It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth, writes Harry G. Frankfurt, emeritus professor of philosophy at Princeton in his recent book : On Bull----. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. The bull artist, on the other hand, cares nothing for truth or falsehood. The only thing that matters to him is getting away with what he says. An advertiser or a politician or talk show host given to [bull] "does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it," he writes. "He pays no attention to it at all." ... More on the b-s article; or on the essay/book.


a drowning tragedy

An otherwise ordinary Sunday of Feb. 20th between the hours of 13 to 14 PM in Taman Sari Pesona Bali swimming pool in Ciputat where we live turned tragic for a man.

I was playing a rubber durian volleyball with a neighbor boy, friend of my daughter's, when he suddenly stopped the game."Look," he said, pointing to a terrible sight. At first I thought I saw two men kidding themselves by wrestling in the pool. Then I realized it was a "lifeguard" trying to tow away another man out of water. The guard couldn't pull the victim out of it, so I instinctively swam fast towards them and could give the victim a push below the water, then jumped myselfy out of the pool to help drag the body out. This guard instructed me to help carry the victim and lie him down on a wooden bench, which we did. Then he tried to press his hands several times to the victim's belly, when soon water and froth came out of the victim's mouth. He said to me, "All right, now do it." I responded, "Do what?" He didn't respond at first, then he said, or perhaps suggested unconfidently, "Let's move him out of the sight?," which we did. "This man had epilepsy, he said to me as we burden the cold body. Oh? I thought, that explained things (and that's the information I passed on to Chandra and my daughter Lej, later). A middle aged lady came approacing. As she began to recognize the victim, she started sobbing in panic.

Somebody had cleared the ticketing table, and a guy whom I thought was one of the pool management, told us to put down the victim on the table. A quick decision was made. The victim was to be taken to Gandul hospital, which , I don't really know, half an hour from the site? The weeping woman went with him. And that's it. Everything went flashing very fast, like in a dream. I didn't know even the least information about the victim. The 2-m part of the pool was empty for some minutes. When people came back swimming again, way too soon! As if nothing mattered had happened. As if nothing happened at all.

The guy who took the victim out came back, wearing an official lifeguard uniform by then. That's when I knew he was a guard. Apparently he didn't go to Gandul. As he walked slowly and passed by me, he gave me a nod, perhaps an unncessary gratitude, I inquired about the victim. Do you know this guy? What made you think he had epilepsy? " No, I don't, I don't know him at all. His mouth was frothing, as you saw it yourself. He might have been seized by it." I sat down aghast and became quickly consumed by remorse.

Two nights have found me unable to go to sleep without me having to confront countless of questions about the man and the whole situation. He was about 25-30, but who was he? How was he transported to Gandul? Did he die? What did they do? What should have been done? etc.

Now that I've learned from surfing the net something about drowning these two days ex post, I can only feel certain that that everything we did as soon as we left the water was inappropriate! The man either died or survived with irreversible brain damage. People can survive without food for days, but suffocation allows only 2-3 minutes before tragedy. It is with deep and bitter regret that I'm posting this. My purposes are: 1) to pay tribute to the victim; 2) to share a very costly lesson.


700 new cars

I REMEMBER visiting her home in Tomang after school back in our high school years. Some schoolmates came from filthy rich families, but had I ever thought this particular friend as one of them until that very day! Her family, of 3 children including herself, gave me a shock. They had five cars: one car for every member of the family. Why that many? What a great share to the congestion. Out of either innocence or ignorance, I snapped those remarks, in a teenager's spontaniety that was never to condescend her nor her family. If her reactions at that time failed me, well, they still do. I did not apologize.

Thousands of days must have passed since that day and plus one today. We have never met again. After lunch at the office foodstall today, I instead met an acquaintance, a finance manager with an auto leasing company. In our fleeting, less than three-minute, chitchat he spoke of the anomaly of our age in this country. He said that every day some 1,600 new cars were flooding this country's roads. In this old mean city Jakarta alone, over 700 new cars, every day! My instinctive response ruled in a flash: surely great for your line of business, but I was wise enough to hold my tongue. Besides, this man did not seem jolly as he spilled the bin, only concerned. Though I had read about this info in some reports, the cold facts coming from the mouth of a man in the business sent chills right down to my spine. I think I gave him a grin from my feeling of powerlessness. I waved him a silent goodbye on my way back to work.

In the elevator that brought me to the seventh floor where I work, memories of that high school friend emerged to the foreground from a long buried past. Then I remembered that afternoon visit. I felt more convinced than ever today, that something has been grossly wrong in my country. Of course, it was never my friend's fault, nor her family's. But I knew there is a good cause for an apology, the next time we meet again, maybe.



Published in a shorter version for the Indonesia Now & Beyond: The Indonesia Yearbook 2002, published by Andrew Tani Communications

The Loss of Soul of a People and Nation


Julia I. Suryakusuma*

The Great Malady

It is said that the great malady of the twentieth century that affects us all, individually and collectively, is the loss of soul. This is certainly true of Indonesia; loss of soul is a phenomenon that is the root cause of so much of our problems and pain, and it is reflected in so many aspects of our lives and behaviour.

Psyche is defined as soul, self, spirit, or mind, and is manifested through action, character, personality, but also our social structure, culture, leadership patterns, etc., and our ways of relating on a personal, local, national and international basis. A crisis - especially a prolonged one - is an opportunity and perhaps one of the best ways of knowing and understanding someone's psyche as it teases, indeed forces out the various aspects of the psyche, including the dark sides, without which none of us would be whole.

Indonesia has been going through a 'kristal'' (krisis total - total crisis) which started in 1997 as a monetary crisis but developed into fully-fledged economic, social and political crises, and which was clearly felt also to be a crisis of morality, justice, and integrity. If May 1998 can be considered the beginning of the Reformasi (Reform) Era, it was a transitional era hoped to bring about solutions which would 'transport' us into an era of democracy. However, so far Reformasi has been a continuation of the crisis, bringing about some improvements - true, but also new problems and contradictions, and no real clarity about where we are headed.

Most would agree that, overall, we are still very much in a state of crisis - what Durkheim would call anomie, or normlessness, caused by too rapid social change whereby the customary limits to what people want and expect from life are disrupted. Social controls are weak, and moral obligations, which constrain individuals and regulate their behaviour, are not strong enough to function effectively. It is also a situation whereby "the scale is upset, but a new scale cannot be immediately improvised". To see this in the Indonesian context, we're trying to demolish the so-called New Order, but are not at all clear what the new rules of the Reformasi Order are (resulting in New Orderism seeping in all the time).

In some ways, Indonesia has been in a state of anomie for decades, even centuries, in the sense that the rules have always been imposed on society by a minority group - whether it be a colonial power or an authoritarian state - rather than something formed jointly by the collective will of the society itself. So when the powers that be are shaken up, as they are now, the degree of anomie is great indeed. Thus, it is not only our values and norms that are being distorted, but where our already psychotic and neurotic psyche is being stripped, and even more of its soul is pushed to the point of barrenness.

Five Aspects of the Indonesian Psyche

So how does one start to understand the Indonesian psyche? Is it not a bold and foolish endeavour to even try to make any generalisations, considering Indonesia's socio-cultural-religious diversity, class disparities, and (not to mention) gender differences? However, there is such a thing as a collective psyche and consciousness shaped by a common history, conditions and 'fate'.

Carl Gustav Jung was the proponent of the theory of the collective unconscious, which is based on memories inherited from one's ancestors which one does not have to experience personally. But then there is also the collective consciousness, which is based on empirical experience. While the psyche is made up of the two, in this essay I place more emphasis on the collective consciousness which is more affected by political, sociological and historical factors. This is because there is a greater likelihood that we can do something about it rather than feel that we are stuck in a cultural determinism that cannot be changed.

Thus I will attempt to describe 'psyche' as it is manifested through collective attitude and behaviour. I have identified five main categories of traits broadly related to immaturity, fearfulness, powerlessness, irrationality, and the inability to manage ourselves. These categories are not distinct, but are closely connected with one another.

We are an immature people who are going through a severe identity crisis. The identity of such a young nation as Indonesia is, in any event, still in the making. In our history we seldom have had a period where we were able to maintain stability long enough to forge this collective identity of ours, an identity so fragile due to the diversity and geographical composition of the country. It is, indeed, the identity of an 'imagined community', one held together artificially. The New Order regime understood this need for stability well enough, but its understanding of it was to impose a developmentalist paradigm and so-called Pancasila democracy, which of course, were merely the tools of authoritarianism in disguise.

As a result of being led by the nose for so long, we lack self-esteem, and have a need for constant recognition and acknowledgement, often seeking status without substance. This is manifested in many ways: the endless demonstrations which we take to be a sign of democracy (it is not. It is a sign that our democratic institutions don't work); by the need of various groups - whether they be ethnic or religious - to 'assert' themselves in attention-seeking ways which are not always constructive, indeed, often destructive or divisive (e.g. the periodic raids of bars by groups who claim to be Islamic, bombings of churches and mosques, etc.); in the celebrity-aspiring tendencies of many of our intellectuals, who are more keen on appearing in TV talk-shows and expressing their views about everything under the sun (or continuously regurgitating what they have said over and over again, as they have produced no new thoughts or ideas), than engaging in reflection and the production of knowledge for the new society we all desire; the utterly shameful practice of buying and selling of academic titles - Masters' degrees, PhDs and even professorships - that has become increasingly sought after; in the behaviour of our honourable members of parliament who are vocal but also often without a real grasp of the issues and who are ignorant themselves of the aspirations of their constituents.

We demand our freedom, but it is often one that is divested of responsibility, e.g. clamouring for prestigious social positions or lucrative bureaucratic posts without fully acknowledging the obligations that are inherent in them. Or our press, which has flourished in numbers, but not in quality, a press that is still on the whole, reactive, rather than responsive to the needs of the society. It is a press that leads public opinion by publishing sensationalistic stories, instead of educating the public and shaping mindsets in a way that leads to the building of social solidarity, the institutions of democracy, and democracy itself.

We are self-righteous, with a very prominent and active tendency to engage in blaming and scapegoating, in fact, we are a nation of scapegoaters par excellence. We do not take responsibility for our fate; it is always the fault of the foreign powers, the communists, the extremists, the subversive elements, the formless organisations, etc. etc. When we blame, we are looking for a scapegoat for a real dislocation which is difficult to find (or that we are unwilling to see) and in which we ourselves, as individuals and as a society, are implicated. Blame is a defensive substitute for an honest reflection and examination of our lives and condition, the necessary foundation for seeking guidance in our mistakes.

Everybody and all nations have their contradictions, but too many of ours are negative. For example, we can smile and yet stab someone, even a friend, in the back, with considerable ease. We also have a tendency to engage in self-deception, in our dishonesty, our ease at committing fraud, manipulating figures and statistics, in the unwillingness or reluctance of our state and government officials to declare their wealth; in money politics, in the students or civil society organisations who claim to demonstrate, speak or act on behalf of the people but are in fact doing so out of self-interest. We are unable to learn from our history, from our mistakes, and it is also for this reason that we rely still on strong leadership, which we then permit to slide back into dictatorship.

We are a fearful people, lacking in spirit due to years of authoritarian rule, first by our kings and queens, then the colonialists. Leader after leader colludes with the neo-colonialists who come bringing loans, laden with conditions that strip us of our autonomy and often, dignity and self. No wonder we have become selfish and petty, mediocre and conformist, all a function of fear and characterlessness. We are a jealous and envious people, coveting what another has or afraid that someone will take what we have. While these tendencies are corrosive to the heart, we are strangely attached to these traits as they act as a prop for our insecurity. Envy is a compulsion which is made up of desire but at the same time self denial, creating frustration and obsessiveness, which Indonesians are clearly manifesting. And, in the thick of envy, one is blind to one's own nature when in fact knowing and understanding who we are is a fundamental prerequisite to solving our manifold problems.

We are a closed people, which is perhaps a cultural predisposition of the East (the notion of Oriental inscrutability), but it is also related to our fearfulness, stubbornness, 'masked' behaviour, narrow-mindedness, pettiness, defensiveness; these traits prevent or at least inhibit our ability to engage in open dialogue from which new insights could arise.

We oscillate between playing ostrich (i.e. denial), for example, unwilling to acknowledge that we are capable of committing heinous crimes as we have done in so many instances in our history (as in 1965, East Timor, Aceh, Papua, and many other human rights abuses), or running amok, often as a mob, after having engaged in self-repression for a long time. Ours is a shame rather than a guilt culture, meaning that a wrongdoing only becomes a problem if it is found out, not because there is some form of internal control which a healthy sense of guilt can provide.

Fearfulness also results in lack of integrity, often acting with no guiding principles (or simply bad judgement), and thus allowing ourselves to be driven by personal interests, desires, and greed. This results in hypocritical (even using religion as a cover up for corrupt or immoral practices), opportunistic or irresponsible behaviour, engaging in betrayals, backstabbing, a comprador mentality, the tendency to manipulate others' misfortune or weaknesses, and even torturing, maiming or killing our own people. Yet, each time we murder our activists - most recently Theys Hilo Eluay, leader of the Free Papua Movement - we are killing our own spirit because they are precisely the people who most embody the spirit of freedom, independence and justice, to which we claim to aspire. But we kill in so many other ways: by our development policies that favour the rich, that seize land away from people, that deprive many of their basic needs and human rights, that appropriate traditional knowledge and wealth through the corrupt actions of government officials who take money and resources that rightly belong to the people, and by neglecting indigenous arts and crafts. In doing all this, we are killing the very spirit that we need to save our souls, and the soul of the nation.

We are powerless, weak and irresolute, easily influenced and inflamed by others, and power-hungry precisely because we are power-less. However, due to our fear, we are influenced by the wrong people or things, for the wrong reasons. We are resentful of others - because of what they impose on us - be it ways of being or doing, or criticism - but don't have the courage to assert ourselves and speak up or out against what we believe or want. Instead, we mutter, grumble or gossip behind people's backs. We fritter away our power (and energies) by engaging in back-biting, infighting, factious rivalry and mutual annihilation. We lack the courage and political will to do the things we have to do, such as eradicating KKN (collusion, corruption and nepotism) which has been a destructive virus for decades. We only too often engage in a NATO (no action, talk only) mentality and speak with loud voices that sound heroic, 'poetic', or pleasing to the ego, and which serve to rouse (the masses) or to appease (the self), but that are seldom backed by purposive, thought out, planned action and deeds.

Culturally, we are still feudal in our orientation, both in mentality as well as in social structure; this is not conducive to people developing and expressing their own power. Those who are 'powerful' exercise their power on their 'subjects', making their decisions and imposing their will on them. The only way 'ordinary' people can survive is to use the 'weapons of the weak'. Some Indonesian favourites are: lying, various forms of deception, twisting words, beating about the bush, nagging, or behaving in passive-aggressive ways. This mentality leads to an inferiority-superiority complex, and is also the psychological basis for a culture of violence which can be sadomasochistic, vengeful and victimising. The roots of violence of course are many, complex and interlinked - social, political, economic and psychological, and cannot be reduced to one single cause. Indonesia has many of the ingredients needed to develop a culture of violence. The Javanese brand of violence can appear to be quite 'halus' (refined) - backstabbing would be one method - but it is violence nevertheless.

We are irrational and as a result, often overly emotional. For decades, even centuries, we were never taught to be logical, because it was never in the interests of the powerful to have subjects who could think logically. In fact, one of the major successes of the New Order regime was in its 'program' of pembodohan (literally, 'stupidisation'), a process that virtually deprives people of their capacity to think independently, force-feeding the populace with ideological indoctrination, lies, imposing on them an educational system which was never designed to teach people to think, and a political system which did not allow people to participate in decision making processes. We were inculcated to be considerate (tenggang rasa) but never to be analytical or critical. We need to balance out the two, because only being considerate can result in problems being swept under the carpet, but being only critical can dismiss sentiments that are very important to people's existence. The one without the other simply results in a categorical and reductionistic way of thinking. Israel is the devil, we say, but how is it possible that these millions of people are all bad, reducing them to one single (negative) trait? We need to know and understand how others are, but this categorical way of thinking (of defining people or events according to stereotypical givens) prevents it. It is this tendency that facilitates the factious ruling elite to politicise and cultivate the various racist, ethnic, religious, sexist or class prejudices that exist.

We have difficulty in managing ourselves. While Indonesia is a land of promise, that promise feels unfulfilled, chaotic, corrupt and directionless. If we were never taught to be logical, we were also never taught to manage ourselves, whether it be our time, money, emotions, or relationships. We need to learn how to manage ourselves by gradually taking on more and more responsibility - this is something that needs to be taught starting at home, in the family, as children. Learning to manage ourselves also means learning to prioritise and see the global, 'big' picture, something we are often incapable of doing.

In Indonesia we don't know what we want because we are not used to formulating what we want. We were never really educated in the family or at school to clearly articulate our needs and wants; this is carried over in our political system and culture which stresses compliance rather than encouraging negotiation and even less, of the pressing of demands. Thus, if we catch a thief, we just beat him to death as the legal system is not one that inspires much confidence. In this way, applying the principle of "vox Dei, vox populi" to, say, the extremist 'Islamic' group, the Laskar Jihad (who resort to violence to meet their ends), becomes problematic if not horrific. On the other hand, if the people can take the law in their own hands when it comes to, say, a chicken thief, what happens to those who are suspected of being implicated in Buloggate I and II, starting from the President, the head of the House of the People's Representative, the ministers and businessmen? In relative terms, if proven guilty, these people have caused far greater damage than a chicken thief. Should they then also be beaten to death, burned at the stake, hung at the gallows at Monas, or drawn and quartered, since the law will not touch them in quite the way they deserve?

Because of the nature of the crisis in Indonesia and the lack of systematic means to unravel the chaos, leadership is particularly important in the nation's ability to solve all other problems. However, the lack of leadership is precisely one of our fundamental problems. Megawati's waffling and silence - often seen as characteristic of her leadership - is also indicative of the deep tensions and differing pulls within Indonesian society. She has difficulty in leading because we simply cannot agree where we want to go. While we pride ourselves on our philosophy of harmony, the reality is cacophony, very difficult for any conductor to orchestrate.

Corruption, which can be categorised as 'mismanagement' (of the deliberate kind), is endemic in Indonesia, one of the most intractable problems we face. It is destroying the nation in more ways than we think. Indeed, it is often those who are in power who allow and practice corruption. How can democracy and confidence in the government and state institutions be developed in this kind of atmosphere? The mentality and practice of corruption however is not limited to high-level government officials, it has spread to all sectors and levels of society, making it standard practice. Like sex, money is numinous, filled with fantasy, emotion and resistant to rational guidance. It is beyond our powers of control, filling us with compelling desire, longing, envy and greed. Acquisitiveness, rapacity, cheating, fraud and embezzlement are widespread, even endemic in Indonesia. When a society becomes corrupted by money's shadow, it falls apart. When one considers that money is central to our attempts to live a communal life, corruption and other obsessions with money become an obstacle to communal flow, no longer serving community exchange, and thus creating a blockage in our collective spirit - a loss of soul.

What a grim picture of the people we are! Do we not have any positive traits at all? Many traits have drawn people to the archipelago, whether to enjoy or exploit us, to celebrate or to take advantage of us. Some foreigners who have come to stay for a short period have ended up staying longer or not returned to their country of origin at all, more 'developed' though it may be. Why is this so?

The Other Side….

Indonesians are a friendly, warm, charming people, traits which often have been distorted and easily manipulated. Many of us are naturally artistic but our work is undervalued in the shadow of modern technologies. We are elegant and refined, passionate, sensual, and hardworking too, which has left us exploited. We are quick learners, and have a highly adaptive culture with a long history of assimilation, clearly seen in much of our arts and crafts, our religion, our language, our cuisine. Assimilation, however, has often given way to instant copying of products, mannerisms or lifestyles. We are family oriented, and believe in mutual co-operation and social solidarity, which leads to KKN and silent support for bapakism. We are believers, i.e., we love to believe in things, but at the same time having a certain degree of cynicism. If this cynicism is applied rationally, it could produce a healthy, balanced outlook to life.

We have an array of ethnic tendencies, from the West Sumatrans who are more intellectual and rational in their approach, to the Javanese whose approach to life is more with feeling (rasa); some ethnic groups are more direct, others more discreet and reserved. We pride ourselves on being tolerant and peace-loving, which is in essence true, but turned around by the divide-et-impera tactics of the New Order (and previously by the colonial powers), it has become the opposite. We are essentially mystical and spiritual, traits which have been distorted into religious fanaticism and bigotry, as a defensive stance against the oppression of successive authoritarian regimes as well as the onslaught of globalisation. We tend to live for the moment, a positive, even spiritual quality, but if distorted becomes short-sightedness and opportunism. Almost all our ethnic groups tend to be merry, cheerful and have a sense of humour, which now only too often has been reduced to shallowness and superficiality.

The Indonesian Psyche as part of Anima Mundi

In many ways, any people who have gone through the historical, economic and political circumstances that the Indonesian nation and people have, would be likely to exhibit similar traits. More than plural, we are a fragmented society (in a fragmented world), with no single majority (that can lead), fixed within a 'moral' social hierarchy, overly centralised (still), with uneven human and natural resources and a gaping social, political and economic chasm between the elite and the rest of the people. Since the crisis, we have become one of the poorest nations (currently an estimated 60% below the poverty line), and we endure a prolonged economic crisis; regional, ethnic and religious strife; an ineffective legal system; a culture of violence; a colossal foreign debt; stimulation overload (often of the crass or negative kind); bombardment by products (both commodities and 'cultural'); foreign values; internal strife and conflict due to decades of control and repression. All of the above, occurring together and over decades are to a large extent the reason why we are the way we are, resulting in the soulless entities we have become.

And truly, life is difficult to manage nowadays, crammed as we are by internal demands and needs, external influences, the conflict between the two, and the dizzying pace of change which does not allow us to process an acceptable change of values. People react in different ways: by being defensive, aggressive, self-protective or opportunistic and hypocritical. The confusing complexity of life can only be coped with by simplification: engaging in pragmatist, reductionistic mentality. Conflict of values is 'managed' by reducing the issue to something that can be easily focused on, e.g. permissive sex comes from the West - so it's bad and sinful - forgetting that Indonesia has a very erotic culture, which is part of our indigenous spiritualist religion (i.e. pre-Islamic). But if this pragmatic, reductionist mentality is applied to religion, race, ethnicity, class or gender, it provides the basis for misunderstandings, prejudices, divisions, strife and violence.
We allow ourselves to be trapped in stereotypical social roles which are prescribed and rigid, and forget about the archetypes - the primeval content of the collective unconscious of inherited ideas and predispositions - which can provide guides to soulfulness. This is particularly true of gender roles which, in the New Order especially, were also politically and ideologically defined: man as head of the family, woman as wife and homemaker, in the context of a 'Pancasila' family and society. Indonesian families have also been pushed to subscribe more and more - through 'modernisation', but also through the New Order social construction of gender roles - to the notion of the Western nuclear family when traditionally we have had extended families.

This stereotyping of socially constructed gender roles has resulted in the loss of the masculine and feminine archetypes, the ideals of manhood and womanhood, motherhood and fatherhood, that are essential for providing guidance and wisdom for us individually, in our family lives and in the life of the community and nation. If in the current Reformasi Order the women's movement in Indonesia is struggling to revive itself, it will be hard pressed to do so in the context of the collective fatherlessness we are currently suffering. This is also a major source of our lack of leadership. Ideology is not enough to lead a people and nation, and even of that, we have precious little. Feminists deplore the oppressiveness of patriarchal values and structures; indeed, what we sorely need is the resurrection of positive patriarchy. With the likes of Soeharto and Bush, what hope do we have?

In present day Indonesia we have not yet reached the level of modern ways of being, grounded in an intellectual, rational, open, pluralistic and egalitarian approach. Yet we have left behind the traditional ways, where wisdom is grounded in intuition and a kind of humanism whereby contradictions - an inherent part of life - are contained through a holistic, yin-yang approach, where darkness and light, like day and night, exist together. Somehow we need to recapture this traditional wisdom. Perhaps this way, we can derive our peace. But what to do with the onslaught of globalisation and how do we keep up with the competition?

To understand the Indonesian psyche, we need to understand the context in which it exists. If we believe in the notion of anima mundi, or the soul of the world, and that we are all - whether as individuals or nations - a part of it, this also provides the key to understanding the Indonesian psyche. This being the case, especially after September 11, in many ways Indonesia is no worse off than the rest of the world right now. We live in a soulless world - is it surprising then that Indonesia suffers from the same malady?

Development and modernisation are being spread by globalisation. Yet they are a threat to the caring for and healing of the soul. Globalisation is driven by psychological modernism: an uncritical acceptance of the values of the modern world, oriented towards a mechanistic and rationalistic understanding of life. This psychological modernism is manifested in a blind faith in technology, uncritical acceptance of scientific progress, devotion to the electronic media, and a lifestyle that is dictated by advertising. If something goes wrong, the tendency is to adopt a "let's fix it" approach, rather than attempt a reflective and philosophical approach. This soulful approach becomes increasingly rare in the 'modern' world.

The notion of a globalised world is actually a very ancient one. Ancient philosophers and theologians taught that the world is a cosmic being, a unified organism with its own living body and soul. However, today we literalise this philosophy in the notion of the Global Village, created by fibre optics. Literalisation and cultural numbing, no poetry, no rituals (save for neurotic ones like watching TV, eating processed food, or smoking), no imagination, no holiness, no involvement in the creation of one's daily lives (using instead, mass-produced goods). This is an inherent modernist syndrome, a major cause of the destruction of the soul. Globally we live in a time of materialism and consumerism, of lost values and a shift in ethical standards; we live in the information age where only too often there is an inverse relation between information and wisdom. Throughout human history the expression of individuality is a threat to the status quo. For all of the modern world's championing of individuality and individual freedoms (led by the U.S., that Golden Child of the Iron Age), most of our cultures, certainly the global culture, favour conformity. This is true of political and economic systems, lifestyle, consumer patterns, fashion, and ways of thinking. It's enough to step briefly into a mall, whether in Indonesia (or in the U.S.), to get an onslaught of global culture: KFCs, McDonalds, Coca Cola, the Gap, and all the rest. You've seen one, you've (practically) seen them all. This, on top of the Indonesia's own propensity for conformity, inculcated by the New Order regime (ironic in such a diverse nation as Indonesia), only serves to make us more soulless.

There is a flatness in the quality of life, which may be connected to our insoluble violence world-wide. The other side of violence is creativity and self-expression - both stem from the life force. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the soul has power, a power that can be creative or destructive, gentle or aggressive, and which can hurl a person into ecstasy or depression. Because we don't do enough to acknowledge the soul, in fact, actively engage in activities that negate it, no wonder adjustment disorders abound, in Indonesia, but also the rest of the world.

The Need to Heal and Restore our Soul

There is always a feeling of pride among Indonesians because we are a big nation: the largest archipelago, now the fourth most populous nation in the world, endowed with rich natural resources in a beautiful land. Yet there is at the same time a constant feeling of inferiority because these are never translated into power in military, political, economic or even cultural terms. On the contrary, Indonesia is now one of the poorest nations on earth; human resources are of low and uncompetitive quality, especially in managerial and communication skills, and in progress and advancement in many other fields. We are proud of our history, culture, traditions, etc., but sometimes they hinder our efforts at modernity.

Many of the problems that Indonesia and Indonesians face are to do with the fact that we have never had a chance to be democratic. In Indonesia, 'democracy' took shape in a culture that was not ours. It became something that was imposed, and for so long politics has simply been an arena for competing interests, not the general good (and for a long time, for the good of the generals). Personal interest has been the driving force of politics. Our parties are 'as-if' parties, geared at vote-getting (i.e. collecting people) rather than advocating ideological interests or even a political agenda. So they break up easily because there is no real commitment to a cause, a belief, and even less, to principles.

If we truly want to pull ourselves out of the crisis, now is a time when we need to muster our collective courage not only to face the trials we are going through, but also to grieve for our past tragedies and losses. At the same time, we need to develop a healthy sense of shame with regards to our present and our past. This requires an honest examination of our history (e.g. of 1965, and other well-known debacles), not based on propaganda, but through research, study and knowledge. We need to address the problem of regional autonomy and the inherent strife as a reflection of an unhappy, fragmented soul. We need to address the issue of human rights abuses, both past and present. We need to develop and build our democratic institutions, processes and practices, induce transparency and accountability, and establish rule of law and social, economic and political justice. We also need to rekindle a healthy sense of nationalism, not the inward looking, xenophobic, blame-all-our-problems-on-others-and-therefore-they-have-to-pay attitude that we have now. We need to make peace with ourselves and our history, lest we remain in an 'existential limbo' which prevents us from developing ourselves and becoming a strong nation.

Up to now, the prospects for healing are not visible on the horizon, but we're damned to an eternal hell if we don't. In order to regain our soul power we need to be good at what we are good at. Many of us spend time and energy to be something we are not, and because we fail, we reach for substitutes of power which makes us even more powerless. Care of the soul requires space for reflection and appreciation, as well as a willingness to embrace contradiction and paradox, inherent features of life. Indonesia once had soul - this is obvious from our culture and historic relics. The issue here is not to be trapped in a romanticisation of the past, but to engage in some sort of 'post-modern' project that draws upon the memory of our past - both painful and glorious (if we ever had it), but which also recognises the needs and realities of an Indonesia which is on the brink of disintegration. For this we need self-knowledge - of both our light and dark sides. For this we need self-sacrifice rather than the sacrificing of others. We need to recognise that like most people, our cardinal virtue is also our pivotal fault - perhaps that could be a starting point. We need more than anything else, to reclaim our souls, for without them, we are empty, and Indonesia, even if it continues to 'exist', will be a churning, chaotic entity, dissolved of meaning.

* Julia I. Suryakusuma is a sociologist and social commentator based in Jakarta. Her work appears in various national and international publications. Her API (Almanac of Indonesian Politics) Foundation published the Almanac of Indonesian Political Parties (1999) and the Indonesian Parliament Guide (2001).


blogging my headache away

As I continue blogging this moment, the migrane (migrant? whatever!) on the temple and around my left eye has become more severe than lastyesternight. Took a painkiller tablet minutes ago; now just wanted to find out how blogging turned out with headache. So, what to write? How about my own birthday? OK. It's 4 days ago now, when I received two presents: "Sebuah Kitab Melawan Lupa" (or A Book Against Forgetting, and a steel ashtray.

No, wait, three presents actually. The other one is a blog posting, which I learned last night, from a friend. Could one, who never received birthday presents or even simple bday wishes from the parents, expect more? But to do justice, couldn't have written the last sentence without this little addition: the fact they never did me that does not mean they don't love me; this always goes without saying beyond qualms. Some people just don't show love.

Anyway, on my birthday last week, I felt truly happy and loved. Birthdays should be more about what you give others rather than the opposite. I learned this long ago, but let it be said again today. For, I am grateful, and the feeling is is strong enough to beat this killer...