Debunking the modern feudal mindset


In a democracy, every citizen has equal opportunities to prosper, progress and determine the way he wants to live his life in accordance with the law. 

THERE was a period in human history where feudalism was the economic and political system in society.

Western Europe had a feudalistic system from the 8th century onwards, and during various periods in history, so did India, China, Japan, much of Asia, including Malaysia and even England.

The strong became Kings or nobles and the rest of the people were either peasants or serfs. The feudal mindset is steeped in a master-servant or lord-slave relationship. Analysing it closely, you will see that it is actually founded on economic and political strength. The wealthy and the powerful lords over the poor and weak. The master is not to be questioned or accounted for in anything, and he is held in continuous awe by the ordinary people.

There has been global changes in economic and political systems over the centuries ranging from socialism, communism to democracy. Fundamental to the system of democracy is the returning of political power to the citizens of the country.

The citizens themselves now have the power to determine the destiny of the nation, pass laws, own properties, manage the nation’s resources and create wealth and so on.

In a democracy, every citizen has equal opportunities to prosper, progress and determine the way he wants to live his life in accordance with the law. Feudalism and the rule of law in a democracy are antithesis of each other.

In a democracy like ours, the law rules and not any one person, not even the Prime Minister, is above the law. I recall the fourth Prime Minister once telling me that there are many mountains even a Prime Minster cannot move because he is also subjected to the law. Hence, the rule of law, if properly applied, not only allows for a level playing field but also protects the dignity of the ordinary citizens.

I emphasise on dignity because I strongly believe that dignity is an inalienable right given by the Creator to human beings. A feudalistic relationship, on the other hand is a major affront to the human dignity in contemporary times where we have learnt that there are many opportunities for those who are willing. Intrinsic to the feudalistic mindset is dominance by the stronger few of the weaker majority.

While we do not have a feudalistic system in our country, I regret to note that the feudalistic mindset has not disappeared. The master-slave mindset still exists. For many decades, the politicians in power have become the new feudal lords and the ordinary citizens, the modern peasants.

I must confess that I have been upset since the time I was in my teens about the feudal mindset that Malaysians, especially the Malays, have. Probably my reading and rereading of the book The Republic by Plato had a major impact on my outlook. That book made me realise that I have a choice to think and question anything that is handed down to me so that I can fully understand what is it that I am following or asked to accept.

Our schools and, let’s be frank, the culture in our society, do not teach us to question or to undertake independent research. We are generally taught to accept whatever that is handed down to us by our allegedly more knowledgable adults or the allegedly more learned among us. The feudalistic mindset is present even when it comes to the profession and practice of Islam in this country. We have unwittingly allowed “feudal lords of religion” to enslave our minds.

We are also taught to respect our adults, teachers, those in authority and the political leaders. I completely agree that we must respect each other, even those who are younger, poorer or less knowledgeable than us. Humility and respect are civil and useful values to have.

However, I find myself automatically protesting when the concept of “respect” is confused with blind subservience to someone else. This is because when you blindly serve or follow someone else, you relegate yourself from the status of a dignified human being to a slave. Why would you choose to live a life without the dignity that God has accorded to you ?

We allow ourselves to forget that the political leaders are voted in by us and therefore they are there to serve the nation. They are not there to glorify or enrich themselves or to overnight pretend to be an expert in every field. They are not given a blank cheque but a legal mandate to run the country as well as they can in the interest of the nation in accordance with the law. I pray that this master-peasant relationship in our Malaysian politics is a thing of the past.

We have to evolve towards a productive partnership between the leaders and the citizens in governing the nation. It is puerile, as I have often heard in the past, to suggest that if anyone wants to have a say in the governance of the nation, he should stand for elections. The fact is many of us do not want to become politicians because we are fully aware that the country is not developed purely by politics. On the other hand, politics has the tendency and capacity to destroy all the good works that have been done by the apolitical citizens.

Politics has an intimate relationship with power and wealth. The greater the accumulation of power and wealth, the greater is the tendency of the politician to mutate into a feudal lord. The accolades, the attention and the superficial praises that political leaders are often showered upon in our country does not assist to halt the mutation. Hence, the honourable citizens ought to be wary of this process. We too must free ourselves from the feudalistic mindset and learn to live with dignity.

The feudalistic mindset is also present in other facets of our life. Generally, Malaysian society seems to be awed by glitters rather than substance. A good and sincere student builds on the foundation that his teacher has taught him and not merely lie at his teacher’s feet like an obedient dog. A good teacher is grateful that his student has gone further than him in contributing to the body of knowledge. Our society has to learn to evaluate the substance of what someone is saying instead of being mentally subjugated by the array of someone’s formal qualifications. What I personally find amusing is when someone with certain formal qualifications demands that I agree with him simply because he has those qualifications. On the other hand, I view such demands as a sign of insecurity and lack of self confidence to defend his views rationally and civilly.

I find it extremely shameful and oppressive when a person who is in a position of advantage (whether due to age, position, status, wealth or power) demands “respect” due to the advantage. If you had analysed it, you would know that it is not “respect” that is demanded but your subservience. The person wants to dominate you and by that, elevate himself to further his selfish interest.

You should train yourself to see what the dominating person really is – a selfish oppressive bully, an insecure person and a coward. You should also train to see what you really are – do you pride yourself as being a dignified human with an independent mind or a slave who has mortgaged his mind and soul to another mortal? Either way, it is your choice with the life you are given.

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