BULL**** Jobs is one of the better titles for a book I’ve come across. Like all good titles, it tells you most of what you need to know in a very succinct, meaningful phrase.
The author, anthropologist David Graeber, basically contends that a lot of what we consider “work” today actually consists of what are essentially quite meaningless and pointless activities.
He even has five categories of these pointless jobs, which Wikipedia describes as: Flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important; goons, who act to harm or deceive others on behalf of their employer; duct-tapers, who temporarily fix problems that could be fixed permanently; box-tickers, who create the appearance that something useful is being done when it is not; taskmasters, who manage – or create extra work for – those who do not need it.
As I read through this rather amusing list, I couldn’t help but think: most local politicians easily fall simultaneously into just about all of the above categories.
Sucking up to their bosses? Check. Being hatchet men and attacking political opponents? Check. Temporarily fixing problems? Well, it’s possible that making even temporary fixes would be an improvement for most of our politicians. Looking busy while not really? Fifty-fifty. Creating extra unnecessary work? 101%.
Let’s look at two recent examples, starting with the Melaka state elections.
If I only had one word to choose to describe it, “unnecessary” really hits the nail on the head.
Of course, it’s not the only word I’d like to use, but I’m told one should avoid cursing and swearing in one’s column.
I’m no expert on Melaka politics but I think I can state with some confidence that there was no burning necessity whatsoever to initiate a collapse of the state government – and even if there was, dissolving the state assembly and going to state elections was even more unnecessary.
It’s not the first time the Malay phrase “takde lain kerja ke (don’t you have anything better to do)?” crossed my mind when trying to understand the antics of politicians.
They say that nature abhors a vacuum. Sometimes it feels that politicians abhor peace. Sometimes it feels that if things are too quiet or peaceful, politicians start to feel compelled to stir up noise.
In this regard, this Melaka crisis bears some resemblance to the Kajang Move in 2014, and Sabah in 2020.
Prior to these crises, your normal, everyday Malaysian probably wouldn’t have noticed anything particularly out of the ordinary in Selangor in 2014, Sabah in 2020 or Melaka in 2021 – certainly nothing to justify such political upheaval.
And yet, where there were no big problems, politicians seemed dead set on creating one.
Of course, any seasoned political observer can indicate and explain why the players and instigators of this crisis did what they did. From a self-interested point of view, there was definitely a logic to their actions.
The key word of course is “self-interested”. From the point of view of the rakyat, none of this makes any sense whatsoever. It really is just the end result of flunkies, goons, and duct-tapers puttering around creating bull**** work, but with very real consequences.
The recent controversy surrounding Timah Whiskey is much the same.
I may be wrong but I have a feeling that if politicians from one party did not decide to go all out and attack another party about this matter, there is no way this issue would have become as heated as it did.
I haven’t been following the issue closely because, God knows, we should all have better things to do with our time, but from afar, it looks like this time, the people poking at the fire were not the usual suspects but came from the other side of the aisle.
To me, this simply proves for the umpteenth time that our current political system is irrevocably toxic all around. It is a system in which actors feel that they are incentivised to stir up issues that have racial and religious undertones, all to further narrow political goals a few inches in one direction or another.
They stoke these fires so casually, with no thought to how much damage they are doing to the fabric of Malaysian society.
Their hate-mongering invariably trickles down to our dinner tables and WhatsApp chat groups. In one such WhatsApp group – one very dear to me personally – polemics started heating up again, and after all the barbs back and forth, I feel that my friendship with some people ended up being negatively affected.
I hate that this is the case. It’s unbearable how politicians pursuing their own goals are straining the relationships between Malaysians that would otherwise be getting along better.
I’m not writing this in the hopes that politicians will read, and “insaf dan bertaubat”. I am less optimistic than others about influencing their behaviour.
I’m writing this in the hopes that more of us realise how we can no longer look to politicians to engineer positive, constructive national narratives. That job – that real work – falls back on us, the rakyat.
Since the last change of government, my colleagues and I have been going round and round on the question of how we can do this. It’s a difficult task and progress is slow; but we’re going to try to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and we may just be starting to see some hope on the horizon.
Nathaniel Tan is a strategic communications consultant who works with Projek #BangsaMalaysia. Twitter: @NatAsasi, Clubhouse: @Nathaniel_Tan, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. #BangsaMalaysia #NextGenDemocracy. The views expressed here are solely the writer’s own.