I think, therefore I perish

by Azly Rahman

Cogito ergo, sum
– Rene Descartes

Rene Descartes the 17th century French philosopher and mathematician, in his most famous essay Meditations and A Treatise on Methods proposed the separation of mind and body in our conceptualisation of human nature paving way for the evolution of scientific method in the way we study phenomena.

Sense perception alone is not capable of understanding Nature, thought process separate from the physical entity of the self make understanding Reality complete, according to Descartes.

The ideology of thinking is now known as Cartesian paradigm.

From Cartesian paradigm the idea of falsification and determining of truth-ness of a study evolve, later known as the Scientific Method.

Cogito Ergo Sum, or “I think therefore I exist”, according to Descartes. For the layperson this may mean that it is the independence of thought that determine the nature of existence.

It is through the encouragement of thinking that human existence is celebrated. It is through doubting and dissenting that human beings will be defined as thinking beings.

I perish

We have our own Cartesian philosophy that governs the way we separate the individual from society.

We call it “I think therefore I perish”. It permeates not only at the top level of political management but also universities, high schools, religious and social institutions and even our homes.

In the case of those who think for society and suggest for the betterment of the largest number of people, in a Utilitarian way, we see out government applying our own Cartesian principal of existence: we banish the thinkers and incarcerate them — so that they will not become, like Socrates, Gandhi, or Mandela, an irritant to the rakyat and an agitator to the ruler or the State.

We see them taken away, put in solitary confinement, brainwashed, and indoctrinated with a new consciousness that will make them most subdued and lose their critical sensibility.

This is the Orwellian world we have allowed to evolve – the world in which the British writer George Orwell (pen name of Eric Blair) described in his famous work, 1984 — in which “truth is power” and “war is peace” and the Ministry of Truth produces Official Knowledge to be filter funneled into the mind of the citizens of Oceania.

We are all guilty of being happily amused by the goodies and the candies we deserve as a result of our own surrender to this technopoly we let this Third World capitalist state establish.

We have allowed the Malaysian corporatist developmentalist agenda dictate our economic condition and elect leaders amongst those who have a warped view of human nature, capitalism, and industrialisation.

As in the case of Raja Petra Kamaruddin, we let our leaders jail those who show their rage against the machine; those who dissent and present powerful arguments for an alternative society that champions equality for all and punishes the corrupt and powerful few.

We let the media evolve into a powerful instrument of mental colonisation — letting television become babysitters to our children so that when they grow older they will become not only good consumers of artifacts produced by the Malaysian culture industry but become good and obedient followers of the ideology of communalism – ideology that thrives on the playing of religious and race sentimentalities.

We have consumed too much the State-controlled newspapers, entertained by nice stories of the myth of our own Horatio Alger and the self-made urban legends of our Warren Buffets, Bill Gates, Vanderbilts and Rockefellers.

Unbeknownst to us the complex interlocking directorates and proxies involved in the propping up of our rich and famous.

Understandably the lower the socio-economic class the rakyat is in, the more they are attracted to the bonfire of race and religious vanities.

Perhaps it is to the advantage of the ruling class that the philosophy of education for critical consciousness is to be silently murdered — so that we will have generations after generation of Malaysians that are hegemonised and “neutralised” by a system that gives them Prozac and Valiums as they travel through the conveyer belt of education – from kindergarten to even graduate school.

Championing ketuanan

We see Acts such as the University and University Colleges Act of 1971 being jealously guarded by those in power; the part that disallow students to be involved in political parties are still kept intact — in fear that the students will be free to work for parties that fit their liking for idealism and to ensure that corrupt parties will be legally challenged by an even larger number of students.

We are allowing irrational patronage system to dictate how our students should behave. While many of the vice chancellors are former leaders of communal parties championing ketuanan this or that.

While many now are chairmen and chairwomen of alumni of those race-based parties, the students are not allowed to join any.

The argument that that students will not be able to focus on their studies if they join political parties is a lame one.

It is like a bad tune on a broken record or a badly-scratched CD – students leaders, like athlete-scholars, can perform brilliantly when their focus is to enrich their experience with the philosophy and practice of establishing republics of virtue.

Each student must be given the freedom and opportunity to decide the kind of government they want.

Each generation must be allowed to evolve into ethical beings that will remove any government that has become corrupted and intoxicated with power and no longer serve the rakyat.

In our age, the governing Cartesian philosophy is “they think, therefore they will perish” Or more accurately, if they think and act, we will make sure they perish – seems to be the way the present regime modus operandi.

In universities, we see the separation of mind and the social self in the way our students are encouraged to think. Of course we see students protesting here and there but there is still a sense of emptiness in the content.

The sense of critical sensibility does not seem to have permeated in their consciousness; as the curriculum that structure their mind is still watered down of its critical components.

Over the past few years cases of students and faculty dismissed for speaking up against the government and the university’s governance abound. Many are not yet resolved, waiting to be argued in courts.

Violations of fundamental rights to speak up and to dissent are at the heart of these cases. They reflect the inability of our universities to respect the rights of individuals to be intelligent.


We saw in the case of University Teknologi Mara the Cartesian principle applied.

Why would those thousands of students embarrass themselves by championing for their rights to be chained and caged by the comfort of one-dimensional race-based thinking when their counterparts globally pride themselves with how diverse their campuses are?

We saw the dangerous concept of Ketuanan Melayu funnelled into the mind of the students.

Our bright young learners who ought to be socialised into a world of meritocracy and cultural democracy that values not only hard work and cognition but also inter-cultural understanding and collaboration.

We should have not allowed institutions such as the prime minister’s Biro Tata Negara to set foot on our campuses and force our children to learn its version of “citizenship”.

One that is not only based on a truncated and warped history of Malaysia but also one that closes the mind of the Malays into evolving into brave souls that values multiculturalism and champions the idea of “world citizens”; a noble concept that sees poverty and dehumanisation as a problem of humanity to be solved peacefully and collectively.

We think, therefore we perish.

What then must we do?

  1. #1 by m.hwang on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 5:43 pm

    I understand where the writer is heading but it will take a long long time before our society mature to that level.

  2. #2 by monsterball on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 5:51 pm

    I wonder how many Malaysians can understand what Azly Rahman is saying. Why are Malaysians…mostly Muslims…love to express thoughts with..bombastic words?
    In his previous message ….same style..and few have sounded him off.
    Why is he trying to say..to Malaysians…with all mixed up…into one message.
    From history of mankind…to human behaviors …then to present incidents..in Malaysia…even education system..all lumped up into one message with so many bombastic words.
    I wonder…if Lim Kit Siang published his message with admirations or amusements.

  3. #3 by Emily Pratt on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 5:58 pm

    tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)

  4. #4 by pangwl88 on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 6:24 pm

    With the presents mentality and thinking of our present government.

    With the presents of racism imposed by our government

    With the presents of inequality in treatment of different races by the NEP, special rights of Malays etc etc etc

    With the presents of a non transparent government.


    I believe that many of “US”, will be tempted to migrate over to other countries where “WE” will be treated equally with the person sitting beside “US”. No matter what skin color, what religion, what background that person is. Where? Try Australia, many of our current leaders have big houses over there…

    No wonder many of the rest of WORLD still thinks that we are a THIRD WORLD COUNTRY…….i really can’t blame them, because our country is run by a bunch of leaders with Third World Mindset..

  5. #5 by pangwl88 on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 6:27 pm

    308 past with a flash, so much excitement, so much hope…..

    Where is DSAI?

    I feel the Light at the End of the Tunnel seem to be moving away …..

  6. #6 by daniel3k on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 7:38 pm

    The West had a big head start in logic and rational thought. Despite their good intentions, these “vulcan” minds never had much success leading the mass away from the delightful shadow play on the cave walls. People love the glow of TV, cinema and virtual realities. The illusions stirs our imagination, connecting us with stories of the past, stories that reach way back before the universities and perhaps all the way to the time when tribes of cave men sat together and shared a bond fire together. When the Age of Enlightment came to the Western “Civilisation”, let us be reminded that it bought along a bloody wave of guillotine and conquistadors. There was always a way to justify a massacre or a genocide and even time to find ever more efficient killing machines to do so along the way. We go to bed each night, forgetting that utter destruction of the planet is always a button away.
    So yes, we may envy the clever speeches and witty arguments British Parliamentarians have aired on the BBC, but let us not forget how such a mighty nation is still unable to shake off the absolutely archaic idea of a royal figurehead who wears a costumes everyday while others can only free their imagination on Halloween and Carnivals.
    Logic will build the programs and the devices to take us deep into space, but pushing it further won’t really help temper man’s rollercoaster emotions and destructive tendency. The religious program has been running in societies for thousands of years and rationalism is still a new shiny coin for a small section of the planet. Believers and free-thinkers , Conservatives and Liberals can argue endlessly but neither side will win anything since is arguing using entirely different systems. Believers will quote endlessly from scriptures, non-believers use their “common sense” which usually is not as common as they think.
    Its almost 8 billion humans on the planet now. The rational mind, the invisible hand of the market, and the hypocritical plays on “democracy” has allowed the Industrialization West to lead the rest of the planet into dangerous edge. When government can suddenly spend trillions to bail out professional banker’s folly and refuse to wipe off dept in impoverish countries, people wearing suit and ties really seem to me like the real barbarians of this world. So if a part of the world fights back and spits on Decarte’s grave, I think I could understand why. But this is not the time for blame games. My intuition tells me that neither a rational mind nor a mythical mind can save the future. Our environment is in need for a major bailout. Lets calm down and feel our connection with this earth and cosmos, just as our barefooted great great ancestors did when they looked up to the sky so many millions of years ago.

  7. #7 by isahbiazhar on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 7:43 pm

    To put in a nutshell he wants people to think on their own and the Malays to get out of their cocoon.A bit of philosophy is interesting!

  8. #8 by OrangRojak on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 8:06 pm

    Well, personally, I was wondering what prompted Azly Rahman to be more lucid than usual. Either he has had a better night’s sleep before writing this submission, or I did before reading it. Or perhaps the sky change is nigh and the cloak of circumlocution is coming off his critical comment.

    Perhaps if Rene Descartes were in Malaysia in 2008, he might say “I think, therefore I qualify for a Highly Skilled Migrant Program somewhere”. It’s too early to fear perishing, in my opinion. The last General Election could be read as a sign that things are changing – one could read too much into a single event, however. A change for an imagined improvement might be a long and arduous job. The Highly Skilled Migrant Programs are the easy option, akin to “I think, therefore I wish the rest good luck”.

    He makes a good point about universities and involving the youth in politics. I find it very sad that Malaysia’s young people have to be 21 before they can vote. Almost the entire world votes by 18, and many countries are considering a change to 16. Young people may have been exposed to only a single point of view at home, but their view is also unclouded by financial expediency and lucrative affiliations.

    I don’t fear rejection of my ideals by the young, I wish the same were true of more ‘not young any more’ people. When rejection comes it’s possibly a sign that it’s time to concentrate on the gardening. And listening to the young can be a refreshing source of insight. I’ve had long-held opinions ‘upgraded’ by a young person in the past, I happen it will happen again in the future. It’s important not to live in a museum, and more so, not to condemn those that follow to live in one.

    One thing that bothers me in particular is this: When I read about UMNO Youth (maybe it’s the same for the other political youth brigades: they get less media coverage), it seems the leaders are often men in their 30s. Is that right, or do I have my arithmetic wrong? If it is right, that seems … distasteful at best. I would have thought it would be a fantastic opportunity for young people to develop leadership roles. Or do “Youth” wings extend up to 40 in Malaysia?

    Only asking, you know me and my questions!

  9. #9 by katdog on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 8:12 pm

    “When government can suddenly spend trillions to bail out professional banker’s folly and refuse to wipe off dept in impoverish countries” -daniel3k

    This statement mirrors my own thoughts on the West. Lets not idolize the West too much shall we. Their society is just as much steeped in greed and money.

  10. #10 by haveaview on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 8:47 pm

    GUARANTEE …. not just a paper ..please… It appear that the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) ..was a call by a community on the “guaranteee”…..is the principal of the guanrantee making good?…a ban was issued the day before..instead..

  11. #11 by Mark Foo on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 9:37 pm

    Malaysia is a very small country compare to other countries. Some countries prosper and flourish and some don’t. We are lucky because we have oil but our government were greedy and proud.
    We can see the different between other countries, if we open our eyes. Our leaders are blind and they have no objectives, only for themselves. School education systems, they are poor. Wasting 100 million and 20 billion on unnecessary projects.

    Malaysian can make this a better place. First we must open our heart and ear, what the spirit talk about. Maybe we can come together in the right mindset. Tell me who like to hear about corruption, murder, racist, crime, sex…….I wont tolerate this kind of behavior………..we are malaysian…not racist….we must come together with right mindset……..then let talks…..

  12. #12 by Jeffrey on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 10:18 pm

    Dr Azly Rahman says, “We think, therefore we perish” and asked, “What then must we do?” Answer : We think like UMNOputra, instead of perishing, we thrive.

    Which goes only to say that when Rene Descartes talked of Cogito ergo, sum or “I think therefore I exist”, he was hardly referring to having an independent and questioning frame of mind versus a mind susceptible to indoctrination in the context Dr Azly Rahman’s article.

    Descartes’s “I think” (therefore I exist) in his works “Meditations I and II has nothing to do with critical thinking, lazy or unquestioning thinking or any other nature of thinking. It is just thinking – thoughts, clever, insightful or plain or foolish.

    Descartes belonged to that school of philosophers interested to ascertain what is real and certain from what is mere apparent, in other words, the true foundation of knowledge. (Philosophers are not like most of us: they delve into esoteric questions like what is ‘reality versus appearance’, a subject Philosophy covers).

    In a nutshell our knowledge of the external world – and what is true real or otherwise – is derived from the 5 senses (though some of us claim they have the 6th ).

    Descartes would question whether we could rely on the 5 senses to ascertain reality because the 5 senses do play tricks…Decartes couldn’t trust his own eyes for he might be dreaming he was seeing things.

    So he decided everything ended up in thinking. He decided that it was impossible that he was not thinking, as even the doubt that he was thinking was itself a thought.

    It was hard to be sure of anything else including existence except thinking. If his thoughts existed, then surely he must also exist, ie his existence became a certainty. That’s first step in knowledge.

    Now I have no beef with Dr Azly Rahman’s advocacy of critical thinking especially in political context.

    I am just a little uneasy when a so called specialist in trans-cultural philosophies introduces to lay persons like us complex and abstract philosophical notions like “Cogito ergo, sum” to put across a simple message that we should be critical, don’t just imbibe what Powers That Be spin out and summon the courage to speak Truth to Power, he loosely misapplies and mistranslates the true context of the philosophical notions introduced, thereby giving us erroneous understanding of the concepts introduced.

    Sorry again that I have to say this.

  13. #13 by Jeffrey on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 10:49 pm

    Rene Descartes’s “I think therefore I exist” was developed further by the other French philopsopher Jean-Paul Sartre after him. In same vein of thought but developing it further by his philosophy of Existentialism, Sartre brought in concepts of freedom of choice (Free Will vs Determinism, another subject in philosophy) and espouses man’s existence is defined only insofar as he acts and that he is responsible for his actions…..Because of this freedom of choice, man experiences anxiety regarding what and which to choose.. From that point onwards, others like Franz Kafka, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Albert Camus develop the notion further. They argue if man’s existence is defined only insofar by his choice of actions, then individual experience and Life itself is absurd, there is no meaning to be found in the world beyond what meaning we ourselves give to it, there being no ultimate arbiter of moral right and wrong. This meaninglessness also encompasses the amorality or “unfairness” of the world.

    I recite the above progression of philosophical ideas of existence in order to provide a perspective of what Rene Descartes meant by “Cogito ergo, sum” or “I think therefore I exist” which surely is not the same context as Dr Azly Rahman intends it in his article.

  14. #14 by HJ Angus on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 10:55 pm

    I agree with Mark’s view.
    Most Malaysians are quite good people – if some of us stray it is because the UMNO-based system has disenfranchised many of us with their ketuanan attitude.
    Dr Azly is an academician and they have their own style of communicating and maybe he just wants us to be engaged in more critical thinking.

  15. #15 by Mark Foo on Friday, 17 October 2008 - 10:58 pm

    I am going back to college to further my studies. Paying a total of RM 26,000.00 is impossible for me. My target is 5 years got my degree and move on with my life. I would like to find a better job and maybe a family. This is light to me……I can see the path.

    What if thing doesn’t go well as planned? I couldn’t pay the money and end up with the wrong job and broke??????
    Who is gong to help me????

    My objectives here is 5 years…….If malaysia is not moving and still wasting money. Corruption and murder and hatred……and crime…..
    We must look at the environment…..Malaysia…….Is it a safe place???????

  16. #16 by lkt-56 on Saturday, 18 October 2008 - 12:22 am

    I had to read really carefully before I could decipher the message that Dr. Azly was trying to convey. Cartesian paradigm is a world view that Man is totally separate from his environment, his Reason and Feelings are totally separate, and body and soul are totally separate….

    I think what the good doctor is trying to say is that we Malaysians out of fear or shear indifference have developed this unfortunate Cartesian paradigm of totally separating ourselves from what is happening in our country. Hence we allowed the authority to commit the many injustices to our fellow countrymen.

    We think, therefore we perish. What then must we do?
    In other words, we fear, what then must we do?

    Hope that simplifies what the good doctor wants to convey. ;)

  17. #17 by Mark Foo on Saturday, 18 October 2008 - 12:38 am

    Malays and malaysian is not stupid. Their life is to get a good job, good money, good family. WHo do they depend most? God for spiritual needs. Goverment to create facilities.
    We have one GOD, our father. Who else to lead us, so that we can come together and chat?????
    UMNO for malays…but why not umno for chinese and indians…..???
    How many years already……have UMNO change??????

  18. #18 by lkt-56 on Saturday, 18 October 2008 - 12:47 am

    Cheer up, Mark. ;)

    The secret to longevity and a harmonious life is to look for something positive about life every day.

    Man think they are totally separate from their environment. How wrong can they be… No matter how they strive to be different or separate from the world they will eventually know that it is futile to strike out on their own.

    We have a funny logic in Malaysia. We separate ourselves into Chinese, Indians, and Malays and then we tell ourselves that this the way to move forward? :D

  19. #19 by Mark Foo on Saturday, 18 October 2008 - 12:56 am

    To me the spirit of god, is my faith.
    God lead us in many victories……..
    God will always be the same loving father who long for his sons and daughters….
    Why are we here?????? To help the lost sheeps……..
    To fight the enemy…….the enemy is ourselves????

  20. #20 by lkt-56 on Saturday, 18 October 2008 - 1:14 am

    You got it right there. The enemy is ourselves. Our doubts, our fears, our ignorance….

    Focus on what you have set yourself to achieve in 5 years. The rest will take of itself. ;)

    For me I have faith that the awareness that Malaysia should march on as one people is here to stay. Take over by PKR or not, the momentum will surely take us there!

    Cheers. :D

  21. #21 by monsterball on Saturday, 18 October 2008 - 8:39 am

    Can you imagine a lecturer speaking like this?
    All good writers..write with simple straight forwards English.
    Their sole purpose is to make sure….everyone who reads it…understands it.
    To me…Azly Rahman is also bragging with his command in English.
    You see…he has no signs of thinking about others.when he put out his messages.How can then…he be one..that cares sincerely?
    All students will listen…dare not raise hands and say..’hi lecturer…what are you talking about?”. It is natural students .. dare not reveal they don’t understand..thus the results of the quality of our education system.
    One said…Azly is teaching Malays….to change….I say…change the government…and all will change for the better..with plain truths out in the open.
    UMNO have brainwashed Muslims for more than 50 years.
    No amount of advises can change anyone…unless..we change the government.
    It is that simple.
    Few guys…are very smart..to make you believe they are on your side of changes…but still have UMNO and BN ….to be voted in again.
    One smart Gerakan doctor..who l applies the art ….how to agree ..to disagree…and then…trying to brainwash readers…Gerakan should be voted in….being ..out of BN…as the watchdog…between People’s Party and UMNO..sort of …”the third force”
    Sounds logical and sensible…is it not? If he succeeds…Penang will go back to Gerakan.
    Then.. think carefully…it means…Gerakan will become most powerful…the ultimate decisions maker.
    So what Azly Rahman trying to be?
    Just advise all Muslims…to vote for change in government …and be done with it.
    We have enough wise guys.
    It is FOR or AGAINST the government that matters most..right now.
    Best..is he applies…”I declare….I am not an UMNO member…and Anwar is my one and only hero”…just like he declares 5 times per day…loyalty to Almighty.
    No declaration…no matte how good the advises….DON’T BELIEVE!!

  22. #22 by Jimm on Saturday, 18 October 2008 - 9:03 am

    we are taught to be lazy and become too dependence for aid in order to live another day from education system.

  23. #23 by monsterball on Saturday, 18 October 2008 - 3:30 pm

    And if he is a preacher of God’s words….congregation will all go to sleep….understand nothing….learn nothing..so boring!
    One who can speak with simple English and dressing up with wits and humour…will get the audience in stitches….and learning.
    Azly Rahman….better learn up that art…for next message.

  24. #24 by Mark Foo on Saturday, 18 October 2008 - 4:44 pm

    Well……administration is interesting. The department exist to help out the organisation. Like a body parts, we are the legs and hands of malaysia and our leaders is the head. Leaders are supposed to work together as one and delegated work to the rakyat.
    UMNO, PKR, DAP, SAPP, Hindraff and etc, they exist so that malaysian will fully support the parties because malaysian choose their leaders. Whether, PKR or UMNO take over, to me they still can work together to make malaysia a better place.
    Look…..everything must have a fundamental understanding. FOr example…a Parliament is where leaders come to work together to achieved objectives. Everything must have an agreement between the leaders. Power, corruption, greed, indulgence are wrong.
    I have my spiritual needs……..cure every cancer and prevent the cancer from growing.

  25. #25 by One4All4One on Saturday, 18 October 2008 - 4:51 pm

    Talking about Philosophy per se, Malaysians generally are not exposed to the wide ranging and complexities of various schools of thought. This is due to the debilitating education policies and unavailability of capable teachers, who are similarly handicapped, which do not promote, let alone demand, a holistic, intelligent, and meaningful teaching and learning atmosphere.

    The adverse and deliberate disdain for meritocracy to protect and perpetuate the interest and weakness of a particular component of the community is so damaging that the whole schooling and learning experience of generations of Malaysians are arrested and degraded.

    Unless and until a truly open and sincere attempt is taken to liberalise and raise the standards of education all round, there is not much hope for the desired improvement in the quality of our students and graduates.

    Executive and political influence in education policies have to be removed and educationists should be allowed to do what they know best. Then, more thinking Malaysians would start to emerge and function more meaningfully in our society and the world at large. And perhaps then the brain drain that Malaysia suffers from all these years would stop for good.

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