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Jakarta post

 by Jennie S. Bev

2009 was filled with drama. A high wall between the Indonesian people and their government continued to exist. Great divides were present between hope and reality, between policy and implementation, and between the powerful and the powerless.

We all have been puzzled on the fact that Indonesian political landscape is either getting more complex or simply getting worse, and the rule of law has not improved either.

In short, is Indonesia progressing? Indonesia has been enjoying the accolades of becoming more democratic. But are we progressing at all? At least within the realm of political playground, what can be done and by whom?

The answer of “by whom” must be answered with “by those with the greater good in their minds.” These individuals are virtuous and benevolent by nature as they are representatives of the people.

Thus, the selection process might need to be replaced with selective leadership succession and training processes.

While the notion of virtue may sound useless in today’s politics and is often considered archaic in the study of politics, it is most likely crucial to fix the decaying playground. John Stuart Mill in Considerations on Representative Government said, “If we ask ourselves on what causes and conditions good government in all its senses, from the humblest to the most exalted, depends, we find that the principal of them, the one which transcends all others, is the qualities of human beings composing the society over which the government is exercised.” Quality of individuals would make a big difference.

The thing is, the depth and the width of Indonesia’s political conservatism can never be answered in a simple manner, which causes difficulty in guessing the other side of the coin: the depth and the width of liberalism.

And in such a vague atmosphere, some politicians have been deceiving the people with “virtuous” acts, such as pledging under God’s name in front of public. And it also happened with policies, such as the Anti-Pornography Law and the Information and Electronic Transaction Law.

Whether the tendency is toward conservatism or liberalism, virtue is a valid notion nonetheless, so long as its occurrence is the result of embracing personal freedom or liberty and equality. And by “virtue,” it refers to genuine characters of individuals. Within the realm of liberalism, in which freedom to be virtuous or not does not matter, virtue serves a purpose as the society’s well-being rests in the hands of representatives. Good representatives would determine level of freedom and equality enjoyed by the people.

Practically speaking, virtue can be replaced by the so-called “rational control” as recently introduced by Harvey Mansfield. As Cass R. Sustein and Richard H. Thaler in Nudges described, “virtuous nudges” are self-conscious attempts to move people in directions that will make their lives better. And these are forms of rational control. Ideally, rational influencers are individuals with the greater good in mind.

With simple-minded individuals making up the majority, the notion of representatives as rational influencers is simply an extension of existing tasks. The natural requirement is having people with high level of reasoning skills and high level of progressivity, including in the areas of morality. By “morality” here, it refers humanity-based universal morality, not patronizing or simply based on a particular religion’s standards of morality that can be easily corrupted by leaders with agenda.

Mansfield mentioned that placing automatic instruments and placing good choices strategically give people the so-called “auto-pilot” virtuousness. In one example, Sustein and Thaler mentioned placing healthy food in front of junk food shaped people’s choices tremendously and is highly effective in successful healthy diet. In Singapore, for instance, every automobile driver is an organ donor except if he or she chooses otherwise. In other countries, like the United States and Indonesia, however, one must specifically select to be a donor.

Implementing rational control comes with its own challenges.

First of all, if it ever was implemented, in which genuine virtues are likely to be replaced, rational control may or may not be implemented properly as it requires strict safeguarding laws.

Secondly, rational control numbs people’s ability to express themselves creatively and individually that Alexis de Tocqueville referred as “taking away the trouble of thinking and the pain of living.”

Let’s conclude with the correlations among virtue, liberty, and rational control. Virtue is a necessity, even in the most liberal shade of society, as without it, the quality of liberty would not be responsible enough to implement rational control. Despite Tocqueville’s opinion, being a positive influencer is a rational choice as a genuinely good representative of people. Now the challenge is how we can filter in candidates with genuinely good characters whose interest is for the betterment of the greater good and filter out bad candidates wearing angel suits.

May 2010 open a new path.[]

 The Jakarta Post, December 31, 2009

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