If one reads the book Intellectuals in a Developing Society written by Syed Hussien Alatas, 2 chapters that will come across as very fascinating are the ones relating to bebalisme, and the other about fools in a developing society. Both chapters relay the point of how people, who are bebal or fools, can have a detrimental effect on a developing society. And one should know that although this book was written in the 1970s, the substance contained in the 2 chapters is still very much relevant in our society today, especially for undergraduates. This is ironic because although the undergraduate society is said to be an ‘educated community’, this society is actually one the main contributors of the bebal or fools phenomena.
One of the reasons behind this phenomenon is of course due to widespread ignorance that has plagued the undergraduate society. And we can take the example of a prevailing condition in a public local university. Here there are many illustrations to prove the authenticity of this observation. Ever noticed that a yellow line along a road, instead of preventing road users from parking, actually encourages even more vehicles to be parked there? How about motorcycle users which park their vehicles in boxes specially assign for car user? Or car users who park their cars in boxes specially allocated for motorcycle users? This is not to say that we have an efficient or proper parking system, but notice the ignorant attitudes of these road users? And of course we have objects which we call rubbish bins. Ever heard of them? I’m sure you have but we do realize that when it’s full, it does mean that you can’t throw any more rubbish into these bins, true? However the undergraduate society, maybe not all, does have problems distinguishing between theory and practice. Theory: If it’s full, stop throwing rubbish into these bins. Practice: If it’s full, continue throwing rubbish into the bins until it overflows and falls to the ground. Other manifestations of this thing called ignorance are aplenty. These are only a few for if all of it were written down, we would be able to compile a book.
The undergraduate society is also a misguided society. Undergraduates should study hard, get a degree, so that we can get a good job and make lots of money. Speak your mother tongue whenever possible, for if not we will lose our identity. Do not raise or discuss sensitive issues, or later the whole nation will erupt into chaos and everyone will start killing each other. Do not criticise government policies, if not you are anti establishment. One should ask, is this guidance or misguidance? It’s a question of statement where the answer is assumption.
Then of course, the undergraduate society also suffers from another disease, the disease of appearance based fanatism. What I dress is what I am. If I dress up religiously, then I can stake my claim as a religious person. If I were to dress up in modern attire, I am religiously compromised. Whether this is fact or myth, it remains to be seen. A university prides itself as being the top university in the nation but in a lecture given by the former secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, students are prevented from participating in the Q & A session, fearing that the question may not be of first class. If only this is extended to our parliament as well, so that members of parliament who do not ask first class questions cannot participate in parliamentary debates. Thus the symptom of this disease: appearance based giants, have large brains, but tiny thinking ability.
What is the importance of undergraduates in a developing nation? The core of a developing nation is of course its society. It must be a society of conscience. It must be a civic conscious society. A civic conscious society is a society which regulates itself not only because of fear of sanctions, but because there is a willingness to do what is right in the interest of the society. It is here that undergraduates are singled out, for we are the catalyst of a civic conscious society. In a developing nation, laws are important to ensure that the nation remains on the right path of development. However the need to form a modern and civic society cannot depend solely on the law. There may be laws which regulate road offences or business activities but these are only external in nature. There is still a need for the internal factor. This internal factor, which is the awareness from within, is the cornerstone of a civic conscious society, and undergraduates should be the architects and bearers of this internal factor.
In a developing nation which is multiracial and demands the embracing of plurality, undergraduates ought to be the contributors of knowledge based solutions. In times of conflict, the nature of clashes in such a developing nation can be very violent and tense due to racial, religious or cultural sentiments. The conflicts which take place is further worsen by certain segments of the public which take advantage of these conflicts to promote their self interest. When faced with these problems, undergraduates should not be swayed by these sentiments but must be able to come up with solutions that do not go on the racial, religious or cultural lines. These solutions do not function to protect the personal interest of any group but more importantly because proper understanding of the conflict stems from the acquirement of knowledge, the solution addresses the root of the conflict and is not only superficial. It is better than enacting laws to regulate the behaviour of people in matters related to such issues. Such method or solutions do not address the causation aspect and is again just an external structure to maintain the status quo. Many problems faced by a developing nation, which do not only include racial, religious or cultural conflicts, but which may also extend to the economy, environment and legal system, can be resolved by knowledge based solutions put forth or proposed by undergraduates.
When the idea of a developing nation is brought up, we ask ourselves, what do we mean by development? Is it development in the true sense or is it only physical and material development? Physical or material development only will not suffice if the society itself is not developed. For what is the need of having cutting edge technology if there is no one capable of using this technology? What is democracy and how can it be put into practice if the society cannot understand the meaning of democracy? To make sure development is truly development in the real sense, the existence of an intellectual community is undeniably needed and undergraduates are the ones which will provide the basis for the forming of an intellectual community. Here again undergraduates are singled out because they are those closest to the source of intellectual origin; the books of knowledge and also as custodians of intellectual discourse. It is in the undergraduate society where the revolt begins in the forming of an intellectual community.
Revolt of the undergraduates. Expressing the voice of undergraduates. Be in the front line and stand up to be counted. This is what undergraduates should strive to achieve. Revolt, expression and leadership; not through demonstrations or physical violence, but through vigorous and aggressive initiatives of acquiring and exchanging of knowledge. This is our philosophy.
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