Ending political divide in society – Indonesian style

ON Wednesday, Indonesia managed to pull off the world’s most complex and largest single-day elections, involving 192 million voters, with only minor glitches and negligible fraud. The turnout was over 80%, and voters behaved in an admirable way by casting their decisive votes before moving on with their holiday plans .

But will the social wounds and fissures that resulted from Indonesia’s most divisive competition for power in the country’s history be healed? (Especially with the polls results heading to a dispute again as Prabowo Subianto claimed victory, dismissing unofficial quick counts showing a win for incumbent leader Joko Widodo.)

I witnessed breakups of friendships in various social circles on Facebook and WhatsApp, including in a small WhatsApp group of some 20 supposedly open intellectuals. The trigger of the breakups was mostly differences in interpreting religious guidance to decide which candidate to choose in this year’s presidential election. I am not sure if the broken-up friendships will ever recover.

But if what happened in the United States two years after the 2016 elections could be an indication, we should be worried.

An NBC/WSJ poll published in October 2018 revealed that 80% of registered voters believed the US was divided. Only 18% of the voters said the country was united. Democratic voters blamed Donald Trump, the Republican Party and the Media as the causes of the division. In contrast, Republican voters pointed at Barack Obama, Liberals, Democrats and the Media.

American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind, Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion said that people’s behaviours in an environment – including a political environment that is strongly influenced by religious sentiments – will be determined by a combination of their cognition elements, intuition, and reasoning. Intuition is defined as rapid, effortless moral judgments and decisions that we all make every day. Reasoning is defined as the royal road to moral truth that people believe. People who reason well will more likely act morally.

Haidt adopts the human model that calls intuition the main cause of moral judgment and reasoning typically follows that judgment to construct post hoc justifications.

Why is it intuition first and reasoning later?

Haidt argues that intuition involves automatic processes that run the human mind-and have been running animal minds for 500 million years – so that it is more reliable, like software that has been improved through thousands of product cycles. On the contrary, reasoning is controlled processes in the human mind that only evolved in the last million years, mostly triggered by intuition. That is why reasoning is imperfect and susceptible to making mistakes. Reasoning serving intuition is best described as someone riding an elephant. The rider represents reasoning and the elephant represents intuition or where the rider (reasoning) works to serve the elephant (intuition).

Haidt also believes that the world consists of many moral matrices with each matrix provides a complete, unified, and emotionally compelling worldview, easily justified by observable evidence and nearly impregnable to attack by arguments from outsiders. Moral matrices tend to bind people together and blind them from believing that other matrices exist in this world. Therefore, it is not easy for people to think that there are other forms of moral truth for them to judge other people.

I have been experimenting for my whole life to find or even help create political and religious harmony wherever I live. It is not an easy task for me who was born to a homogenous conservative Muslim family. But studying in Yogyakarta, where I mingled with friends of different political and religious backgrounds, gave me the first training ground to become a more pluralist person. My first job, where my boss was a highly tolerant priest, was my next pluralism training field.

Now, I am proud to have succeeded to create a small office organisation that consists of people that follow different religions and different political orientations. We are also glad to have gone through three presidential elections (2009, 2014 and 2019) and the Jakarta gubernatorial election in 2017 with no conflict among team members.

How were we able to do it?

First, as the leader of our organisation, I declared my political neutrality and encouraged my team to vote by their political party and presidential preferences. Second, we agreed to make our office a neutral ground where low-level political and religious debates or activities are not allowed. Third, all teams members are free to participate in political rallies on the weekends or during their leave, but they should keep a low-profile.

I agree with Haidt that to set free ourselves from being the victims political and religious short-sightedness, we could start by imagining ourselves as being a small rider running a very large elephant or become persons whose actions are driven mostly by our intuition instead of reasoning. Thinking this way will allow us to be more patient with other people who have different views and not to be quickly involved in unnecessary debates just because we feel we have better arguments than theirs.

Getting out of our moral matrices – our usual, homogenous social circles – is also an excellent way to make us politically or religiously more tolerant. It can be simple: just trying to talk warmly to neighbours or others who adhere to different religions or political orientations. At our office we have free Muay Thai sessions by my IT guy who is an Islam-based party activist/kung fu master/Muay Thai trainer. It has been a good way to get our staff of different religions and political orientations to interact more often. I believe there are many other ways for reasonable people in this country to create conducive political atmospheres and prevent divisive politics from dominating future years of politics.

Indonesia is the world’s largest presidential democratic country that has won respect from many other countries. It is highly regrettable if political and religious differences among its people lead to an increasingly divisive political environment and the destruction of the country’s democracy and its promising economic future.

We’ve completed the April 17 polls smoothly and peacefully. Now we need to accept the results of the elections, reach out to others and unite. – The Jakarta Post/ANN


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