Reality, Illusion and the Restoration of Dignity
Reality, Illusion and the Restoration of Dignity

I buy organic vegetables sometimes when I have a bit of spare cash on me. But since the explosion of the “organic is awesome” movement, I’ve stepped back a little and stared at organic vegetable packaging. Just to metaphysically consider the Truth in the nett weight section of the packaging.

Really? Is it really organic?

What constitutes “organic” in the pure sense of the word? If the “organic farm” up in Cameron Highlands is a plot located next to a gigantic sewerage treatment plant, does it still qualify? If it’s situated next to a non-organic vegetable farm, does it still qualify? After all, chemical leaching via the soil occurs right? Depending on which farm is elevated above the other? Gravity rules, no?

Let’s come down the slope a little to this delightful thing called “banking”.

Nothing is free. Banks need to earn money too. And by this token, I’m suspicious when the personal financial manager calls me 10 times a month to try and sell me a “great investment plan”. Will I really live to 75 to get the payout? Especially given that we live in a country where even lawyers can receive threats for defending those they believe are innocent? Or a country where even organic vegetables can turn a bright red in the RM850 “chemical tracing” machine?

Or let’s talk about the education system. The teachers, are all of them real? Or are some of them just people with teaching certificates they’ve obtained, thanks to a low passing-mark? More importantly, do they even like children? If they do, why would they say careless, crude things that might affect their self-esteem simply because they’re of a different race? Why would they put a cane on them for bringing non-halal food? They’re not teachers if they teach us about hate. But they deceive us. They look like teachers. They dress like teachers. But they’re really walking chips-on-shoulders.

So my conclusion is, we’ve living in a Matrix, minus some cool leather gear. And good old-fashioned greed for power is the CEO.

This silly CEO, he drives a different car everyday. One day, it’s a Lambo, another it’s a Perdana that costs a few hundred thousand ringgit to maintain a year. Must be the cheap driver’s window that keeps collapsing or getting stuck. Or the wife who needs a holiday to Europe. To open a bank account, no less.

We were intravenously given the blue pill when we were born. Our parents didn’t even realise it so we shouldn’t blame them. With the blue pill, you live every day thinking you’re in the most perfect country in South East Asia. No earthquakes. Famous highways and roads. Multi-racial harmony. Fair job opportunities for everybody. And yes, inflation is always around 3% while unemployment is always, always under 5%. Whoa. Who’d want to leave?

That’s not all. In sunny, beautiful Malaysia, deviant teachers get away with a simple “sorry” because “It’s not a big deal. It was a slip of the tongue. They didn’t mean it.” In everything-sugar-and-spice Malaysia, a politician can get off scott free for lying because, well, he didn’t – “I was misquoted. How dare they?”

Ah. So where’s the red pill? Do you really want to take the red pill? Morpheous doesn’t force you to take it, and surely, nobody should. You take the red pill because something inside you tells you something is wrong around you. You take it when you consult your Conscience, and take a moment from clocking in your Time Sheet to listen to it. You might have a religious moment there. No need to go to Church, Temple or the Mosque.

You’ll know if the red pill is working if you suddenly feel the urge to do more than lament in passing, about everything pertinent to your life. Neverending toll payments. Suspicious privatisation of companies. Subsidies. Sudden education policy announcements that make no sense. Sudden disappearances of “brave” citizens. And court cases. You get the drift.

You feel this way because your mind rationally works out that such issues – increasing over the past few months – will negatively impact your future, if not your children’s, in the long run. Not because it’s trendy to be angsty like Linkin-Park-style rock.

So, you might sign more petitions against obvious human rights violations. Lobby alongside Teoh Beng Hock’s family for a conclusion to the case. Write to your MP about the arrest of lawyers for distributing the Red Book. Donate some cash to help the UKM4 students trying to re-appeal their court case. You could even just choose to attend a MyConsti workshop.

You see, awakening to the Matrix is a potent Road to Damascus for any Malaysian but you don’t necessarily have to flay yourself to make a difference. You could turn into a serious, balls-out human rights activist attending rallies and protests, your wrists held up perpetually in preparation for some handcuffs. You could turn into a PR executive helping human rights groups coordinate and/or raise funds for their projects. But you could also simply be a serial button clicker for online petitions. The fact is, you’re awake. You’re doing something.

Social activism is relatively new to our country. Maybe it’s been slowly swelling up in recent years but the tipping point was definitely the 2008 General Elections. Alternative media pick up on cases and stories mainstream news won’t publish. And those with access to alternative media find suddenly that it’s no longer so easy to ignore the red pill.

While social activism can be contagious – imagine suddenly discovering you have a platform and voice not just for karaoke but for effecting change in meaningful ways – high-risk activism is not for the faint-hearted. Especially not if you live in a country still too insecure to dispose of or, at least, amend the ISA and other gag-related acts to subdue possible “sedition”. A country that has proven that some people will hold on to power and hide their mistakes at all costs.

Yet, the momentum and the effectiveness of a lively environment for social activism needs to be promoted. Not because it’s cool to put our lives at risk. Or to be given column inches for professional grousing. But because it’s good for dignity. It’s fuel for self-improvement as well as the nation’s progress, because if done sincerely, it benefits all our countrypersons. Even if they’re still floating on the effects of the blue pill.

Most of all, if it’s carried out with concerted effort, it should keep any ruling power honest, as a more honest, fair government translates to a truly, closer-to-paradise Malaysia. The one we’ve almost forgotten.

Lisa is an ex-copywriter and mother who has decided – when not chasing after her 18 month old – that writing for larger causes is a lot more rewarding. She hopes that by writing, more consciousness will be awakened. And more Malaysians will come out of the comforts of their lives to defend, from all forms of injustices, the lifestyles they have worked hard to gain.

Lisa Ng is a human being. She used to be a copywriter in the advertising industry. But now she just writes. For whatever helps us regain the lost art of "giving a toss" about the things that matter to...

4 replies on “Living Inside the Matrix. And how to get out, the non-Hollywood way”

  1. Hey LN, love your article, especially the Matrix reference. I believe a scene from the film aptly sums up our situation in Bolehland— arrogance, selfishness, shortsightedness, denial, apathy, these are all the things that are keeping us trapped in this rut. Even by mere inaction, we have put ourselves in the "Matrix"…

    Morpheus said it best: "The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it."

    Fight the Power!

  2. Hi Angeline, thanks for encouragement. I can't imagine Malaysia in 10 years' time. A bit scared but also do not want to think that Malaysia should break down so easily and so fast. There are many, many sensible people out there but unfortunately many of the small-minded people happen to be in important driver's seat. I'm waiting for Batman to rise up in what may become "Gotham". At least if the Harvey Dents of the country fail.

  3. Hey Lisa. Great piece as usual. I'm a fan :)

    Malaysians need to get out of their comfort zone and realise that they are in a far more dangerous place if they don't start somewhere.

    The future of Malaysia is bleak. We have a weak judiciary system, incompetent and corrupted officials, poor education system, and a fake economy. Can you imagine what it's going to be like living in Malaysia in 10 years time?

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