In the last couple of weeks I have been thinking about some contradictions and paradoxes in my daily routine. Mainly, those concerns are related to how stability and progress are in fact could live hand in hand simultaneously.

I spent three years of my undergraduate years believing that stability could not coexist with stability. These two terms just embodied an extremely separated ontology, thus their ways of viewing the reality are highly dissimilar. When stability – I assume – is more positivist, the idea of progress is the other way around. By taking a positivist point of view, stability believes that there is a world out there that are waiting to be observed; a world that is free from ‘values, passions, politics, and ideology’ of human being.[1] A positivist need a set of rules to conduct a research, mainly adopting standards that were applied in natural science. Seeing such mechanism, I therefore assume that stability needs a form of realization upon the already existing structure first. After that, it will work within a very specific area of coverage: the area where the structure exist. Meanwhile, progress offers a very different view. I believe that progress is a post-positivist product. Post-positivists believe that everything is socially constructed; that a spoon is only called spoon because somebody (or the dominant class of the society) said so. Through power, influence, and politics, then it seems like spoon is just another name that the Super-Being (or should I say ‘God’, for the sake of making this article understandable) gave to us through His whispers and commandment. Post-positivists, therefore, center on questions such as, why did such structure exist at the first place? Why should we only work within those corridor (the structure)? Is there such thing as ‘neutral knowledge’?

Is Dr. House a positivist?
Is Dr. House a positivist?

I then came up to the realization that probably the reformation in Indonesia back in 1998 was a manifesto of the clash of the ontologies. It was a brawl between those who support the then existing structure, namely the authoritarian regime, against those who opposed it and want a democratic system instead. It was a clash between the believers of stability against the supporters of progress. It was a fight between positivist and post-positivist. My parents and the elders in my family oftentimes said that the New Order era – that is the authoritarian regime led by President Soeharto – offered a more stable condition for the society. Things like the absent of open-direct conflict, small amounts of hoodlums, stable groceries price, as well as cheap oil prices were used as the parameters of success that the regime brought. On the other hand, those who wanted democracy to be implemented in Indonesia said that Indonesian people were presented by a mainly pseudo conditions of peace. If only people were sharp enough to see beyond what the news offered, then they will see human rights violations appeared in many part of the society. Therefore, a new system that allows the people to have a control over the government was desperately needed.

And then here we are, seventeen years after reformation, enjoying the existing democratic system that was achieved by conflicts. Here I am, able to watch YouTube as a result of the freedom of information. There they are, the media, able to report any news as a result of the freedom of expression. But, are we really living in an absolute democratic system? Are we really controlling the government, not the other way around? Is authenticity really even possible?

Circulating in my Facebook timeline for this past week videos of the Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or widely known as Ahok. The majority of the videos were showing how Ahok debate the members of the Parliament in an angry fashion. And the people who shares those videos were highly supportive with Ahok’s style. They perceived Ahok’s style of leadership as strong and decisive. Most of them also argue that his style of leadership is the only solution to bring Indonesia away from the political, economy, or even our social setback. This phenomena makes me wondering for several things.

First, it shows that Indonesian people still interpret charisma as an important factor of leadership. Most of them still believe that one man could change the entire system as he wish, as long as he has a strong charisma to be the leader. As realism argues, the ability of one political actor to influence its counterparts depend on at least three things: what sort of benefit he could offer to his counterparts, what kind of disadvantages his counterparts could get if they reject the proposal, and the charisma of the man or institutions that offer such proposal.[2] Therefore, the theory of messiah complex could easily took place in this regard: a psychological condition of a person that believes that he or she is the savior of human being and the nature. Such perspective will lead us to concern number two.

Doesn’t it means that our way of thinking is outdated? In the sense of international politics theory, realism is the oldest form of theory ever been described. But, I do realize it is a complete joke if I argue that our state of mind is outdated only by considering the birth timeline of a theory. What I am trying to say is that Indonesian people, back in 1998, demand a government in which power is distributed equally for the people. They wanted a system in which the abuse of power by a particular class of the government could be abolished and replaced by a complex power balance. Probably, our utopia as a nation back then was to implement a society where each of our voices matters; where the government regulate something by considering the society’s needs. Not through the monopoly of interpretation. But, upon seeing the people’s fetishism toward a man called Ahok in social media, I do have to say that I am pessimistic toward the sustainability of our dream to govern. I am pessimistic to the people’s initial dream, because a form of adoration (I originally wanted to use the term ‘worship’, but it is rather stronger) to a figure could leads us back to the authoritarian regime. Bear in mind that my article is not written to speak ill of Ahok. I personally like him, but not because of he is ‘strong and decisive’ but for post-colonial reason in which I am not intended discuss.

But, the paradox came from a simple question: does it necessarily a bad thing to allow a man to lead? Again, a realist will definitely argue that international politics reached its most stable period when there is one hegemonic power to rule the anarchic states. There should be one world police in order for the world to make peace. This is what they called as hegemonic stability theory. I realize that an empirical example is just in front of my eyes and included in my daily routine: the lecture. Before the lecturer starts the class, all of the students are free to talk, move around the room, and practically do whatever they want – of course as long as their behavior is accepted by ‘the norm’. But when the lecturer starts the class, all students are required by the system to listen to the lecturer’s explanation. They could give a question or exercise their right to speak only if through the lecturer’s authorization. If there is no approval, then the students are required to just play along. Such system exist not only so that the student could follow all the materials that the lecturer tried to deliver, but also to ensure that each students in the room have the same rights to gain knowledge and information. It is also implemented as a part of social responsibility of the lecturer to make sure that his or her students gain one of the basic rights of human being; that is the right to be educated. A similar logic could also be applied in the world of politics.

Is 'paradox' even the right term? Isn't it supposed to be 'inconsistency'?
Is ‘paradox’ even the right term? Isn’t it supposed to be ‘inconsistency’?

Seeing the reality I am facing nowadays, a condition in which people around me bestowing Ahok with messiah complex, has led me to believe that we are currently not living in a total democracy. The toppling down effort of the New Order regime was highly symbolic. What I mean by ‘symbolic’ is that Indonesian people – in accordance with my previous argument – tend to see the figure as a manifestation of malignance or kindness; of stability or progress. They are currently seeing Ahok as the personification of progress. It is not a fallacy, then, to argue that they saw Soeharto as the symbol of authoritarian regime. When the reformation process took place, they did not interpret their actions as an effort to change authoritarian regime, but as an effort to replace Soeharto that has long been the hegemonic power of the country. By takin such point of departure, it will only means that, analogically, the reformation era only topple the crescent moon on top of a mosque. It did not replace the whole construction.

I have another perfect example for this. I watched a documentary by Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist called The Two Escobars. The story is about the life of both Andres Escobar, the captain of the national football team of Colombia, and Pablo Escobar, a drug lord in the same country. In brief, the documentary tells us about the Colombian government’s effort to eradicate illegal drugs trade within the country by making Pablo Escobar their main target of operation. On December 2, 1993, the Colombian National Police succeeded to shot Escobar to death. Unfortunately, after his death, there was an increasing number of gang wars in Colombia. Why? Because gangs that used to answer to Pablo Escobar turned into mini ‘communion’ which share similar business and market. They have to compete against each other to ensure their existence, and one way to do it is through killing other gangs. This phenomena only shows that overthrowing a figure will only leads to the birth and emergence of other figures that used to be his or her subordinations.

So, if replacing the leader does not necessarily change the system, what does it take to revolt? What prescribes a successful revolution? What Indonesia should have done in the first place?

I read Zizek’s How to Begin from the Beginning. He said that if a revolution ever wants to go down in the history book, the revolts have to first become the part of what he wanted to change. Have to be embodied within themselves the contradictive, oppressive, antagonist nature of the existing structure. A revolution should come from the realization from the inside. He said that it is not enough to only understand and be faithful to communism (since he talks in a Marxian context). The revolts need to ‘locate antagonisms within historical reality which make it practical urgency’.[3] Therefore, it is important indeed to first be a part of a particular system in order for human being to revolt, which is make sense because if one wants to oppose something, then he or she has to firstly acknowledge the very existence of the something itself. Only then that he or she could oppose the idea embedded in that thing. In accordance with Zizek’s argument, therefore, if it is true that Indonesia’s reformation was highly addressed to replace the symbol, I could say that the reformation is useless. It does not result in the ‘mental revolution’ – borrowing the term renowned by President Joko Widodo – of the people. The first step of the reformation should have been to educate people about the deficiency of the authoritarian regime. But, is it enough? Again, referring back to Zizek, it is not. The revolts should bring people together to see the existing reality in the field. But the most important question to ask Zizek is since when that empathy is limited only to those who experience oppression directly?


Are those who never see mass killing directly could not be emphatic? Should action only be done through one’s empirical experience? Well, the debate could go along and on until it get back to the earlier paragraphs of this article: should knowledge only be attained through direct observation or value judgment could also educate people?

[1] Anne B. Ryan, Post-Positivist Approaches to Research, Maynooth University, , 2006, page 13.

[2] Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations: the Struggle for Power and Peace, Kenneth W. Thompson (ed), McGraw-Hill, New York, 1993, page 35.

[3] Costas Douzinas & Slavoj Zizek (ed.), The Idea of Communism, Verso, Brooklyn, 2010, page 53.


2 thoughts on “Paradoxes

  1. Always love the way you construct arguments with relevant facts and enlightening theories. Thanks for the writing, Do. However, I have one question. Do you really think that people cherish Ahok only based on his charisma? It is true that our democracy has not improved, and people only fall for Ahok’s grotesque shout to DKI’s legislative?

    We shall not forget that Ahok is actually a crisp and ultimate figure who was born and raised from the womb of reformation process in Indonesia. He has been able to raise his political rank, started from the bottom as municipal legislator until retaining credential to run with one of the hottest political property in Indonesia, Jokowi, as vice governor. He has proven his worth and meritocracy as one of the most transparent politician who fear no one in eradicating the systematic corruption that has taken away billions of taxpayers money for years. I think, that’s why people are started to give more credits and willing to stand with him, not necessarily worship, when legislative opt for ‘Hak Angket’ to delegitimize his political position.


    1. Ya, gua jawab pake bahasa Indonesia, ye.

      Pertama-tama, gue suka sama Ahok (bukan suka as in my sexual orientation has changed). Disini mungkin fokus gue ke bagaimana masyarakat perceive him as a figure, Ya. Agak paradoksal (menurut gue) ketika masyarakat kita dahulu mengelu-elukan demokrasi namun kemudian kita selalu merindukan sosok pemimpin yang ‘tegas, keras, dan berani’. Menurut gue, kerinduan kita akan sosok pemimpin seperti ini bahaya karena menyimpan potensi buat Indonesia kembali ke era ‘one man show’ macam Cristiano Ronaldo di timnas Portugal.

      Tapi, tentu saja pandangan lo sama sekali ngga salah, since you said ‘He (Ahok) has proven his worth and meritocracy as one of the most transparent politician who fear no one in eradicating the systematic corruption’. Nah namun artinya object of analysis kita beda. Ketika lo menekankan pada ‘meritocracy’ artinya lo melihat struktural-fungsional-nya. Meanwhile gua ngeliat lebih ke society, Ya.

      Maap pak balesnya lama. Saya baru paham ada fitur ginian di wordpress. Anyway, makasi udah baca!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s