Thursday, May 28, 2009


Membaca peristiwa ini, dari perspektif belakang sejarah selama 20 tahun, boleh membuka satu daripada beberapa jalan kemungkinan apa yang bakal terjadi kepada kita di Malaysia. Sejarah perjuangan yang penuh nostalgia, kawalan dan "projek pelupaan" (negara dan diri sendiri) boleh mengingatkan kita apakah yang bakal terjadi 20 tahun lagi.

The Great Forgetting: 20 Years After Tiananmen Square
The Chronicle Review, Volume 55, Issue 38 (terbit 29 Mei 2009)

Kang Zhengguo remembers where he was when his hopes were crushed. It was 6 a.m. on June 4, 1989. He had just awakened and turned on his shortwave radio, hoping for good news. Two weeks earlier, Deng Xiaoping had imposed martial law in an attempt to contain the protests that had gripped China since April, but the students had refused to relinquish Tiananmen Square.

Kang, a bookish literature professor at Xi'an Jiaotong University in the central city of Xi'an, had been jailed for his ideas during the Cultural Revolution. He had reason to be wary of a student movement. Still, like intellectuals across China, he supported the demonstrations, hoping, even as the People's Liberation Army advanced on downtown Beijing on June 3, that they might bring needed political reforms.

"We had an illusion," he recalls. "We thought if the students were really strong, the soldiers would turn around and support them." Now, tuning in to Voice of America, he heard that the opposite had happened. The army had opened fire.

Hundreds died, many of them bystanders and workers who stood in the path to Tiananmen Square. Within hours, Xi'an Jiaotong students were blasting news of the slaughter over the university PA system and gathering on athletics fields to march downtown. Kang scrawled AIM YOUR GUNS HERE on a piece of paper and pinned it on his chest. Then he joined the crowd — altering, with that modest act of protest, the course of his career.

For many Westerners, the enduring image of China's 1989 protests was of a nameless man staring down a tank, an unforgettable scene that spoke to the power of individual resistance. But the protests were not so much a Chinese 1960s as they were a quiet nationwide uprising, a simmering defiance that spanned class, education level, and geography.

In the month and a half before the army opened fire, students at universities around China took to the streets. Workers went on strike. Old people distributed food and water. Even thieves, participants recall with nostalgia, called a moratorium on stealing.

Intellectuals across the country showed particular enthusiasm. At Xi'an Jiaotong, Kang says, "70 percent of the faculty supported the students." Another 20 percent were too scared to voice an opinion. Only administrators who had an interest in maintaining order publicly opposed the protests.

But the military crackdown in the early hours of June 4 decisively squelched any hope of openness and reform. For the hundreds of thousands of people who took part in protests across China that year, the assault indelibly affected their lives, forcing some into exile, others to prison, and dooming many more to stagnant careers. More subtly, the slaughter at Tiananmen shaped intellectual currents for decades to come.

Now, on the 20th anniversary of the crackdown, participants say Chinese academic and intellectual life is profoundly different.

Before the crackdown, Kang had been on track for a full professorship. But because of his involvement in the student protests, his prospects for advancement at Xi'an Jiaotong evaporated. He applied to other universities, only to be told that his academic and political record was a problem. That was, in a way, the lesser insult. By 1994, when he left Xi'an to take a position at Yale — an opportunity that came, by a stroke of luck, after a professor in the Chinese department picked up a book of literary criticism Kang had written years before — his colleagues had begun to question the wisdom of democratic reform. In 1996, China was gripped by a book called China Can Say No, which urged readers to turn inward and reject the "Western" construct of democratic reform. Two of its authors claimed to have protested at Tiananmen Square.

Kang, now 64 and settled with his family in New Haven, has continued to assail his government for the deaths in 1989, describing his memories in his recent book Confessions: An Innocent Life in Communist China (W.W. Norton, 2007). But when he returns to China now, he is a maverick. "My relatives and my friends criticize me" for bringing up politics, he says. "They say, 'China is much better now than before. Our daily lives are much better than they once were.'" Even other professors, he says, have moved on. "They talk about buying a house, buying a car, going abroad on vacation, putting their kids in this or that school. No one discusses politics." He pauses, searching for an explanation. "It's not that they're afraid. It's that they're not interested."

On May 4, 1919, thousands of students from 13 Beijing universities gathered in Tiananmen Square to protest their government's weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, which included terms that many felt were unfair to China. The movement soon spread to Shanghai and from students to workers, paving the way for the formation of the Communist Party. Party leaders viewed the May Fourth movement as so critical to the Communist revolution that in 1958, when they unveiled the Monument to the People's Heroes in the center of Tiananmen Square, the faces of the 1919 protestors were carved into one side.

In 1989, when students once again converged on the square, they chose the monument as their base. "May Fourth was very important to Chinese history," says Wang Chaohua, a student organizer who appeared on the government list of 21 most-wanted leaders after the Tiananmen crackdown. "Like the students of May Fourth, we wanted to propose something new." In both 1919 and 1989, says Wang, who recently completed a doctorate in Asian languages and literature at the University of California at Los Angeles, "political authorities did not command the public imagination. The vacuum was filled by intellectual energy."

Students first gathered in the square on April 15, 1989, to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, a reformist who had been purged from Communist leadership two years earlier. Most of the students had been born on the eve of the Cultural Revolution and grown up in a time of pervasive political theater; they saw demonstrations as an effective means of influencing policy. But other factors contributed to unrest — among professors as well as students. Nascent economic reforms had yielded insufficient results for the educated class. Instead, intellectuals had watched as party leaders used their power to ensure the success of their own children.

"One of the fires that lit [scholars] was that they had been treated so poorly," says Perry Link, a historian at the University of California at Riverside. "They had tiny salaries and couldn't travel very much, so they had a lot of personal complaints. That fueled their thought about what went wrong with China in a concrete sense." One slogan shouted in the square was "Raise the pay of intellectuals!"

Students also wanted more freedom in their personal lives. Before 1989 universities tightly controlled students' private activities, imposing curfews and restrictions on dating. In the square, students danced and listened to the music of the pop star Hou Dejian. In the excitement of the protests, one student leader, Li Lu, informed a crowd that he was still a virgin. He and his girlfriend staged a wedding on the Monument to the People's Heroes, as other protesters toasted the couple with salt water from their hunger strike. "What do we want?" Wu'er Kaixi, another of the movement's leaders, asked of his generation in the 1995 documentary The Gate of Heavenly Peace. "Nike shoes. Lots of free time to take our girlfriends to a bar. The freedom to discuss an issue with someone."

In the wake of June Fourth, as the massacre is known in China, that freedom came. Deng intensified market reforms, embarking on a 1992 tour of southern China, the country's cradle of manufacturing, that ushered in rapid economic growth. As China prospered, government money flowed into academe. In the late 1990s, China launched Project 211 and Project 985, which funneled billions of yuan into dozens of universities. The Ministry of Education expanded opportunities for scholars to go abroad and announced new research funds for those who stayed home. At the same time, ministry and university party cadres loosened controls over students' personal lives.

Since 1989, "they've been trying to remove some of the sources of frustration that drove intellectuals into the streets," says Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a historian of Chinese protest at the University of California at Irvine. "There's much less micromanagement of daily life on campuses. There's less control over academic trips. There's a wider array of books you can buy in bookstores. Students can now be part of global youth culture."

At Xi'an Jiaotong University, Kang recalls, the months following June Fourth were grim. Sirens wailed, and offenders were seized in the street. The fall semester of 1989 started with a witch hunt, with professors and students brought in for questioning. Then, in a grim Orwellian twist, came the parties. Nearly every weekend that winter, Kang says, his students invited him to a dance. "After June Fourth, boys and girls could go here and there together," he recalls. "Administrators wanted students to date. They wanted them to turn decadent."

"The kids who followed us were able to own pairs of Nike shoes," says Wu'er, reflecting on his earlier explanation for the protests. "It's a deal the Chinese Communist Party made with the people: We're going to let you get rich, but you have to surrender your political freedom."
Not everyone profited. While Kang Zhengguo listened, horrified, as radio announcers relayed news of the deaths in Beijing, across town Zhou Qing was strategizing. For over a month, Zhou, a 25-year-old staff writer at Northwest University, had coordinated protests in Xi'an's New City Square. On June 5, fearing more bloodshed, he dispatched trucks outfitted with loudspeakers, urging students to return home. Then he fled to the hills, where he hid out in peasants' sheds for three months. When he finally slinked back into town to check on his girlfriend in late September, he was seized at gunpoint.

Zhou spent the next two years in a Xi'an prison that was, he says, "like a movie." He was put to work in an assembly line that was required to turn out 12,000 matchboxes a day. If his line didn't make its quota, they didn't eat. Guards occasionally singled out prisoners for "vaccination," an intimidation tactic that entailed inserting insects into a cut in the forearm, yielding a slow and hideous infection. As punishment for trying to escape, Zhou was transferred to a labor camp where he spent another eight months surrounded by 17and 18-year-old political prisoners. At mealtime, older prisoners bullied the students out of their food. "One student used to come to me and tell me his dreams," Zhou recalls. "He dreamed of a street filled with steamed buns."

Other activists got away. Many of the 1989 movement's most famous leaders fled, like Wu'er and Wang, to the West. Several enrolled at U.S. universities. A few continued to advocate for human rights from abroad. Others went into business. Wu'er now manages an investment fund in Taiwan. After earning an M.B.A. from Harvard University, Chai Ling, another student leader, started a Boston software company that provides free Web portals to universities in exchange for students' contact information, promoting its product with press releases that invoked her role in the square. (Chai has also filed suit against the makers of The Gate of Heavenly Peace, who include several prominent China scholars in America, for linking on their Web site to news articles that reported critical information about her company.)

But outside of labor camps and Western democratic havens, the memory of what happened dulled. For a few years following 1989, videos about June Fourth — known in Mandarin simply as liu si, or "6/4" — circulated on the black market. Then the government began a campaign of forgetting, first spinning the event and then erasing it. The popular Chinese search engine Baidu now blocks at least 19 derivations of "six four," including Chinese character homophones, the abbreviation "sf," and "63+1."

Such controls are far from total, but they can be very effective. On June 4, 2007, a newspaper in Chengdu published a small advertisement recognizing the mothers of the 1989 victims. Online, chat-room users speculated about how such a message could have gotten past the paper's editors — until it was revealed that the young clerk who took the ad didn't recognize the event. What might have been a quiet act of resistance was instead a measure of a nation's forgetting.

"My students don't know what it is," says a professor at a city university in Shanghai who witnessed the protests as a teenager. "You say June Fourth and they say, 'What, my birthday'?"

Even the staunchest critics of China's regime acknowledge it now allows discussion in areas that were once off limits. After his release from prison, Zhou became an investigative journalist, tackling sensitive issues like food safety, and only sometimes encountering government intervention.

At the same time, some contend that economic growth has merely allowed the Chinese government to fine-tune its control of dissent. As the government's spending power grew, so did the carrots it could offer for obedience. "The government has great ambition for scholarly work that can make considerable breakthroughs, like shooting satellites into outer space," says Wang Chaohua, who edited a volume of work by Chinese intellectuals titled One China, Many Paths (Verso, 2003). "But to do work in the social sciences and humanities, you need to have a real independent spirit, and that isn't what the government wants to see. So you have a lot of political intervention."

Intellectuals who follow the state line are rewarded with trips abroad and generous research grants, critics say. "There are many research programs now that are sponsored by the government," says Wang Tiancheng, a former law professor at Peking University. "It's a type of corruption. They're buying scholars."

Wang, now a visiting scholar at Columbia University's Center for the Study of Human Rights, knows that power play firsthand. He spent five years in prison in the 1990s as one of the "Beijing Fifteen," a group of intellectuals persecuted for their opposition to one-party rule. When he was released from prison in 1997, no university would hire him. "If you don't go along with the Communist Party, if you don't censor yourself, you'll lose out on many benefits, including promotions and honors," he says.

Inquiries related to June Fourth are particularly out of bounds. The events of 1989 shaped the work of the writer Ma Jian, who shuttled supplies to students in the square. His most recent novel, Beijing Coma (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2008), is told from the perspective of a student who is shot in the back during the 1989 crackdown, only to live through two decades on life support — a not-so-subtle metaphor for what Ma sees as a numb post-Tiananmen China. The writer lives in London, where he is insulated by international fame, but he says the friends he saw on his trip back to China this spring were detained shortly after he left merely for associating with him. "Just a month ago we were eating together in Chengdu," he says, naming one friend. "And now he's in jail."

This past April 15, 20 years after the death of Hu Yaobang first brought students to Tiananmen Square, it was filled with police. The Monument to the People's Heroes was cordoned off, and a blue sign near its base read, in Chinese, PLEASE DO NOT ENTER. Most of the people at the square that afternoon were tourists from the provinces; many wore the red and yellow baseball hats of organized tour groups. These days Beijing's students are more likely to congregate a few blocks away, at the flashy malls of Wangfujing.

Some say economic nationalism cannot hold. Since December, more than 8,000 scholars and professionals have signed Charter 08, a manifesto calling for the Communist Party to obey the Chinese Constitution and respect human rights. The Internet presents a thorny obstacle to government control, with new Web sites and code words springing up as soon as others are blocked. And even government-financed research trips can backfire. Scholars who leave for a few years tend to return with new ideas.

"The leadership of Hu Jintao is trying to return to a neo-Confucian education system where people don't challenge certain values," says Merle Goldman, a historian of Chinese intellectual life at Harvard University's Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. "That's impossible in China today because of its openness to the outside world. No matter what this regime does, it's going to be very difficult for them to control the academic community."

But others say the academic community may control itself. On a trip back to China in 2000, Kang Zhengguo spent a few days with several former colleagues. In 1989, when they were professors and administrators at Xi'an Jiaotong, the men had joined him in speaking out against the violence in Beijing. Later his colleagues fled to Shenzhen, a freewheeling city that has sprung up in the wake of economic reforms. Two became successful businessmen; one philosophy professor became a high-level government official. Kang hoped the old friends, now all safely in senior positions, might reminisce about China's era of protest, but his attempts to bring up the Tiananmen demonstrations failed.

One colleague, the official, instead peppered him with questions about American universities; he hoped to send his son to study abroad. "I was nostalgic," Kang says. "And they were indifferent."

Mara Hvistendahl is The Chronicle's China correspondent.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Masalah agama, secara mudah, boleh disebut sebagai proses “keterbalikan hubungan antara alam ghaib dengan alam benda” – yakni kepastian atau kebenaran alam ghairah menjadi lebih kukuh dan nyata daripada alam benda.

Kita pasti saiz, bentuk, warna batu dan ia begitu jelas, nyata dan meyakinkan. Tiada pertikaian lagi. Kebenaran atau kepastian alam benda dicapai sebahagian besarnya melalui pancaindera atau proses empirical – proses asasi sains tabie aliran positif.

Alam benda melalui pengesanan pancaindera lebih objektif. Atau, keobjektifan mengatasi kesubjektifan penilaian seseorang.

Kita mula tidak pasti – tidak sepasti proses empirical mengenali seketul batu – apabila kita berdepan dengan bahan-bahan pengetahuan seperti seni, falsafah, berita atau agama.

Bahan-bahan pengetahuan dikesan bukan melalui pancaindera tetapi taakulan. Maka, ia menjadi kurang pasti, banyak tafsiran, terus diperdebatkan dan keyakinan seseorang mula bersifat peribadi atau semakin subjektif.

Seharusnya beginilah pendekatan seseorang yang siuman berdepan dengan dua dunia ini – alam benda dan alam bukan benda.

Tetapi agama berjaya menukar atau menterbalikkan proses ini. Sesuatu bahan ilmu – seni, falsafah, berita atau agama – yang seharusnya subjektif dianggap “lebih objektif” daripada seketul batu!

Bahan-bahan agama dianggap (atau, lebih tepat “dirasai”) lebih pasti, lebih nyata dan lebih benar daripada alam benda di atas muka bumi ini. Ajaran agama yang subjektif akhirnya bertukar menjadi “fakta keras”, hard facts. Imaginasi, atau lebih tepatnya aspek-aspek metafizik, bertukar menjadi fizik.

Oleh kerana manusia tidak digerakkan oleh alam benda tetapi oleh kesedarannya (di dalam dirinya, di alam akalnya), maka masalah-masalah dalam memahami agama – gejala ektremisme, kejahilan dan pendekatan memahaminya – haruslah bermula dengan penyusunan semula kaedah mendekati alam metafizik dan alam fizik.

Dengan bahasa yang lebih klise, kita boleh sebut bahawa usaha merungkaikan kekusutan ini harus bermula dengan pendidikan berfikir dan kaedah tepat mendekati ilmu pengetahuan.

Dalam istilah lain, saya sebut proses ini sebagai “kritik agama” yang saya takrifkan, lebih kurang seperti berikut:

Tanpa proses kritik agama, ramai orang menduga agama itu berkecuali, jujur dan benar sepanjang waktu. Kritik bertujuan mendorong pemahaman kritis dan reflektif terhadap asas-asas anutan agama tersedia ada (kukuh) yang bergerak dalam masyarakat, yang seolah-olah muncul secara semula jadi, dan akibatnya tidak dipermasalahkan atau dipertikaikan lagi.

Dalam bahasa yang mudah, proses ini beranggapan agama itu sebagai himpunan pengetahuan manusia yang terikat dalam ruang dan masa, maka mencari kejernihan beragama harus juga bererti membuka diri (yakni, kesedaran subjektif) kepada susur galur, genealogy, pembinaan pengetahuan agama itu sendiri khususnya dalam ruang sosial.

Isunya sekarang, apakah “metodologi” yang saya sarankan ini boleh disepakati sebagai satu jendela atau satu pendekatan untuk memberikan kesedaran kepada pengamal media dan pengguna media – di dalam (kandungan atau mesej media) dan di luar media (konteks luas yang melingkungi operasi media, wartawan dan pengguna)?

Apakah ia boleh dianggap common ground untuk membuka ruang dialog atau ruang komunikasi yang dimainkan oleh media?


Salib di Biskut: Faith, Plurality and Freedom**

Laporan polis dibuat selepas satu persatuan pengguna Islam ternampak lambang kecil ‘+’ pada sekeping biskut.

Kata mereka, lambang itu “salib”, simbol agama Kristian, yang telah meresahkan sebilangan pengguna kerana sejak biskut itu berada dalam pasaran, dan promosi produk ini berleluasa di televisyen, semakin banyak aduan diterimanya.

Persatuan ini mahu pengeluarnya menarik balik produk itu dan memohon maaf kepada masyarakat Islam.

Selain akta penerbitan dan mesin cetak yang mengekang, Kementerian Keselamatan Dalam Negeri menyediakan satu garis panduan susulan setiap kali permit penerbitan dikeluarkan.

Garis panduan ini lebih khusus dan perinci — antaranya, pada garis panduan ini, disebutkan larangan menggunakan simbol (atau, foto dan imej Kaabah) dalam ruangan iklan. Tidak ada sesiapa yang boleh mencipta iklan seumpama itu, atau menerbitkannya di media masing-masing.

Kononnya Kaabah itu simbol kesucian umat islam. Maka foto, grafik dan imej Kaabah juga mempalitkan kekudusan seumpamanya.

Dalam media berbahasa Melayu, memang sudah lama iklan arak dilarang. Tetapi akhbar berbahasa Inggeris yang menyiarkan iklan arak tahun ini dinasihatkan tidak menyiarkan iklan itu di sebelah foto dan berita Perdana Menteri, kononnya tidak sesuai!

Bagi mereka barang kali simbol, atau syiar, akhirnya menjadi sebahagian pembawa makna yang kaku dan pejal — seperti membawa lemang di dalam pinggan. Biarlah seribu pinggan sudah bersilih ganti, selagi tidak dimakan, lemang tetap juga pulut yang dipanggang di dalam buluh.

Simbol, dan maknanya, tiba-tiba menjadi abadi dan qadim; bukan lagi wahana sementara untuk memahamkan manusia akan dunianya yang ruwet dan bercelaru.

Dan manusia, sebagai pemberi makna dan juga penafsir makna itu, yang memindah-mindahkan makna bersama kepentingan masing-masing sudah dihilangkan. Manusia tiba-tiba ghaib.

Manusia, pemberi dan penafsir makna, dalam konteks diri dan lingkungannya, tidak dianggap agen yang aktif tetapi penerima atau aktor yang pasif.

Dia menerima makna seperti jatuhnya titis-titis hujan dari langit. Tidak boleh dielak lagi, pasti basah. Makna, yang asalnya sebahagian dunia simbolisme dan kemujaradan manusia — dan hanya bermain-main di ruang akal dan khayalan, menjadi sebagian alam benda seperti batu-batu di pinggir jalan; boleh disepak dan dilontar dengan mengekalkan ketulan asalnya.

Manusia tidak boleh memberontak pada tuhan, maka manusia tidak pula dibenarkan memberontak terhadap makna. Seperti batu yang melayang ke kepala, kita harus menerima benjol makna yang singgah di benak.

Tetapi hakikatnya, manusia boleh (malah, selalu) memberontak terhadap tuhannya. Tetapi batu makna tetap juga membenjolkan!

Dan celakalah mereka yang beragama — mereka yang beriman pada pada makna yang membenjolkan. Makna yang menjerut khayalan dan kesedaran sehingga semua yang cair ini membeku seperti pejalnya air apabila singgah di kutub.

Semua orang yang pejal selalu bermain di wilayah kutub — bayangkan air yang boleh menelan kita hidup-hidup menjadi dataran keras yang membina kehidupan. Di sini kebebasan dan kejamakan menjadi sempit atau semput.

Pegangan, akidah dan kepercayaan — yang asalnya bagian dunia khayalan dan simbolisme; dunia yang cair tanpa bentuk dan meruap-ruap — tercampak ke dunia pejal. Ia menjadi iconoclasm — ada waktu-waktunya semua ikon, sementara ada masa-masanya ikon-ikon terpilih sahaja dikekalkan, khususnya ikon yang menyenangkan.

Mujurlah ikon itu sifatnya benda dan nyata. Tetapi makna bukanlah ikon. Makna ibarat ruh sesat yang meronta-ronta, boleh berpindah-pindah pada ikon-ikon lain atau tanpa ikon sama sekali.

Makna tidak ada pada abjad, pada gelombang bunyi dari halkum dan mulut; ia tidak ada pada bahasa — baik bahasa warna, bahasa gerak, bahasa cahaya, bahasa bunyi atau bahasa kata. Makna mengatasi itu semua. Makna tidak ada pada ikon, simbol, warna dan alam fizik.

Makna hanya ada pada, dan melekat pada, pemberi dan penafsir makna. Makna ialah apa yang dimaknakan! Tetapi apakah yang dimaknakan itu, apakah yang bermakna itu?

Makna lari bersembunyi ke dalam diri. Wap-wap air yang tidak terjangkau. Membingungkan. Apabila ia jatuh ke kanvas, bahasa warnanya pun mengalir dari satu manusia kepada manusia yang lain. Boleh disentuh, boleh dilihat tetapi masih lagi lincah, tiada bentuknya. Apabila ia jatuh ke kitab suci, ia mula membeku.

Agama, seperti ideologi dan sistem pengetahuan, bertujuan membekukan cairnya makna. Supaya semua tingkat akal — harap-harap — dapat menangkapnya. Makna seperti seekor rama-rama indah, jaringnya itu agama, ideologi dan pengetahuan.

Rama-rama tidak terbang ke jaring, ia bebas sebebas-bebasnya di ruangnya tanpa batas tetapi jaring membatasnya dan melemaskannya. Rama-rama di alam luas tidak kekal, ia boleh muncul, boleh juga tidak muncul-muncul. Tetapi rama-rama beku di dalam bingkai perhiasan boleh dipeluk dan dicium. Rama-rama dalam bingkai boleh dirancang dan diramal, tidak seperti rama-rama liar di alam luas.

Makna si rama-rama, makna air makna kita bersama — makna yang dikongsikan, bukan makna di dalam diri. Tetapi makna si rama-rama, maknanya air masih liar dan tanpa bentuk. Kita boleh sama-sama memandangnya dan kita boleh terus mengejarnya — dan kita boleh sama-sama kecewa setelah gagal menangkapnya.

Kejamakan, plurality dan kebebasan, freedom sentiasa menjadi medan tarik menarik antara makhluk dengan tuhan, antara kudrat tuhan dengan kudrat manusia, antara rama-rama dengan jaringnya.

Mujurlah tuhan selalu lebih kaya, maka kita pun bebas, bebas memberontak padanya, bebas meninggalkannya, bebas menyemak kembali dirinya semahu diri kita. Kebebasan tuhan itu ada dalam akidah kita — ada pada kejamakan makna, budaya dan gerak.

Tetapi wakil tuhan, bagaimana? Mereka tidak selalu kaya sekayanya tuhan, mereka juga berpihak, mereka bernafas, berlari dan bersenggama. Makna siapakah yang mahu dipegang — makna tuhan, wakil tuhan atau manusia?

Akidah, pegangan atau sebut saja kepercayaan semuanya pada pemberi dan penerima makna yang terus-terusan bergelut dalam medan makna. Medan dan ruang. Wakil tuhan, dan juga wakil manusia, selalunya ingin menyempitkan ruang makna dan dengan itu memejalkan wap air menjadi ketulan ais yang memamah Titanic. Yang besar (titanic sebagai kata sifat) dikalahkan oleh yang lebih besar dan pejal. Manusia pun terkorban, dan cinta pun putus.

Sebab itu akidah, seperti tradisi, memutuskan cinta dan kehendak biologi kerana ruang imaginasi dan kemujaradan rupa-rupanya lebih pejal daripada jasmani manusia.

Apabila makna disejukbekukan, manusia berhenti menjadi manusia, manusia menjadi alat dan diperalatkan. Kudrat manusia bukan lagi cerminan dan ruhnya kudrat tuhan tetapi benda-benda yang diaturkan mengikut kemahuan segelintir manusia lain yang mengatasi segala kudrat.

Kudratnya wakil tuhan ini, atau wakil manusia, sama sahaja dengan kudrat kita. Jika terkena pisau, darah menitis dari jarinya. Tetapi keperkasaan kudratnya luar biasa kerana makna di tangannya lebih tajam daripada pedang, lebih berang daripada atom-atom yang tercerai-berai.

Dominasi, dan semua penguasaan, pada hakikatnya dominasi makna dan ruang makna. Medan tari menjadi sel penjara yang hapak. Jika dosa mengalir di lantai tari, sel menjadikan kaki keras membeku. Jika rancaknya irama mengundang asmara, sel penjara memekakkan kesepian, jauh dan jauh ke dasar jiwa.

Kecilnya sel penjara, boleh sekecil itu juga medan tari, bukan kerana saiznya tetapi kecilnya himpitan jiwa yang dicetuskannya. Ruang tari, walau sekecil sel penjara, tetapi imaginasinya terbang jauh ke luar jendela.

Penguasaan sejenis perkataan politik. Semua politik pada dasarnya untuk mengikat walaupun sewaktu halkumnya mendenguskan nafas kebebasan. Ia ada di mana-mana: pada agama, pada pengetahuan dan pada ideologi. Ia memenjara dan menyeragam.

Hanya makna yang membebaskan, sungguh bebas sehingga ia menyesatkan dan menyasaukan.
Siapa yang takut, berenanglah ke dataran ais dan mampuslah kamu bersama kebekuan. Makna tetap berdiri di pantai musim panas yang mengghairahkan, kalaulah kamu mengetahuinya.

Sesungguhnya hanya sedikit daripada kamu yang mengetahuinya.

** Esei ini kali pertama diterbitkan pada katalog pameran faith, plurality & freedom anjuran Middle Eastern Graduate Center (MEGC) & Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF), 30/11/2006. Esei yang sama kemudian diterbitkan di laman web

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Saya terpaksa jujur kali ini. Jujur sejujurnya.

Kehidupan berumahtangga ini memang ada asyik dan khayalnya sendiri, seperti sembang panjang berlarutan di dini hari, seperti membaca buku filsafat dan bersembang politik.

Seperti nikotina, memang ada ketagihannya.

Saya kini jatuh cinta pada Nathania, yang kecil dan suka tersenyum.

Gila! Memang benar cakap orang, sesiapa yang kahwin lambat akan menyesal ...


Alison Gopnik describes new experiments in developmental psychology that show everything we think we know about babies is wrong.

Thomas Nagel famously asked, “What is it like to be a bat?” That question has become a staple of Philosophy 101 courses, but we might be better served asking a more basic one: What is it like to be a baby? Though all of us experience life as a baby firsthand, we’ve long held misconceptions about what babies are capable of thinking, feeling, and understanding. Only recently have we overturned dominant theories of development in which very young children were thought to be barely conscious at all.

In The Philosophical Baby developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik compiles the latest in her field’s research to paint a new picture of our inner lives at inception — one in which we are, in some ways, more conscious than adults. Gopnik spoke with Seed’s Evan Lerner about how babies and young children learn from us and what we can learn from them.

Seed: How does a better understanding of what’s going on in the minds of babies help us as adults?

Alison Gopnik: One of the things we discovered is that imagination, which we often think of as a special adult ability, is actually in place in very young children, as early as 18 months old. That ability is very closely related to children’s ability to figure out how the world works. Imagination isn’t just something we develop for our amusement; it seems to be something innate and connected to how we understand the causal structure of the real world. In fact, the new computational model of development we’ve created —  using what computer scientists call Bayesian networks — shows systematically how understanding causation lets you imagine new possibilities. If children are computing in this way, then we’d expect imagination and learning to go hand in hand.

Seed: You describe children as being “useless on purpose.” What do you mean by that?

AG: It’s related to one of the basic things that came out of our research: Why do children exist at all? It doesn’t make tremendous evolutionary sense to have these creatures that can’t even keep themselves alive and require an enormous investment of time on the part of adults. That period of dependence is longer for us than it is for any other species, and historically that period has become longer and longer.

The evolutionary answer seems to be that there is a tradeoff between the ability to learn and imagine — which is our great evolutionary advantage as a species — and our ability to apply what we’ve learned and put it to use. So one of the ideas in the book is that children are like the R&D department of the human species. They’re the ones who are always learning about the world. But if you’re always learning, imagining, and finding out, you need a kind of freedom that you don’t have if you’re actually making things happen in the world. And when you’re making things happen, it helps if those actions are based on all of the things you have learned and imagined. The way that evolution seems to have solved this problem is by giving us this period of childhood where we don’t have to do anything, where we are completely useless. We’re free to explore the physical world, as well as possible worlds through imaginative play. And when we’re adults, we can use that information to actually change the world.

Seed: You think Freud’s and Piaget’s conceptions of young children’s theory of mind are wrong. What do we know that they didn’t?

AG: Both Piaget and Freud thought that the reason children produced so much fantastic, unreal play was that they couldn’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. But a lot of the more recent work in children’s theory of mind has shown quite the contrary. Children have a very good idea of how to distinguish between fantasies and realities. It’s just they are equally interested in exploring both. The picture we used to have of children was that they spent all of this time doing pretend play because they had these very limited minds, but in fact what we’ve now discovered is that children have more powerful learning abilities than we do as adults. A lot of their characteristic traits, like their pretend play, are signs of how powerful their imaginative abilities are.

Seed: So is this just a matter of a changing frame of reference, where we now value imagination more?

AG: Well, the science has changed, too. For Freud and Piaget, it was a perfectly good hypothesis. If you just looked at young children and babies, they just did not seem very smart. We have new techniques we use to get more subtle measurements of what’s going on in children’s minds, and that’s the thing that has overturned that earlier view. When we take more than a superficial look at what children are doing, it turns out that they both know much more and learn much more than we ever thought before.

Seed: What are these techniques? How can we interrogate the minds of people who can’t yet fully communicate?

AG: Children are not very good at spontaneously telling you what they are thinking. With adults, we give them a questionnaire and have them give us answers. That doesn’t work for babies, who can’t talk, and for young children, who can only give a kind of stream-of-consciousness response. So one thing is to look at what they do rather than what they say. This works if you give them very focused questions with very simple answers. Rather than ask a child to explain how a toy machine works, we’ll ask, “Do you think this block or that block will make the machine go?”

Seed: What have you found?

AG: These techniques show that children can work with very complex statistical information. In the machine example, we show children’s patterns of conditional probability, the relationship between certain blocks and the machine turning on or off. If I tried to give you just a description of the sequence of events in one of these experiments in a conversation, I’d probably get it wrong and you wouldn’t be able to remember it — it’s pretty complicated for even adults to describe. But when you give kids these complicated sets of relationships and then just ask them to make the machine go or make the machine stop, they do the right things. Although they can’t consciously track how these conditional probabilities work, they are unconsciously taking that information into account. And they do this in the same way that sophisticated Bayesian network machine-learning programs do.

Seed: What about less objective causal inferences, such as ones dealing with morality?

AG: One of my favorites of these experiments is one that’s been around for quite awhile but hasn’t been fully appreciated. Two-and-a-half-year-olds already recognize the difference between moral principles and conventional principles. You can ask them if it would be okay to hit someone at daycare if everyone said it would be okay, versus asking them whether it would be okay to not hang up your coat in the cubby if everyone said it would be okay. These children say it’s never okay to hit someone, but whether or not you have to put your clothes in the cubby could change from daycare to daycare. They already seem to appreciate the difference between the kinds of morality that comes from empathy and the kind that comes from our conventional rules. From the time they are two, they recognize both are important but in different ways. That’s pretty amazing.

Seed: So where do adult philosophers go from here?

AG: Back to the 18th century, in some ways. If you look at someone like David Hume, he thought he was doing a kind of theoretical science — he didn’t think there was a line between what we find out from science and what we find out from philosophy. Increasingly, modern philosophers say that we can learn about the big questions by looking at science. But science, especially developmental psychology, can also tell us about philosophy; it can tell us about what we start with, what we learn, and what the basic facets of human nature are. The kind of picture you often get from scientifically oriented philosophy is often very much in the vein of evolutionary psychology, with everything innate and genetically determined. But one of the more important things that has come out of developmental work is that there’s also a powerful capacity for change. And we’re starting to understand how that change takes place at a very detailed neurological and computational level.

And the same is true when we look at our moral development. A lot of moral psychology has been saying that we have these innate moral instincts, or innate moral grammars. When we look at children, we do see some of these innate moral intuitions, but there is also this tremendous capacity for moral revision. In some ways, I think those are some of the most distinctively human abilities. They give us the ability to say, “Oh wait, the way that we’ve been operating is not working, and that’s wrong.” And this gives us the ability to change those things that are wrong and get to better moral principles than we started out with.

[Source:, 'To be a baby' (5 May 2009) by Evan Lerner]