Pettifoggery Over ‘Activism’ and the Dilemma to Stay or Leave


Rainbows Leave Skeletons Stay
A somewhat surrealist drawing on the ‘brain drain’. (I was never good at colouring in school!) One doesn’t have to refer to stats to know that the efflux of Malaysia’s young brains to other countries is increasing exponentially. Just ask a youth two questions: Where do you want to stay/work when you grow up? Do you plan to come back?


I’m probably the biggest social critic. But I don’t do a thing. So, you might call me the biggest hypocrites. All are not free from hypocrisy anyway. We all have self-righteous bones in us.

Maybe I should be an activist! I should get caught up in this hot wave that’s hitting Malaysia! I know! I should join an NGO! Women’s rights? Alright! Saving sharks? Yeah, man! Political education? Count me in!

Here in a small town, people aren’t so concerned about social welfare and political climates. It may be our laid back nature or that we are not exposed to the ‘elements’. They’d say I’m rad, but I’m not. Activist? Not at all.

There’s a pettifog over the term ‘activist’ due to the overwhelming number of people who are beginning to call themselves so because they attended four political forums. This is a threat to real activists! So the term ‘hipster activist’ comes about.

It seems to me that activism has become a trend. Of course, I’m only from the outside, looking in. Should it be so? Or should it be a way of life perhaps?

Ah, I see, it’s all about labels. Labels – so much weight they bear, so definitive of what we do. But as I’ve said, it’s pettifoggery; a petty quibble. The summary of what I think it is, is simply that if you are all for the cause, there isn’t any need to call yourself ‘activist’ or care if faux activists are trying to pass off as true activists. People may label you ‘activist’. But who cares? Your focus is the cause, not titles, accolades or recognition. Those are the ones I respect.

Do I count myself one? No. If one is truly an activist, he has to live it out. A tall order indeed. For example, if he claims to be an anti-capitalist and opposes social inequality and unfair distribution of wealth and power, yet spends twenty thousand ringgit at capitalistic big labels, I cannot trust him. It’s akin to saying, “I’m a cyclist” yet do not cycle. But I do get it; one cannot be a purist in such matters. It’s so difficult in a global market where capitalism is king. But again, this is merely an example.

Part of my intention to work was to see the employment sector for myself. If you’ve read my previous post , I’ve a compassion of sorts for them. I didn’t find what I was looking for – working, interacting, understanding and being personal with them. I can write about them, but if I do not go to them, I am but a person looking down from an ivory tower. There is so much to help, to champion. Could I be the one to do it? It’s hard, but maybe. To push for rights, I feel the need to experience it myself. Again, easier said than done.

At times, I want to be selfish. To run away from the horrid muck our country seems to be sucked deeper into to search for greener pastures, equal opportunities based on merit. Because the ills seem so incurable. So, alright, Yi Wen. Do your Masters, PhD, the Bar, CLP, whatever. Write a hundred research papers. Present them in prestigious universities across the globe. Write textbooks and earn steady income. Pray that you’d impact your students to do what you’d hoped to do. But that’s it. My rice bowl. Your rice bowl. Don’t touch mine; I won’t fight for yours.

No can do. I can expand horizons away from home and satisfy my unquenchable thirst for knowledge and experience, but ultimately, there is a calling to return home. I believe that even if the most intelligent leave the country, what’s most important is that people of integrity and sound principle remain. A nation built on intelligence isn’t enough. It is a brownie point. I’m not a bright spark, but I cannot complain that the country is going to the docks or that we’ve got a major brain drain if I do not intend on staying and fighting for improvement. Running away – a patriot would say it’s selfishness and cowardice, but would it be fair to say that, given personal autonomy to dictate one’s own life? I can’t say, but it just makes one’s criticism less legit.

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