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Monday, 18 December 2006

Conventional Wisdom - In Retrospect

Article by : Ahmad Syah Ejaz

What is Conventional Wisdom? Conventional wisdom is a thinking sphere where you allowed your mind to think for the sake of protecting your interest. More precise Conventional Wisdom is an understanding of a path or line that was created before we even began to understand the way of life. In a layman terms it is what we followed and apply daily instead of baffling which is right and wrong. As what John Kenneth Galbraith wrote:

“Neither man’s curiosity nor his inherent ego allows him to remain contentedly oblivious to anything that is so close to his life. With increasing well-being, all people become aware, sooner or later, that they have something to protect”

And based on that excerpt from the man who introduced Conventional Wisdom itself, I wrote this article on how much imperative for us to think that Conventional Wisdom had to be reviewed from time to time. That was supported by the quotation of Thomas Jefferson which was frequently mislead or deceived by the intellectuals. According to Jefferson:

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure”

According to the above line of “from time to time” and “natural manure”, Jefferson does understand his own words that there is no any Conventional Wisdom which is at a fixed status. It needs its own appraisal which as a writer I presume it is its natural manure. And when do we need to review our Conventional Wisdom? It was when our interest is at stake. No doubt Conventional Wisdom is an evolution which life itself finds its own existence.

Conventional Wisdom doesn’t come easy. It was as a matter of trial and error and come at a high price. Once Conventional Wisdom is identified, we must protect and continue guarding it. That is why it usually known as protecting the rights of the majority. According to Galbraith;
“When a vested interest is enjoyed not by a minority but a majority, it is human right”. And with all due respect that I may add up, it is also a ticket to human existence.

But man’s faith and confidence also sometimes reach a point of re-appraisal. It was when his interest is at risk. Look at on our own national perspective, I would like to recollect back our memory prior to our nation independence. We all know that Tunku Abdul Rahman as the head of the alliance party who won the first municipal election in 1955. But what we all don’t know is the story of our path to independence. After winning the Municipal Election, Tunku as the head of the major party, was appointed as the first Chief Minister of Malaya. His capacity as a Chief Minister is only in protecting the interest of the Malays and the Chinese (Alliance in 1955 was comprise only the Malays-UMNO and the Chinese-MCA party).

Independence was hardly come to Tunku’s mind. Tunku was a prince and he understood that it was impossible to run the nation without British expatriate and the Malay Civil Service (allegiance to the Queen and the British Colonial Government). But that all happened to change on a one night heartbreak.

As a Chief Minister, Tunku was granted an official government house known as the residency. It was occupied before by the British High Commissioner that was located on the top of a hill (currently Jalan Dato’ Onn and known as Bukit Tunku).

The condition of the house was dilapidated and wretched. It happens on one night when Tunku and his wife Sharifah Rodziah was sleeping, the rain came down heavily. The shabby beaten up house cause the rain water to coming in through the wretched roof. Tunku had to moved his bed a couple of times and didn’t able to sleep that night. Then with the grace of God, he ponders that how the British Colonial Government treat him even though he is the Chief Minister and represent the native Malays, they (British Government) treat him as such (by giving him a dilapidated official house). If so such a treat to the Chief Minister, then what kind of indulgence will the Colonial Government treat the commoners and the no-one residents? That is when and why Independence had to come.

With the determination of the Conventional Wisdom, then scholars can discuss the inner subject and the core nexus of the wisdom. But Conventional Wisdom does have its own flaw. In so called protecting the sacred path and inherited Conventional Wisdom, we do reach a point of complacency and unwilling to review it. With this problem arise, certain people inspire by the status of being popular would be unwilling to experiment a whole new novel of Conventional Wisdom even though it is needed. When one does really realize the true nature of Conventional Wisdom, is when one can verify the difference of what is right and what is acceptable. Doing what is right is the true liberty of refreshing freedom as what Jefferson wrote in his letter to William Stevens Smith hundred years ago.

In perpetuating Conventional Wisdom, there should be zero tolerance for meritocracy. Conventional Wisdom should be based on intellectual facts and analysis and not political decision. Conventional Wisdom itself is a truth and not something based for political purpose. Just as truth ultimately serves to create a consensus, so in the short run acceptability. Professional and scholars should encourage others and themselves to not only write about Conventional Wisdom, but as well speak.

This is so that Conventional Wisdom will trigger a sense of urgency in creating a Utopian Community. Utopian community is not impossible as long as people understand Conventional Wisdom. When people write as well as speak, the push factor in pouring the minds of our countrymen with intellectuals and torrent intelligent forward-looking thinking is un-stoppable thus creating a Utopian Community from time to time.

People need to start on learning on how to notice the
“grey area”. With the ability of as such, then Conventional Wisdom will be known as a push factor in a Utopian Community. Adam Smith for an example noticed some facts about England in his book the Wealth of Nations:

“England certainly in present times a much richer country than any part of North America, but the wages of labor, however are much higher in North America than any part of England.”

With the capability of intellectual monitoring, Conventional Wisdom can be immortalized with a little bit of restoration from time to time. Conventional Wisdom can be made notice about the defects and latent danger of un-check Capitalism when it breeds corruption and led to anarchy. Conventional Wisdom can be used to create a balance of economic equity before came economic power. Malaysian experience of such importance can be seen during the 13th May 1969, when liberties and immunities of individuals and organization is very much high unequal in the distribution of economic power.

In creating a Conventional Wisdom, erudite and high oral capacity is not the only traits needed. One must also be a theorist and a practical man. To create a new set of conventional wisdom, one must also be the vanguard and the forth right approach of the man who know how to get things done.

Reference:

1. The Affluent Society, John Kenneth Galbraith, Mariner Books, 1998

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