Thursday, September 8, 2011
National Quest for Greatness
Books are permanent intellectual heritage. What type will influence more?
Nations like people always strive for fame and greatness. Even wealth and power. These national and human goals are closely interrelated and one is often confused for another. Thus both nations and people often pursue the wrong goals and only discover the error after they are destroyed or suffer a terrible shame.
Young nations like young people are more prone to make this mistake.An all out strive for power and wealth could lead to the creation of a very greedy and self-centered society as much as it could turn out rapacious and brutal individuals in that nation. Society like individual grows on what it feeds on. If fame and fortune be the food of the time, you can expect the nation and the people to pursue material wealth with no regard for how it's acquired. Corruption, illegal trade and business such as pushing drugs and money laundering , and even brutal crimes such as murder and robbery, will be the order of the day. If the acquisition of knowledge, achieving a high standard of morality and cultural greatness, or a search for peace and tranquility be the priority of the time, then a more humane and righteous way of life would emerge.
So, where is Malaysia heading for? To come up with the right answer one must examine the system of sanctions and rewards in our society. Who are the people being most respected and revered, being considered as heroes and icons within our midst? Who are being hailed and rewarded in society and for what achievement? Compare this with the great nations of the world and what makes them great ( or ugly and repulsive to go in the opposite way). Are we or are we not emulating them?
We know of many great civilizations in the past which flourished and disappeared. Nations rise and fall, their wealth swells and subsides. But what remains of their greatness that we respect even today? Invariably, it is the cultural and intellectual wealth which they left behind through great works of art, literature and inventions. All others will disappear with time. All the wealth and trophies of achievement in life will disappear but NOT the works of art, literature and inventions.
Now, are we doing enough to promote achievements in these intellectual and creative wealth of the nation or are we so obsessed with other material wealth that only casual respect had been given to them. Aren't the institutions of higher learnings now fully geared towards producing the trained manpower needed by the industries with little concern for creating scholars and men of learning to promote the intellectual wealth of the nation? In spite of the efforts made by Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka to promote the production of books on general knowledge and literature, how many such works had drawn the attention of world scholars? Who are the scholars of Malaysia which government has recognized and nurtured through its development efforts? What are the great works that we can hold up as representatives of the intellectual achievement of the nation, not just
memoirs and attributes to a great leader? Who among those awarded the National Laurettes status have risen above the local
level of recognition to aspire for a place among the great literary figures of the world? What is the most authoritative work done on the history of Malaysia so far and who is being commissioned to write it as a full-time work with ample funds provided by the government since no writer in Malaysia can as yet live comfortably from the proceeds of his or her writings.
Literary giants do not necessarily come from people with Ph Ds. While government has a program to step the number of Ph D holders in the country, they do not seem to be producing intellectual works that are published nor have any of their dissertations create a wave in the intellectual world. More pronounced today are the awards of honorary Ph Ds to artists and political leaders such that we cannot differentiate between the academic holders and the honorary ones anymore. Nor are the
Ph D holders being invited to do important research for the country while some in the government service are kept in the back-rooms to do mundane information collection and analysis.
To sum up unless the government of a nation gives adequate attention to the intellectual and creative works of culture and literature in the country, the country's quest for fame and greatness will not reach any significant level. Material wealth is a relative achievement; there will always be some other country with a higher achievement. But when the intellectual product of a nation hits the international circle, even a small and poor country can have a claim to greatness. That work will live through time and be recognized by posterity at the international level.