1Malaysia | Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nora_valo/
1Malaysia | Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nora_valo/

How will the collective common sense affect our social condition when they linger over the populace?

This is Part 3 of a 5 part series. Read Part 1 and Part 2 first.

To answer that question, we must firstly acknowledge the postcolonial politics that gave rise to the collective common sense (previously introduced here). Malaysian politics is institutionalised insofar as it determines the social system instead of vice versa. There is always the sense of detachment and exclusivity in government’s policy, leading to an incoherent set of momentum coming from different levels, for instances: the slogan does not describe the people; the practice does not inform the theory; failed policy secured its continuity through publicity, resulting the disengagement between publicity and execution whereby the publicity sustained the continuity of execution, like a doctor reiterated on the same medicine despite its defects. These consistent attempts led to a deformed functioning of a nation and one could have postulated it for political reasons and postcolonial rapid modernisation.

But the problem is in fact a false categorical implication existed since the colonial history; the economic struggles are usually attributed to ethnicity when they are often conflicts of class. These class conflicts are disguised as ethnic struggles to exonerate the beneficiaries from being victimised1. The publicity and the execution of our policy targeted at different categories, the former at ethnicity and the later at class, and the disengagement was therefore repercussions of different intentions where ethnicity became a political frame. When one criticises, the critique will be misdirected under the lens of skin colour, every problem becomes an ethnic problem. Simultaneously, this gives prominence to the need for ethnic-based political parties. This ethnocentric circuit that fuels the subsistence of power is obviously another puzzle where ‘ethnic’ is merely a signified strategised for ersatz dramas since colonial history.

Secondly, one should also bear in mind in the preoccupation of communication, or the impossibility of communication2, to be aggravated by the media pool, has created an incongruent trifold endeavour (policy, media, people) in our postcolonial social landscape3.

Assuredly, now to answer the question, the collective common sense is an understandable reaction towards the play of publicity and superficial conception, neither the execution nor the policy itself. Those are the masters of signifieds, our bias and prejudice too indicating another signifieds at play – the whole negotiations between the people and the authority are almost cosmetic. As we patched on these surfaces to revaluate, rejuvenate and reconstruct, we are performing a collage work of signifieds where people do not commit themselves to the propagandas; while the government – giving no reason to commit either –  reorganises their priority to an ultra populist strategy which is highly welcoming but in reality a far cry from what’s needed.

The collective common sense falsely evinces ignorance thus rationalising authority’s political framework. Civic ignorance jeopardises the future of human rights and nation because it reverberates through the social sphere to devising a cycle of impassivity – the perfect setting for power and hegemony. Civic aggression on the other hand, while aiming for decentralisation of power and the empowerment of people, have to consider the history and complexity of nationhood. The current predicaments lie in the political framework trapped within history, now a stagnant pendulum that had been reproduced and has remained reticent about the framework. Or else, social movements will only change the cover without interfering the superstructure that lies underneath and activism will become another tool to reinstate or subsidise political determinism over the society.

Collective common sense seems tangible because the interactionism therein is organic, only the process appears unnatural. What would arise out of this whole system could be a worryingly hegemonic counter-concept striving only for pacificatory inclusiveness. The latest is 1Malaysia, being a concept that unites, has simultaneously evolved through strategic ambiguity as collective common sense lingers and its operation takes effect, cultivating 1Malaysia’s postmodern omnipotence to arrogate to the authority what constitutes a Malaysia.

This main argument will be laid out in the following two parts of this 5-parter.


  1. The idea of ethnicity as a problem of class struggle can be understood from Marxist dependency theory in ethnic relation studies. The theory stated that ‘ethnic relations are perceived as production/business liaisons that oftentimes lead to ensuing struggles over the market’. Farish Noor observed such situation as ‘internalising the logic of colonial governmentality’, on the idea of ‘ethnicity’ in racial politics, he stated, ‘the “fixing” of ethno-linguistic and cultural groupings according to their appointed roles and places in plural economy was suited to the needs of racialised capitalism rather than the desire to see a multiracial equal society emerge.’ For a fuller account on the ideas, see Laura Leets, Howard Giles and Richard Clément, “Explicating ethnicity in theory and communication research,” Multilingua 15 (1996): 123. and Farish A. Noor, “The Lost Tribes of Malaysia,” in What Your Teacher Didn’t Tell You: The Annexe Lecture Vol. 1 (Petaling Jaya: Matahari Books, 2009), 82-83.

  2. On the impossibility of communication/mass communication, refer Walter Lippmann, “The World Outside and Pictures in Our Heads” in Public Opinion (New York: Free Press, 1922), 9-24.

  3. Political parties also take advantage of this complex layering of contents in order to remain ambiguous. Mass media is a mediating platform that conveniently allows the politicians to give a general idea in order to garner the supports of the majority. It is known that ambiguous position will benefit the politicians in electoral competition. Regarding an observation in Taiwan’s 1996 presidential election (on the issue of Taiwan’s independence) a research was carried out: ‘the people of Taiwan are baffled (about presidential candidate Lee Teng-hui’s stance on joining the mainland). In opinion polls, a third say they believe he is for unification, another third say he wants Taiwanese independence, and the remainder say they have no idea at all’. Eventually, Lee Teng-hui won the election, and it was believed that the victory was due to his strategy of ambiguity. For the full review on how ambiguity would benefit electoral competition, see C.Y. Cyrus Chu and Emerson M.S. Niou, “The Strategy of Ambiguity in Electoral Competition,” Academia Economic Papers 33 (2005): 279-302.

Tan Zi Hao is a visualiser with an immense interest in texts. He enjoys reading, writing and making artworks with texts. He is still finding a way to negotiate between text and image, but often got baffled by his own pre-existing distinctions.

Tan Zi Hao keeps an eye on the discourse in Malaysia and looks for issues where the public and himself have overlooked. He writes about conflicts in the process of socialisation, identity formation and...