Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Ethics in Indonesia

From Inside Indonesian Society by Niels Mulder (pp. 96-98):

Oneness in the sense of unity means good order, smooth relationships, the absense of disturbance; it menas harmony and comformity, a static state that is calm and pleasing. It is a sign of mastery. The contrary situation, disunity, means conflict and strife, opposition and unruliness. It is mastery lost, unpleasant, exciting and wild. It is graceless.

Things should be presented in fine order, be accomplished gracefully and elegantly executed. Such smoothness, such refinement, such elegance, or grace is alus. It is culture at its best. And so it is alus to demonstrate mastery and to speak High Javanese well, to be aware of etiquette, to have fine manners and a modest bearing. These are the marks of a civilised person, reflecting his inner discipline and calm. His accomplished self-presentation adorns the word, makes it a more beautiful, a better place. Such a person is good.

Alus contrasts with kasar; this latter is the absence of good mannerrs, the stir of monkeys, the turmoil of emotions, the lack of education, the pretension of clowns, the threat of 'communists', the straight-forwardness of criticism, the rebelliousness of diagreement, the openness of conflict, and the lack of diplomacy. UNtamed is kasar, is closeness to nature, while falling short in civilisation.

The imposition of order is good in itself, because order is what should be. To do so, power is needed, be it the power of self-discipline to achieve inner calm, or the power to make others follow and obey. The exercise of it can be alus, as in the image of the exemplary leader whose charisma commands spontaneous submission, or gross, such as firing into crowds of unarmed demonstrators.

This latter habit is quite widespread in the Southeast Asian region, massacres -- whether at Mendiola or on the island of Negros, on Rajdamnoen or at Thammasat, in Dili, the Lampongs, or Tanjungpriok -- apparently being a ready means to compel obedience, and the serene order of the cemetery. The violence is warranted, because rebellious behaviour is disgraceful, is questioning the authority of the 'legally' constituted sovereign governmnet, is an offence and gross behaviour.

The end justifies the means, although it is better if the means are alus too. Mysterious murders are therefore far more acceptable, and the eradication of a Sumbawan village attracted so little publicity that the insult of disagreement did not lead to the injury of loss of face. Yet, basically, these violent means are felt to be suitable for dealing with kasar people, who can only be reined in by force because that is the only thing they seem to understand.

Command can be alus too, a compelling hint, a polite appeal (imbauan) that nobody will ignore refuse. And if, in civil society, people still politely protest by signing a petition, by declaring themselves presidential candidates, or by voicing displeasing opinions while abroad, then means will be mobilised. Perhaps their relative will be dismissed from their jobs, or be refused access to the university; perhaps they find that they cannot open a bank account or are found ineligible to obtain credit; maybe they suddenly find that former associates are avoiding them, and that they cannot get a passport if they want to travel. In extreme cases they will be promoted to the status of doctorandus, Drs., when they are placed under house arrest (di-rumah-sajakan), or they may enjoy the full hospitality of the state in the prisons called Lembaga Permasyarakatan, or socialisation institutions, that should from their very name prepare inmates for re-entry into society at a point which, in all too many cases, appears to be located in the graveyard.

The more refined the better, both in the aesthetical and ethical senses. Order is not only a good, it is good as such. Good and beautiful belong together; to speak High Javanese is to speak good language, to obey one's parents is good behaviour, a sign of mature morality, and the less stir one causes makes one a more graceful and moral man. Conflict is disgusting and distasteful; it must be eradicated to restore the stillness of unity that is in itself the sign of ethically accomplished life.

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