These days there are too many people who make a living telling you what to do and what not to do.
Don’t look at porn. Don’t have sex. Don’t get on a motorcycle with someone who’s not your relative. Don’t have a different opinion because it might offend. Break this rule and you go to jail, break that and you go to hell. I don’t know whether it’s just me but this plethora of admonishments on how to conduct oneself whether in private or in public is making me feel that my old school headmistress is lurking around the corner ready to pounce on me whenever I do something wrong (like running instead of walking in the corridor) and give me after-school detention.
And these days there seem to be an awful lot of them out there who make it their business to poke their noses into other people’s business and who make it their life purpose to control other people’s lives - acting like my pinched face, uptight and thick-ankled school teachers-cum-spinsters who really didn’t have a life other than terrorising highly-strung and pimple-faced girls into submission.
I don’t know anybody who likes to be told off or told what to do especially when you feel you’re not doing anything terribly wrong. I myself learned the art of arguing and talking back as soon as I was able to coherently string words together to enunciate that golden sentence ‘leave me alone.’ Or failing that, learned to plug my fingers in my ears, bury my head in a book and hum tunelessly until the tiresome sound of nagging ceased.
Being told what to do is perfectly fine when you’re still in school uniform and learning about the ways of the world, though even then it could be highly irritating. However, when one’s pre-frontal cortex is perfectly formed and functioning well, it suffices that one’s knowledge of the law of the land as well as education and experience on what is proper and not proper in human behaviour and relationships, will ensure a healthy and normal behaviour. It is expected that as you grow up you learn to be a mature human being fully responsible for your actions and no longer need a nanny constantly tugging at your leash.
Moreover, as a libertarian brought up by parents who didn’t really subscribe to the punishment or reward style of parenting, but rather on the premise that ‘you should know better because that’s what your brains are for,’ I am of the opinion that good ethics and morals are best developed when they are shaped from within, in full awareness and understanding of their true nature, and not imposed by some external force and accepted unquestioningly. That the burden of responsibility carried by our cognizance of our role in an ideal society is a lot more effective tool in directing one’s behaviour than any amount of coercion by individuals or groups who, by chance or accident, are accorded greater power. Allow a child the freedom to learn and make mistakes then they will become wise adults.
As a matter of fact as human beings we are quite equipped with the wherewithal to lead a fulfilling, decent and harmonious lives; namely our power of thinking and reasoning, our capacity for introspection, our ability to empathise, our dictates of conscience, our logical analysis, our lucidity of minds etc. It is hoped that when we produce written rules and laws governing our society, it is by resorting to all of these fine resources so that we could create a fine society.
The history of mankind on this planet after all has been a history of refining our mental models, nurturing our conscience, increasing our compassion, honing our sense of justice, elevating our values and ethics and discovering the true essence of humanity, so that we become well-functioning and balanced individual able to differentiate what’s right or wrong.
If anything we should work towards a society where we no longer need the government to regulate our behaviour because every individual can govern himself perfectly and where regulations are purely to ensure social harmony.
However, it is not easy to create this kind of society with ethical individuals. It requires a lot of discipline, a willingness to use all our intellectual and mental faculties as well as knowledge of the true meaning of life. In other words, it requires us to use our brains to understand our motives and examine our behaviour so that we know ourselves better.
Most of the time however, we are too lazy to do any of these things. It’s always a lot easier to rely on others to tell us what to do, show us the way and guide our beliefs. We are quite happy to have others tell us what’s right or wrong even if it defies logic and lacks any sort of evidence because assuming responsibility is a burden and hard work. It’s more comforting when nanny is there breathing down our necks. Besides, we could always blame her if we fail.
The danger is when we don’t have good role models in those people who have the authority to create the regulations while we in the society are ourselves too lackadaisical to do anything about it. Because when those with power are lacking the wisdom, they often use injunctions, fatwas or what have you, not to empower the individual and teach them about responsibility, but to perpetuate their own power and their influence by keeping the people weak, childish and easy to manipulate. At the same time, perversely, the idea of punishment is also our license to misbehave and to indulge in our mental corruption.
For these moral police, their greatest fear is when the people would one day wake up and could actually think for themselves, thus revealing them for what they really are - a nagging old headmistress clinging to her position, fearful and suspicious of the change around her even as the world leaves them behind, fading into irrelevance.
(Desi Anwar. First published in The Jakarta Globe)