter latter. However, our bargaining position should be elevated in order to protect our national interest and thus not wholly let foreign people dictate their egoistic will upon us. This begs a crucial question: how could we elevate our bargaining position? This could only be done if it has been already previously stated about the requirements for investing in Indonesia. Foreign companies that are not able to fulfill the requirements are not eligible to be granted the project. This begs another question: what if there is no company interested in doing the project due to the strict regulations? There are two main answers possible. First lowering the standard but not exceeds a certain level that is agreed among Indonesia expertise. This can be followed by technology transfer so Indonesians could excel in the matter latter. Secondly, we could hold the entire project and send Indonesians to study about the respecting area. They are then obliged to come back to Indonesia to develop the area. The first approach is suitable if the situation is urgent while the second approach is more suitable if we deal with natural resources. As natural resources will go nowhere, we could hold the project until we have acquired sufficient amount of expertise in the area and then extract the resources by ourselves. Both ways are indeed useful in protecting our national interest.

Destructive nationalism is indeed a bad precedent for every country in this world. It delivers nothing because it justifies the action solely on irrational nationalism where professionalism is set aside. It will not improve the quality of our public companies or human resources because it only depends on nepotism. If Indonesians really want to bring prosperity to this country and reduce inequality that lingers its society, destructive nationalism should be abolished. We should apply nationalism based on professionalism where we protect our national interest not because we are blinded by our nationalism euphoria, but because we are conscious about our ability to build our country by ourselves. Even we will also be conscious that we are also able to compete globally and may accomplish nearly everything.

Ojek Driver, Security Guard, and My Neighbor: When I Feel the Real Democracy Before Presidential Election Takes Place

I had just finished running on Sunday morning when suddenly rain came pouring the earth. I then decided to take shelter when I was on my way going home. I then met an ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver, a security guard and one of my neighbors shared the same shelter. Waiting for the rain to stop, an unexpected moment just came out: we talked about politic as Indonesia presidential election was heating up.

The moment was started by the ojek driver who asked me: whom would you vote for in the coming election? I then honestly answered his question, “Sorry Sir, but I have not yet decided who is the most capable. I am still considering many aspects and as the presidential debates will still be held for the next several weeks, I will then evaluate the candidates until the day I have to cast my vote.” Smiling to me, the ojek driver then spoke to us with great pride, “If you ask me whom I will vote, I will certainly answer: Jokowi!” I thought his spirit had successfully burnt the political atmosphere inside the shelter.

Having said that, my neighbor spontaneously asked him: “Why Jokowi?” He then answered, “I actually come from Solo, the region where Jokowi was the former major. I already proved his capability in leading the region. His blusukan (impromptu visit) is very genuine and he often came to my village just to talk with the villagers about what we actually needed at the time and later he could give to us what we had already asked him as long as he considered that it would be beneficial to improve our lives.” I then asked him how often Jokowi did blusukan. “Quite often,” answered him.

I then asked the security guard, “and how about you sir? Have you decided yet?”
“Yes, I will be voting for Prabowo,” he said to us. Our laugh then burst out from the shelter since we already knew that there was two opposite camps sharing same shelter while waiting the rain to stop. “Yeah, I like him because he looks firm, like usual leaders.”

“Yeah, I maybe agree with you in respect to Prabowo,” the ojek driver added, “especially in one of his policies that I favor is his willingness to provide 1 billion rupiah for every village in Indonesia. I think it is a good policy since many improvements can be made to develop the village.” Driven by my curiosity, I then asked him further about how much 1 billion really is for a village and what kinds of improvement that can be made to elevate the living standard of the villagers. I asked him such a question because I know very well that 1 billion rupiah is not quite that much for people living in urban area due to the high price of the land. For example, if 1 square meter of land in metropolitan area is priced 10 million rupiah, 1 billion rupiah can only buy 100 square meter of land: that is 10 meter times 10 meter. And this number is not an exaggeration since I have just heard from one of my friends who lives in Bandung that her land will be bought above 10 million rupiah per square meter as it will be later be developed into apartment building.

However, it does seem that a contrast condition can occur when such amount of money is going to be disbursed in a village. “One billion is actually very much money. In our village, it can be used for building irrigation system and bridge that are very useful for all villagers. We often suffer landslide regarding our irrigation channel and I think one billion is more than enough to build a more robust irrigation system. This is why I do love Prabowo’s program,” said the ojek driver that also became one of the main reasons for the security guard in choosing Prabowo. My neighbor then added, “But I think the problem is located on transparency. One billion rupiah can be easily corrupted by the officials once transparency is not going hand in hand with the development process. It can be easily misused.” We all agreed that transparency was actually a big problem in Indonesia and this might also become the main reason why people in lower hierarchy usually received less money than they should have actually got. And both the ojek driver and security guard share the same thought that such a loophole should be properly managed.

Religion and Ethnicity? Big NO!
One interesting point then came when the ojek driver talked to me: “Sir, Chinese people usually choose Jokowi.”

“How do you know that Chinese people back Jokowi?”

“The answer is quite easy,” he continued to talk, “because once Jokowi becomes the President, Ahok will lead Jakarta. And as we already know, Ahok is Chinese-descent; thus Chinese people will back Jokowi so Ahok will be their leader in Jakarta.”

I laughed.

I think this is the most interesting part during my conversation since ethnicity has been brought out to surface and because ethnicity itself is one of the most sensitive issues during this election. It can be clearly seen when insinuation was thrown towards Jokowi regarding his Chinese-descent status. Furthermore, ethnicity also played an important role during 98 riots when several Chinese-descent women were allegedly gang-raped. Talking about ethnicity is then not an easy task, especially in an open discussion like I have experienced. I then asked him a simple question about what kind of leader that he really wants: those who have similar background in regard with religion, ethnic and so on but has bleak track records or those who come from different backgrounds but already hold valuable experiences in governments and leadership. He instantaneously answered, “The second one.”

“This is the reason,” I continued talk to him, “why I never intent to choose my leader based on religion, ethnicity, etc. We have to develop meritocracy in Indonesia where every position should be filled by a capable person in the respected area. This is the only way if we want to step forward.”

Later then the security guard agreed with my disposition. “I strongly agree with you. Choosing leader based on religion and ethnicity is quite dangerous since we cannot rationally judge them and get biased. It should be a private matter instead,” he said.

“Yes, I agree with you. Thus, if I then choose Jokowi as my next President, it does not mean that I support Ahok to become Jakarta Governor because he is Chinese-descent and so do I am. I support him because I know his capability to lead and not because his background. If, take as an example, later it is found that Ahok is implicated in graft or bribery case, should then I back him because he is a Chinese-descent? Big No,” I added.

Having been talked about 1 hour, the rain then stopped. I then decided to go home. But before I walked, I asked both the security guard and the ojek driver, “So both of you are in different positions right now. Would you still be friend to each other?” They laughed and answered without any hesitation, “Of course.” “To be different is normal and this presidential election should have not disrupted our friendship even though there are several cases reported about such phenomena,” the ojek driver added.

I could not imagine how peaceful our world would be if everyone shares the thought of the ojek driver and the security guard. Even though it can be said that they come from low-income group, they know very well about how to appreciate other opinion without have to disrupt their friendship. Moreover, they also feel obliged to participate in building Indonesia by showing their readiness to take part in presidential election tomorrow. And I can say that: yes, this is the real democracy even it is just between me, my neighbor, the ojek driver and the security guard. We are freely to express our opinions without hatred and we are still friends despite our differences. I do then hope that all Indonesians share this spirit.

And one thing to note about tomorrow election as a closure: whoever wins the election, we all have similar homework to bring Indonesia with a better future. So, let’s work together for our better democracy and never lose any faith because I do believe that there are still plenty Indonesians who care very much for the country.

Sorry Mr. Prabowo, but It Is not Merely About Increasing the Salary

It is quite interesting to see the first debate from both of presidential candidates. People have also reviewed their performance and it does seem that the conclusion is relatively unanimous: that Joko Widodo performed quite well. This result is indeed unexpected since he is usually known as low-profile figure who does not really like to talk much. On the other hand, Prabowo could be pushed to the corner by Jusuf Kalla due to the human right issue that asked by Kalla. To be fair, the second candidate has successfully controlled the atmosphere last night. You might judge me as bias but you could check by yourself in my blog that I have also posed my critic to Jokowi once he declared himself as a candidate for Indonesia Preseident. However, what I want to elaborate in this writing is not about reviewing the whole debating process. Rather, I am quite interested in one particular moment where Prabowo was asked about bureaucracy reform and this is the specific part that I want to discuss on.

Last night debate concentrated on how to build clean government, strengthening rule of law, and everything alike. Thus, it was not rare if bureaucracy reform, human right, and corruption became the main topic during the show. One interesting point was made by Prabowo in this issue when he made a statement that remuneration for civil servants was indeed important and required to ensure that bureaucracy reform can be run smoothly and successfully. The most important question is then: is remuneration scheme urgently required to complete such a reform? Should clean government be achieved by disbursing more money to civil servants?

When taken unto the most extreme point, democracy can be associated with master-slave relationship. Who is the master and who becomes the slave? They are the people and government, respectively since the actual position of government is to serve the people and not the opposite. In master and slave paradigm, it is up to the master whether or not he/she will let the slave to be free. If the slaves are good enough and the masters want to show a little bit of mercy, the masters will be likely to pay them. But it is inevitable that in regard the remuneration, the masters retain the sole right.

But we are not currently living in such a paradigm. Slavery is undoubtedly prohibited worldwide since we have already advanced to adopt human rights value. However, the main principle from the above explanation does still prevail, namely that government is actually the servant of the people and not the opposite. Following this logic, simple conclusion can be made: remuneration of the government officials mainly depend upon the will of the people. As long as the people do not agree on the scheme, remuneration scheme should have been just blown away by the wind. Let alone the government officials beg for such incentive.

However, this condition does not exist in Indonesia. It can be clearly seen from the poverty level of Indonesians and those who are vulnerable to get dragged into the region. In contrast, our legislative members, ministers, and also government officials can enjoy extravagant lives. It is true that this statement is like an exaggeration or generalization and there are some government officials who are indeed very honest in doing their job. But, how much the probability really is? Of course it is also the fact that such people will be overwhelmed by those who are very greed in extorting dirt money in order to enrich themselves. Thus, why could this happen?

First of all, democracy in Indonesia is indeed very expensive. This condition makes those who desire to be elected as government officials or legislative members should prepare much money to campaign. And what is the paradigm once such people are elected? Of course, this is not a matter of national duty and rather a trade balance: I should earn more money to cover up my expenses and in order to be elected on the next election. It is just a vicious circle. Secondly, it may happen because the salary is not enough for sustaining their lives. This then becomes the main reason to justify remuneration. The question is: are you sure that remuneration will give clean government?  

The answer is quite clear: no. The first reason is because the democracy itself that is still very expensive. Hence when everyone competes to get elected, they will eventually disburse more money and once elected, they can easily beg for remuneration to recover their expenses. In this regard, campaigning to be a part of government has been considered as the expense that should be covered by taxation. Without them, they can no longer sustain their lives. In contrast, people who work in labor-intensive factories never demand such an expense; while in fact such people are actually the master of the government officials.

Secondly, when I heard Prabowo’s statement last night to increase the salary, I remembered my high school teacher when she left us a word: “it is no matter how small your salary is. As long as you are wise, everything will be covered. And the opposite does also exist: even though you have big salary, as long as you are not wise, you will never get enough.” I know for sure that such a statement cannot be taken literally. Small salary does not mean that we just submit ourselves to the fate. There is a red line that should not be surpassed so people are still able to get proper lives.

Thus, the most important thing is not about remuneration. As long as our government officials never get enough for themselves and pursue political career as a pathway to be richer, they will never get enough. Corruption will be still prevalent and clean government cannot be ensured just by remuneration program. Furthermore, the question is: what if there is a person who comes to a minister and offers some amount of money that is significantly bigger than their monthly salary? Does it mean that he/she will be subdued because of their price tag-based loyalty? Another case: what if one of his/her relatives comes to him/her insisting that they want to get a government project? Even though they do not offer any money, as long as they are family member, it will be very likely that special treatment will be endorsed upon them. Thus, how can we be sure that salary increase can build a clean government? How can we be sure that the term “enough” is not an exaggerated condition aired by our government officials? And as long as they always look their relatives who are richer than them, how can we be sure that they will not get subdued to be greed and thus demanding more salary increase in the name of “daily needs?”

In this regard, I think Prabowo’s statement is absolutely wrong. The first thing that we need to reform is meritocracy and loyalty. This is not about increase in salary. It is true that people should never let others to live in a desperate condition. But once you serve for a country, you work for people and give your loyalty to your country. In an extreme case, I rather agree with what has been taught by Plato and applied in early Ottoman Empire that guardians of a nation should be told about “noble lie” and forced to renounce their kinship tie in order to accomplish political purification since kinship tie will disrupt the just political order. Or it does seem more proper if government officials should be ruled in the same way as during the Ottoman Empire where they could not hold hereditable properties. Or even like in early Chinese Emperor while the all of the eunuchs are castrated in order to prevent them to have sexual desire, especially toward the wife of the emperor. These conditions then lead to pure meritocracy and loyalty. Those who serve for the nation will give all of they have and then never intends to disrupt the whole system; purely to serve the people. Should we have a system like this one? The answer to this question can only be validated through public deliberation in order to consider its good and bad.

However, the most important point that I would like to underline in this matter is not such extreme cases. I just want to put one thing: once you have chosen to serve your country, please never think about your salary because I am sure that Indonesians will not let you live in a desperate condition; once we have acquired proofs of your achievements, we can even easily grant you many incentives; but the first thing that you should have in your mind and conscience is your sincere to serve us. This is why to become a leader or a legislative member for this country is actually a very demanding job due to the high responsibility. And in this regard, I still cannot understand why many people out there eager to take this position and then just begging us to increase their salary but just can sleep and absent during meeting or extorting our taxation through project projects. Thus, it is not about money, Mr. Prabowo; it is about sincere in serving and I think from the point incentives will follow because Indonesians are your master  and everyone sits in the government position has a duty to serve all Indonesians. Like Ahok, your own cadre, said: if you want to be rich, be a businessman not a civil servants.  

Jokowi, Promise, and Our Double Standard

One day, one of my friends asked my opinion about divorce in marriage. Since in Indonesia marriage is both about religious and legal matter, I answered that I did not support divorce because in my religion, the couple had promised to be with each other until death separates them. A further question is then raised: how if the reality insists them to do so? My answer is clear: that is why you need to know each other before performing your marriage because once you have promised; you are not liable to take it back.

Promise and double standard

Talking about promise is important nowadays because it seems that it is rather easy to merely say about it than realizing what has been promised. As Indonesians, the main reason why we demonstrate against legislative members is because they fail to fulfill their promise once they campaigned to obtain the legislative seat. This is also the reason why we are easily bored with political campaign: it is because we no longer need promises out from the legislative candidates; people just want them to work and prove that they are able to perform their duty well.

Recently, heat tension in Indonesia political circumstance is rising especially because Jokowi has been formally announced as the presidential candidate from PDI-P, the main opposition party. Social media and online forums are also divided into two main blocks: those who do and don’t support Jokowi as candidate for RI 1. The ongoing tension is further escalated by one forum in Kaskus showing how Jokowi is allegedly involved in several corruption cases in Solo. Unfortunately, the writer does not cite any credible source backing his/her hypothesis. With this increasing debate and tension, a simple question is worth to ask: does Jokowi deserve to be a president?

When Jokowi was going to compete for Jakarta Governor, I was actually one of his fans. It is quite rare to see a leader who is able to mingle with his grass-root society, hearing their complaints and then very decisive in taking decision. As Jakartans, I feel bureaucracy reform is moving so fast. Once we face unimportant difficulties in obtaining any kind of permits, for example, we just send text message to the leaders and everything will be alright for the next days. Up to now, I can still feel positive reactions in respect to our new leaders in Jakarta despite the prevailing of several problems such as flood and traffic gridlock which in my opinion cannot be easily solved just by purely relying on the Jakarta’s new leaders.

But, could this achievement be justified as a strong basis to support Jokowi as a president? I think the answer is quite clear: no. The problem is not located on doubt about his capability for bringing good reform. Furthermore, alleged corruption as posted on Kaskus cannot also be justified to thrown out him from his presidential candidate. The main problem is located on his promise to lead Jakarta for 5 years once he said during his governor election. I would like to ask: why does not he fulfill his promise?

Many answers can be taken up to surface and there are two main answers that is mostly cited in social media: (1) if Jokowi leads Indonesia, it will be easy for Ahok to handle Jakarta and there will be no more recrimination between Central and Jakarta Government and (2) if Jokowi is not nominated, who should we vote for? Both of these answers do seem to undermine the promise that Jokowi had made when he was going to be Jakarta Governor. I rather ask them question: why do we often demonstrate against our government officials once they could not fulfill their promise and when Jokowi does similar thing, why rather we seek justification to support it? Have not we applied double standard in this political matter? We tighten the standard for the legislative members and loosen it toward Jokowi. Furthermore, as cited in, Jokowi said that as long as Indonesia Constitution permits him to be a presidential candidate, everything will be alright. By saying so, in my opinion, he just undermines his position as a true leader who should have taken seriously what he has promised. He just undermines his uniqueness that I am looking for a true leader. And lastly, it does seem that he is indifferent with usual politicians who just like to give promise without further realization and just sell out his conscience to political party.

I am not in the opposition toward Jokowi. It is because I am his fan that I think I need to urge him to fulfill his promise as Jakarta Governor for 5 years. Moreover, by siting longer as Jakarta Governor, I think he will be more ready to prepare his subordinates once he takes up throne as Indonesian President. Thus, everything will be better once he becomes a President and less people would oppose his candidacy.

Thus, to Mr. Jokowi and all Indonesians, I just want to insist one thing: a promise is a promise. We just cannot put a double standard just because we have achieved something. And just because it is legal under Indonesia Constitution, it does not mean you are wise to do so. As in marriage condition: even if reality insists you to divorce, the best way to deal with it is to counter the submission because you have promised to be with your partner forever. You have given your promise and you are subject to fulfill it. If promise is then no longer exalted, then people will be very easy to promise everything without thinking and make any decision without proper calculation.

The last say toward Jokowi: at least I know that you are merely a usual politician, not that extraordinary because the extraordinary one is those who can hold on to his/her promise because it is the rarest character ever.

Labor Demonstration and the State of Consciousness Blindness

New Year euphoria has just ended and workdays have just been started. Expectations and resolutions for 2014 have come with a strong hope that all of them will be soon realized. However, my first post in 2014 is not about my resolutions. Rather, I would try to bring a flashback about an incident happened in the past: labor demonstration for higher wage demand. As workdays have just been started for 2014, labors also start to work and it is not impossible for them to do the same thing: to demonstrate asking higher wage. Thus, should people in Indonesia react in the same way? I mean that for those who condemned the action in the past would also do the same thing in 2014 and so does for those who support the action. In this writing, I would like to elaborate some ideas about labor demonstration. As usual, I would not justify what is right and wrong. Preferably, I would try to bring all of us contemplate about the meaning of such an action and the relation between the demonstration and our lives.

At a glance, in 2013, it did seem that those who condemned labor demonstration outnumbered those who supported the action. There were several reasons raised; but the main reason was about the demonstration that was considered as disturbing so most people cannot do their daily activity properly. The reason seemed quite logical. Demonstration just makes traffic jam gets worse. Moreover, productivity can also get lower because labors are often insisted to join the demonstration, regardless their conscience says. Domino effect can then be forecasted such as lower economic growth, etc. It then seems that demonstration just brings negative effects to Indonesia. But, is it the real case? How if the condition is reversed and we bring the condition unto the most extreme point, namely no demonstration is allowed?

Thanks to labor demonstration

Nowadays, middle class people in Indonesia are rising. It is not hard to find clear evidence describing such condition. It can be clearly seen when people can easily afford motorcycle or car as their private vehicle to go to work. Furthermore, consumerism has also successfully lingered Indonesians and it can be clearly seen when you saw many people queuing at cashier to pay their Christmas and New Year shopping yesterday. If you really want to find scientific evidence regarding Indonesia middle class, you could find about the study that has been conducted by World Bank or IMF or other NGOs. The rising middle class is a fact and how could we relate such a phenomenon with labor demonstration?

If there were no demonstration, Indonesians would not be recognized as a democratic country. Political and economic turmoil that happened in 1998 clearly demonstrated that sometimes demonstration and speak-up was needed in order to prevent dictatorship. When injustice has just been indicated and no one is brave enough to speak-up, should people sleep well in the dictatorship and rely on arbitrary power who leads them? I do not think so. Human beings are kind of beings who are endowed with reasons in order to not get blind and critically think about the circumstances surrounding them, That is why demonstration and speak-up are needed because human beings know when there is something wrong, they cannot stand still.

The same phenomenon also prevails for middle class Indonesians. In my opinion, the rising middle class of Indonesia cannot be made independent from labor demonstration. If there were no demonstration at all, capitalists would have an arbitrary power to do whatever they want. You could find out easily about Haymarket Incident: an incident that is marked as the deflection point of labor to curb the arbitrary power of capitalists. Could you imagine if there was no Haymarket Incident and capitalists can arbitrarily utilize their labors to work about 20 hours a day without proper wage? Haymarket Incident is just one clear example how labors demonstration clearly affects our lives nowadays. People nowadays just enjoyed the struggle conducted by the labor in the past. We can now enjoy 8 working hours a day, good salary, bonus, and so on because there was an awareness rising in the past about injustice conducted by capitalists. Thus, the raising middle class cannot be independently investigated without involving labor demonstration as one of its starting points. Thanks to labor demonstration conducted in the past: I think this is the best way to say grateful for our condition today.

However, there is also a problem raised by such a labor demonstration and middle class rising. It is true that workers are paid more properly than in the past. But, such a salary will then lead to another problem; a problem that I would like to call: consciousness blindness.

Consciousness blindness

What money can’t buy? That is a question posed by Michael Sandel, an American philosopher. The question also becomes a title of one of his treatises after he published “Justice”. According to Sandel, in this current circumstance, money can buy nearly everything. In Indonesia, it can be clearly seen when corruptors could easily bribe jail warden so they can have special treatment in the jail. This is a simple case to show that money does really matter. However, also according to Sandel, society should not work in that way. It is true that everything needs money but money should have not be able to buy everything. There is something that should be properly placed: value. Once value has been successfully diminished by money, society is not walking in the right way. Hence, how we correlate consciousness blindness and money can buy everything-phenomenon?

Human beings have desire to be better and get more in nearly everything. A father who failed to pursue his higher education in a world class university, for example, might have a desire to send down his desire to his children. He has a desire that his descendants will have a better future than him. Moreover, the phenomenon does not only occur in a family relationship. In a class struggle, human beings also have desire to get better. When they look above, they will have a desire to be like those who are above them. Their ego will then lead them to strive so they can afford everything similar owned by the people who are considered above them. Furthermore, the condition does not always mean that they need the things. Often, the condition happens otherwise: they have a desire to have something because of social status adhered to the desired things. In this case, people may buy a car not because they need it for transportation but because they tend to “upgrade” their social status and not being looked as “less” than other. In this circumstance, people value others because the things they have and getting better means have more and more luxurious things. It then means: as long as you have sufficient means, you could afford nearly everything and you could achieve higher social status. Thus, sufficient means is the prerequisite. And this is the actual starting point of consciousness blindness.

In my hypothesis, consciousness blindness is started when money can buy nearly everything. In this case, human beings no longer realize about their actual status and, moreover, about the historical importance of their current condition. Let me give you a simple example: what is the difference between managers with our current status of “labors”? The difference is actually bias. The former holds a stronger position than a later because they can afford more money than the later. Based upon my above explanation, endowed with more sufficient means, the managers will have higher status compared with the “labors.” Realistically speaking, both of them have no difference at all since they are all labors because they are paid. However, while the managers can afford more sophisticated things with the salary, they tend to think that their status is actually above mere “labors.” Thus, it can be said that this is the state of consciousness blindness: a state where human beings do not realize their actual condition caused by the paradigm shift (in the above case, the shifter is money that can buy nearly everything).

In such a state, human beings no longer realize their actual status. This might become the main reason why many people condemned labor demonstration conducted at Jakarta last year. The blind condition might successfully deliver them to not realize that their recent high salary and better working condition were actually the result of labor demonstration conducted in the past. Had it not happened, they would not have enjoyed the same thing as today. Blurred by the presence of money, what they have in mind nowadays was to show that they had higher status that was needed to be preserved; to always differentiate them with the “mere labor.” Hence, once their daily activities to generate money have to face “unpredicted” and “non-sense” obstacles, condemnation can easily out from them. Thus, the consciousness blindness may be the appropriate reason why labor demonstration can be easily condemned in this country with its incessant growing of middle class.

However, consciousness blindness is not only the problem of the middle class. It also engulfs the “mere labor” class. Labor struggle conducted in the past was aimed to prevent the arbitrary power of the capitalists. The question that should be asked is then: does our current labor demonstration really aim at the goal? In my opinion, the “mere labor” class also gets trapped with consciousness blindness. It could be clearly seen when labor demonstration started to demand something that is not related to their wellbeing, such as private vehicle credit. In such a case, labors are then trapped in “money can buy everything” term since they demand something that they consider will improve their social status, whereas it is only an illusion. Thus, how can be the problem solved? The thing that has to be done is to preserve social justice.

I do not want to extensively elaborate about what social justice really is. One thing that people should know is social justice is really important for society as a whole; as has been clearly explained by Joseph Stiglitz in his treatise “The Price of Inequality.” Once social justice is preserved, society can move on the right path. However, there is a price that should be paid if we want to bring in social justice: reduction of avaricious attitude.

When people accumulates wealth for their own benefit, they should realize that actually there are many people outside their circle who are very vulnerable because they cannot even afford their basic daily needs. This is why greediness should be abolished. I do not mean that those who have capital or entrepreneur do not have a right to earn profit. It is their right to earn as much profit as possible and also to accumulate it. I do not also mean that everyone should be prohibited to buy luxurious things in order to prevent envious feeling among social classes. It is also their right to have such things. What I would like to underline is: what is right is not always wise; so it is important to also bring your ratio to become a wise person.

In this case, I do not think that accumulating wealth while others should still live in dire circumstances is a wise action even though it is right. And in my opinion, to become wise is not either to let labors should face hard living while their boss can live with abundance or incessantly demand wage increase while their boss is facing difficulties. In this regard, there should be a transparency and consensus between the two parties and such a case is located beyond the scope of this article. And for the last part, I also think that to become wise is also to acknowledge the importance of history. One thing should be underlined: our working condition can be better because of labor struggle happened in the past and let not the money throws out the history and deliver us to get trapped into a state of consciousness blindness.



A Discourse on Nationalism Ethic – Between Fact and Value (Part 1)

It was about several days ago when I read an article posted by one of my friends regarding studying abroad. In the article, an interview was conducted with an alumni graduated from ITB, Indonesia’s very well-known and highly reputable institute in science and technology. What I would like to emphasize in the article is about the nationalism ethic. She actually says that there are many ways you could choose to build your country, either from inside or outside. Thus, this writing would be dedicated to talk about nationalism ethic. As my previous writings, I would not like to insist you on the matter regarding my view. My discourse in this view has been conducted between myself and my inner one in a deep conversation.

Between fact and value

In the treatise, A Short History of Ethics, Alasdair McIntyre says that actually there is a problem that always lingers the ethical issue that is always tried to be solved: between fact and value. The problem can be easily stated as is-ought problem. A simple example that is very often used is: because he is my father, I ought to obey him and another example depicting the problem relating to nationalism ethics is like this sentence: because you are Indonesian, you ought to build this nation. A critical question then arises: why should I obey my father? Why should I dedicate myself to my nation? Is there any plausible reason to justify the act? Generally speaking, the is-ought is a problem that always tries to justify the reason holding a value (respecting parents, nationalism, etc.) that is considered having a correlation with a fact or to reject such a disposition, thus claiming that value is always independent from fact.

To be born as an Indonesian is indeed a fact that I could not dispose of. More specifically, born in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia is also a fact of me. Thus, am I then obliged to serve my nation’s interest? I would like to elaborate my ideas in this writing.

Sartre says that facticity has no correlation with your current situation. What is meant by facticity is the fact that everyone holds. In regard with my case, for example, facticity shows that I am an Indonesian. But if I follow what is taught by Sartre, being an Indonesian is only a fact that has no correlation with my current status as student. Thus, the time when I was graduated, I would be free to choose not working and serving my country. With the sea of possibilities waiting ahead, I will have many numerous better opportunities and leaving Indonesia will be a good choice actually since this country is always lingered with cliché problems: sex and religion. I will then be able to earn as much money as I want, to build my own family, living happily ever after without have to struggle and think hard about the welfare of others. This is my life and since I find happiness and pleasantness by doing this, I will try hard to sustain my current life. Or the other way may also arise. I choose to serve to my country by working as a civil servant, as an example. But, the important thing that should be underlined is: I choose to work as a civil servant because I choose to do it and it has nothing to with my facticity as an Indonesian. As a conclusion, if I would like to live in a Sartrean life, I should treat my facticity as the facticity that stops there. My current situation should be independent from the facticity.

Until this point, the objection that I would like to raise is relating to this condition: if it is the facticity that opens my opportunities, should I leave it behind? Does it mean that the facticity has entailed me a great responsibility? Take another case as this one. I was born as an Indonesian and because the Indonesians are good taxpayers, I then had a big opportunity to get into an outstanding school and graduated with better outlooks. I think that a simple missing link regarding facticity is the abstract connection that actually exists between numerous facts and its consequences.

This will then deliver me to also think that not all values are independent from facts. Some values may be independent and these highest values are indeed what can be said as categorical imperative by Kant where universalization of values could be established, such as you have no right to kill a person without any plausible reason; even if you have any, such an act is indeed objectionable. However, there are values that I think cannot be released from facticity because the matter of choice and consequence. This will be the main part of the next writing where I will explain the matter of choice and consequence relating it to the condition of abstract connection. 

Traffic Gridlock and Prisoners’ Dilemma

Traffic gridlock is something that people really never want to experience. Quality time is merely wasted just waiting other private vehicles to move. People can then easily get stressed because they know that their time should be spent most without anything to do except waiting. Unfortunately, this is something that people in Jakarta may face in 2014, as predicted, if the number of private vehicles in Jakarta keeps growing in current trend without any significant addition of road. Should we face this nasty condition?

Current debate is arising talking about Low Cost Green Car (LCGC). You could afford such a car by spending your money about 80 million rupiah. It is not then a huge amount of money for those who live in the upper or even middle class family. Furthermore, the driving forces are not merely located at the price that can be considered “low.” LCGC also offers “green living” by bringing slogan “green car.” It then means that you could save more gasoline while using the car. But, the most important driving force, based on my opinion, is still one: prestige. By buying private vehicle, driving it by yourself, your prestige will be substantially raised up, regardless the price you pay for it. But the crucial question arises: with traffic gridlock is waiting ahead, how important your prestige really is with LCGC?

Prisoners’ dilemma

Prisoners’ dilemma is a well-known game theory describing a situation where there are two prisoners detained together but they are separated when being questioned regarding the crime they have just committed. The rule of the game is simple and can be described as below:

  1. If both of the prisoners still cooperate each other (trust his/her colleague for not committing any crime), there will be no evidence taken regarding the crime. Both of them will serve 1 year in prison based upon the evidence taken by judges.
  2. If one of them chooses not to cooperate (tend to defect) and another one still keeps silent (tend to cooperate), he/she who cooperate will serve 10 years in prison based upon clear evidence stated by his/her colleague. And he/she who defects will be freed as a reward.
  3. If both of them defect each other and not keep silent, they will serve 5 years in prison based upon the evidence taken by judges and as a reward since both of them cooperate with the judges. But, the punishment also clears: since it is clear that they committed crime, they have to serve in prison.

Prisoners’ dilemma does also prevail when people live in society and such a dilemma is true when people talk about traffic gridlock that Jakarta people are going to face. The dilemma happens between using private vehicle and public transportation. Let assume that private vehicle is the state of defect and using public transportation is a state of cooperation. To summarize, the dilemma can be stated as below:

  1. If all of us trust each other, using public transportation rather than private vehicle, all of us will be rewarded: no traffic gridlock happens since all of us will prefer use public transportation even though we have to share our private place and maybe turning down our prestige.
  2. If there are few of us defect and use private vehicle rather than public transportation, they will be rewarded road that is free from traffic jam because most people still tend to cooperate for using public transportation. Those who defect will be rewarded prestige and free-road and those who cooperate should still to share place and not thinking about prestige.
  3. If all of us prefer private vehicle rather than public transportation, traffic gridlock will then happen. All of us will be rewarded prestige but should suffer traffic jam everywhere and wasting quality time.

This is the prisoners’ dilemma happening in our society nowadays. Most of us only think about how to enhance the prestige without have anything to consider about how to be a good citizen. Current condition clearly shows a condition either in number 2 or 3. There are only few people who feel that using public transportation will bring reward. On the other hand, those who use private vehicle for prestige always hope that many people will use public transportation in order to ease the traffic. Such a condition can bring a conflict in society. Those who prefer use public transportation demand better service while those who use private vehicle protest about traffic congestion. How could our government solve such a conflicting circumstance? Building road means cutting the space for public transportation and vice versa. Who should be prioritized?

Furthermore, if this conflict brings to the condition number 3, people then feel that “I would also like to purchase private vehicle since those who use private vehicle do not want to change their habit.” In such a circumstance, there is one thing that will happen: the end of public transportation era and all of us will suffer traffic gridlock. This is the actual condition that is happening in Jakarta and maybe in other big cities in Indonesia.  

A good citizen will absolutely choose the first option since all of us will preserve justice and also get advantage from it. No quality time is going to be wasted when all persons choose to use public transportation since the road will then only serve such mass transportations. No one will suffer punishment when they become cooperative each other to use public transportation. The only disadavantage maybe about the pristige that can still be preservend when private vehicle is used. 

But, people then will raise a doubt: public transportation service is not good at all; that is the reason why I choose private vehicle. I often talk to many people raising such an argument. My answer is quite easy: if you want check and balance system happens in our society, you should then use public transportation; you may say that the quality is not good enough but you would improve your skill more if you are incentivized and the same reason does prevail for our society, namely using public transportation is a mean to incentivize our government to do more to improve the quality. If only few people use it, I do not think our government will be triggered to enhance the service of public transportation. If we move together to use the public transportation, we will then get two benefits: avoiding traffic gridlock and improving the check and balance system. Thus, why not use public transportation?

But, such an improvement cannot be accomplished just by moving together to use public transportation. The triggering activities should also be conducted by government. In Jakarta, for example, law enforcers should be firm for not letting any kind of private vehicle to get into Transjakarta line even though the traffic jam can no longer be bore. Hopefully, this condition will deliver people to think that using public transportation is better.

Hence, cooperation scheme between society and government is important in this matter. If we are to avoid traffic gridlock, public transportation should be prioritized rather than private vehicles. The statement raised by industrial ministry saying that LCGC is good for people from low class is then questionable. On the other hand, I agree with Jokowi: Jakarta’s current traffic is already saturated and using public transportation will bring many advantages if cooperation happens between society and government.