Walski’s Note: While this is the second contribution by Mikhail Hafiz (follow him at @IMMikhailHafiz on Twitter) as guest writer, the article was his first for his ongoing Twitter-based Rediscovering Malaysia series of writings (and who knows, eventually a book?). It was published in two parts, but as the article isn’t exceedingly long, Walski has republished it here in a single post (you may find the original postings here: Part I & Part II). As Walski considers this young man one of the more noteworthy individuals he’s had the privilege to get to know on Twitter, for his eloquent delivery of ideas for the betterment of Malaysia, Walski considers it important that more folks get to read Mikhail’s writing in a more flow-friendly, longform format. And Walski is more than honored that Mikhail has consented for myAsylum to host this essay, as a guest writer. Kindly note that Mikhail’s preferred mode of English spelling is the British/UK variety, and as such this has been retained.
[Standfirst: From a personal perspective, education endows us with the ability to distinguish true from false, and right from wrong, thus facilitating the decision making process.]
Reflecting on the current state of political affairs both locally and abroad, I am reminded of the following quote by Hannah Arendt, one of the most important political thinkers of the 20th century, from her seminal 1951 magnum opus ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism‘:
“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie, the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie, the standards of thought) no longer exist.”
These words are as prescient, potent, pertinent and profound today as they were sixty years ago, when the world struggled to rebuild itself, in the aftermath of the destruction, damage and despair of catastrophic proportions inflicted by Adolf Hitler, as a consequence of his notoriously unhinged megalomaniac aspirations and demented obsession with ethnocentric tribalism, which, unfortunately and tragically, found a receptive and enthusiastic audience in a weary and despondent German population.
As de facto power holders in a Westminster political system, we must remain vigilant against any attempts to pervert the course of our parliamentary democracy, by ensuring that the twin pillars of the rule of law and constitutional supremacy continue to be upheld at all times.
We can also make every effort to ascertain the veracity of the information we acquire and receive, to ensure that we do not inadvertently mislead, misguide or misinform ourselves and others.
The following informal rule of thumb, which counsels caution and circumspection in the absence of certainty or the lack of opportunity to seek confirmation, can be applied to most pragmatic issues: “If in doubt, do without.“
Over the last two decades, exponential advances in electronic innovations and end user software have brought citizens of the world much closer than could have ever been previously imagined. This globalisation of interaction and socialisation, which has in turn enhanced the democratisation of communication and knowledge, has been powered by the advent and proliferation of international social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
As we become increasingly connected, perhaps it would not hurt for us to inculcate [cultivate] an appreciation for education, and to foster a healthy respect for knowledge,in terms of its inherent value and the power of discernment conferred upon its possessor.
Once considered the exclusive, upper class privilege of the political, social and financial elite, education can be regarded as a modem day necessity, with many entry level jobs now requiring some form of academic or vocational qualification.
Not only does quality education serve as an effective antidote against authoritarianism, it also galvanises social mobility in post-colonial and post-feudal societies, and plays a pivotal role in nation building and conflict management.
In the context of personal development, “education” can be defined as the acquisition of cognitive, analytical, problem solving and communicative skills that enables an individual to exercise independent, informed, logical and rational thinking and judgement.
Rote learning, and subsequent regurgitation, without the ability or opportunity to deconstruct, analyse and verify what is being taught, is not education.
It is indoctrination.
Knowledge facilitates discernment, which in turn leads to intellectual enlightenment.
An educated citizenry is a discerning citizenry, one that possesses the ability to detect any attempts to rend the seams of what Arendt describes as the “fabric of factuality”.
There also appears to be a negative correlation between this “drill-and-practice” type of learning and its intended impact, as reflected in the timeless words of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato:
“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”
[NOTE: in Part II of this article, I shift the focus of discussion to a macro level, where I contend that education can be employed as an effective tool to attain peaceful co-existence in both the communal and global spheres.]
This aphorism acquires an added patina of resonance if we subscribe to the belief that, in a wider, philosophical context, education is, essentially, the process of discovery; not only of ourselves, but also of others, and of the environment in which we exist as well.
It is only when we understand ourselves, are we able to relate to others, and can subsequently come to a consensus on the terms in which to co-exist peacefully, that the substantive opportunity to reduce and eventually minimise the possibility of conflict emerges.
What better way to achieve peaceful coexistence, then, than through the employment of the varifocal tool that is education?
In an utopian environment, the ne plus ultra of a quality education is the emergence of a society that is firmly grounded in the culture of critical consciousness.
Ideally, this collective consciousness is one that focuses on achieving an in-depth understanding of the world, allowing for the perception and exposure of social and political contradictions.
Unfortunately, existing reality still has a long way to go in measuring up to such lofty aspirations. Ironically and paradoxically, the situation may even prove to be regressive for some individuals, especially those who react indifferently or adversely to knowledge.
It is also not uncommon to discover that their sedate slide down the slippery slope of cognitive dissonance can suddenly accelerate into a free fall down the black hole of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
As such, it is imperative that we adopt a holistic approach to education, in order to propagate, normalise and perpetuate honest, meaningful and respectful discourse, since differences in opinion are bound to exist between conflicting parties in any dialogue or debate.
As a person who fully embraces the English poet and scholar John Donne’s (1572-1631) trenchant observation that “no man is an island”, I will always advocate that we build bridges that facilitate understanding and inclusiveness, instead of erecting walls that only serve to heighten prejudice and suspicion.
It has been postulated that, from an intellectual viewpoint, the world is inhabited by humans who can generally be categorised under one of two diametrically opposing groups – “mirrors” and “windows” – with education being identified as the crucial, transformative link.
Indeed, there are intellectuals, such as the American journalist Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986), who assert that the existential purpose of education is to transform reflective “mirrors” into illuminating “windows”.
And so, the question posed to every individual, in considering the dual roles of education as discussed in this article, can be phrased as a choice between two antithetical and competing options:
Are we content to remain “mirrors” that are limited to reflecting the thoughts and opinions of others, and the moods and emotions of the times?
Or should we aspire to be “windows” that can bring light to bear in dark corners where troubles fester, in our efforts to illuminate, irradiate and illumine, and thus bring clarity and insight to all that is unknown or unclear?
After all, we only fear what we do not understand.
Perhaps the solution to this conundrum lies, somewhat serendipitously and encouragingly, in the succinct yet inspirational words of one Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948):
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”