Because the Freedom to Think Is What Makes a Human Human

(More boringly known as: “A Personal Musing on Who Should Be
Indonesia’s Next President”.)

As the old car we rented passed by a local school in Putussibau yesterday, my mind wandered back to the time I was still an elementary student. Compared to how ‘she’ works today (yes, my brain is a female), I was a very different girl back then. For starters, I never really questioned regulations, I enjoyed abiding them, and being critical was not really a concept I could grasp. Growing up is funny, you see: we are physically still the same person—seeing with the same eyes and talking with the same mouth—but inside, we are almost a different person every day. I could vividly imagine myself from five, ten years ago in loud disagreement with the present me.

Anyway, there are some fragments of memory I would like to share about being in a white-and-red uniform in the last two years of New Order era (and four more during the early Reformation period).

I remembered wearing my favorite hairband (which was pink); I remembered the great sensation of knowing that you could add and subtract numbers (I mean how awesome is that); and I remembered impatiently waiting to learn new things every morning. But on top of them all: I remembered being introduced to rules. I remembered recognizing ‘right’ from ‘wrong’.

Parlemen Muda-6571

They say kids are like sponges: they absorb knowledge very quickly, and they memorize what their parents say on the fly. This, I now understand, is the basic idea that Soeharto’s regime utilized to control the way young Indonesians behaved—through feeding us doctrines of what is okay and not okay via education.

Being under the authorities’ influence, my brain automatically created a simple binary system that registered deeds into ‘GOOD’ and ‘NO GOOD’ shelves. Submitting homework on time, for example, is an absolute ‘GOOD’. Not wearing the red cap on Mondays is ‘NO GOOD’, just like being late is. The flag should not touch the floor (now I find this idea very ridiculous) and the teacher is always right.

This library of information continued storing data as I grow up (adding things like ‘drinking alcohol’ to the ‘NO GOOD’ list as well as ‘being extremely active in extracurricular activities’ to the ‘GOOD’ list—not sure where I got that from LOL).
And it evolved to the extent I hated the Communist Party with all my heart. Our history books were pre-cooked with judgments, you see, it was written in a way that made us hate certain actors (including the Dutch and Japanese—the ‘penjajah’) while overselling the patriotism of our military force.

This over-controlled sphere of opinion-producing and significant absence of space for debates and criticism (linear curriculum with multiple choice tests FTW—NOT) turned most Indonesians (including yours truly at that time) into self-righteous, narrow-minded, judgmental pricks.

Today, more than a decade later, I know better.
I know that there is no such thing as an absolute right and absolute wrong.

I would tell myself from 17 years ago that sometimes not submitting homework on time is good when you have to take care of your mother, and I would break the news to my teenage self that people have life priorities, she would have to accept that. You see, my stupid young self: 1) laws were made by human—even the ones God created are interpreted by people with flaws, 2) we could criticize and challenge any of them when it’s not working, and 3) we could also create one of our own.

My college friends call this epiphany as being ‘liberated’—I call it a blessing. It’s a blessing to be fully aware that we are allowed to think; that we could question any tradition, we are encouraged to doubt the regulars, and we are free to investigate fallacies. Most fundamentally, I appreciate the rewarding pleasure of being able to disagree and produce our own, independent thoughts. (Read 1984/Anthem/A Brave New World for more of this.)

Having gone this far, of course, I would not allow the slightest possibility of having an authoritarian regime that will limit our newly-acquired freedom to think (let alone of speech) again. I won’t give a room for a new New Order.

Now this consciousness development relates a lot to whom I’m voting for on July 9th.

If you’ve been reading my tweets lately, you would’ve guessed already that I’m rooting for Jokowi. Well I am, you see, but unlike the people with half-red avatars who’ve been actively supporting the incumbent governor of Jakarta, my initial reasoning process is very straightforward. I simply don’t want to be governed by people who haven’t undergone the same mind-opening process, who think that democracy is merely a means, that freedom of speech is secondary in comparison to access to welfare.

I would rather avoid having a self-righteous president who are subsequently backed by a group of narrow-minded politicians in his cabinet.

The evidence of this allegation toward Prabowo is all over the place:

#1 Whenever asked about his human rights record, Prabowo always passes the ball to his military bosses (‘tanya atasan saya’). This signals two things: 1) he could not see the underlying problem of this ‘order’ from the first place (needs some text book to grasp the concept of human rights, perhaps?) such that he wasn’t able to feel guilty or at all apologetic to concerned families, 2) he still thinks like a soldier, because certainly a leader would be brave enough to take a bullet and volunteer to go to the court and let the bar decides.

#2 ‘Self-righteous’ is the second adjective that came into my mind to label the parties and organizations supporting him, after—of course—’hypocritical’. I mean, how else would you call PKS (meat corruption), PPP (Surya Dharma Ali case), Ical (and his unfinished Lapindo business), as well as PAN (Amien’s inconsistent statement). Not to mention FPI, FPR, and Pemuda Pancasila boys who are far from valuing human beings, let alone our rights to everything else.

#3 His party specifically mentioned about ‘membuat jera agama yang menyimpang, which is practically rising a big fat board with ‘I AM VERY NARROW-MINDED’ in capital letters on it. I could really go on with this, but there isn’t really much point in doing so.

But again, if my problem is with Prabowo, why bother voting for Jokowi at all? Why don’t I just, let’s say, go Golput?

Well honestly, I had my hesitations (cherishing the freedom to think, remember?), but then I talked to a number of people, read several articles, and eventually arrived to the conclusion that Jokowi deserves my vote. Just to make it an apple-to-apple comparison: Jokowi does value open-mindedness, and this is reflected from how Solo and the first several years of Jakarta performed under his wings. Instead of going with the conventional methods of running things, he made notable breakthroughs here and there. Innovation as well as the ability to think beyond what has been done for years.

Now because we all attach importance to the freedom to think, I would not try to convince those who doubt Jokowi’s control over Megawati’s hidden intentions. However, so far he has demonstrated:

#1 Merit, merit, merit—I’ve been telling people how I am all for meritocracy.
Jokowi is the only presidential candidate with almost 10 years of experience (and proven achievements) leading different governmental levels, and there goes my first checklist. If there’s anything you should doubt, it’s the ability of a fired military personnel to run a cross-level and cross-sectoral ministries that sometimes need out-of-the-box debottlenecking measures.

#2 He is surrounded by open-minded people—Anies Baswedan is more than enough to prove this point. This also means that the people around him does not seek for power (they are smart enough to know that ministerial positions are non-negotiable). On top of this, his work has also inspired his own party and its chairlady to actually be open-minded enough to allow someone from outside the party’s leadership to run as president.

#3 He has a lot more to offer and a lot less moral baggages to deal with—despite having Jusuf Kalla as his running mate (the man who introduced Ujian Nasional), Jokowi actually promised to erase the national examination for good if he gets elected. This is a very bold offer, of course, and at the same time also shows his ability to negotiate and compromise with Kalla. At the same time, despite generic, he also has many ideas to bring to the table in his white book (although debatably this was prepared by his team, which presidential candidate doesn’t?).

Because to me, the freedom to think is what makes a human human. Because the freedom to think is the start of every great civilization in the world. In this light, I will vote for Jokowi because I believe he would do everything he could to protect our freedom to think—to disagree, and to criticize the government. He would work for us, and that’s enough.

[Btw, this probably isn’t the first article you’re reading on June’s heated presidential race, and certainly isn’t the best either. I call it a ‘musing’ because clearly it’s circling around without making any sharp point, and ‘personal’ because d’oh.

Thanks for making it this far, though.]


One Comment

  1. “I would break the news to my teenage self that people have life priorities, she would have to accept that”. This sentence is one of the best part of your post. As a 20-something Indonesian youth, sometimes I myself am still surprised with my ability to think freely now, compared to myself several years ago when I was still a small-town girl (I came from Pontianak, that’s why I’m interested in commenting your post at the first place, reading you visited Putussibau).

    Being ‘liberated’, unfortunately, is a blessing many suburban and rural youth in Indonesia haven’t enjoyed yet.


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