IN his book, The Road to Somewhere (published March 2017), David Goodhart argued that to understand the increasing populism in contemporary politics, we must first acknowledge that society can be loosely divided into two categories of people – those who see the world from Anywhere, and those who view the world from Somewhere.
While he derived his hypothesis from post-Brexit Britain and the populist support behind Donald Trump’s election as POTUS, I personally think that his hypothesis can be applied to other societies, even Malaysia.
Loosely quoting from the book: “Anywheres are people who have portable ‘achieved’ identities, based on educational and career success which makes them generally comfortable and confident with new places and people.”
On the other hand, “Somewheres are more rooted and usually have ‘ascribed’ identities ... one core group of Somewheres have been called the ‘left behind’ ... they have lost economically with the decline of well-paid jobs for people without qualifications and culturally (through) the marginalisation of their views in public conversation.”
Goodhart also argued for “a large minority of Inbetweeners”, those who don’t completely belong to either group, showcasing a mix of achieved and ascribed identities.
These loose categories may seem over-simplistic, yet they are relevant in the argument for prescribing a unified national identity (i.e. being Malaysian) vis-a-vis ascribed identities from personal, religious and cultural beliefs from one’s upbringing.
I must admit that discussing the book in a roomful of philosophers and fellow scholars seemed ironic, that all of us – there on the basis of having had a good education and having been successful in our scholarship applications to merit our place in Oxford – were actually living examples of Anywheres described by Goodhart in his book.
We have the privilege to discuss such ideas in the hallowed halls of the oldest university in the world, while elsewhere in our own countries, Somewheres are excluded from such a discussion, merely on the basis of the lottery of birth.
Yet all of us have the same democratic power, through our votes, to change the course of any country.
While most of us argued that the best solution would be to have more inclusive narratives in the building of any nation, some of our fellow countrymen and women perceive Anywheres as condescending.
Case in point: a recent report citing a former politician urging Malaysian youths to leave the country for greener pastures elsewhere, not pausing to mention that there are groups of Malaysian youths who have not even set foot in Kuala Lumpur, let alone those who live in the shadows of the Twin Towers but are left out from reaping all the rewards of decades-long ethnic-based policies that should have ensured upward economic mobility for their generation.
Why don’t politicians (former or current) argue for youths to stay and contribute towards building Malaysia? Is there really nothing left for us to fight and hope for?
Meanwhile, my social media newsfeed was flooded with news of a young politician giving up his place in Oxford (coincidentally at the very School where I am now studying), complete with scholarship – “to save Malaysia and for Malaysia”.
While I applaud his decision to defer his Master’s to run for office in the coming elections, I would respectfully argue that a nation is not built solely by politicians but instead by all of us in our respective fields, who are also doing our best “for Malaysia”.
Regardless of where we fall according to Goodhart’s loose categories, there is no doubt that a functioning world would require the existence of all groups.
What we now need to explore is how to make diversity work.
Instead of blindly critiquing everything that is wrong with our country, we must start identifying the real issues and finding solutions. For some of us, that means actually leaving our families and the stability of our careers behind in Malaysia for a year of study in Oxford; for others, it could be ensuring that the family’s trade is sustained.
We can begin by changing our paradigm on scholarships, to be seen not as an inherent right or merely a reward for having achieved straight As, but instead as platforms for any Malaysian who dares to aspire and put in the effort to be better.
We can further encourage discourse, rather than banning books and clamping down on scholars and academics.
We should also reassess our views of vocational training and non-conventional careers. The rapidly changing world needs reformers and disruptors of traditional industries, moving towards digital technology – alongside plumbers, electricians, and craftspeople providing skills that are increasingly in demand and thus should be remunerated by commensurate wages.
In his review of Goodhart’s book, Jonathan Freedland argued, “Anywheres come from Somewhere, too” (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/22/the-road-to-somewhere-david-goodhart-populist-revolt-future-politics). I could not have phrased it better myself.
I recently spent a Saturday afternoon with Malaysians who are currently residing in Britain. We bonded over homemade nasi lemak and bubur kacang, and regardless of our ethnic backgrounds, spectrum of religious piety or political leanings, or how often we go back home, we all deeply care about Malaysia.
If that doesn’t show how much every citizen, or former citizen, is still rooted in their “Somewhere”, I don’t know what will.
Lyana Khairuddin is a Chevening-Khazanah Scholar pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. The views expressed here are entirely her own.
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