New Year and the Surreal New Normal

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s word of last year was “surreal”, which perfectly sums up how 2016 was pretty much worldwide and, like it or not, prepares us for 2017 onward. I personally think Merriam-Webster was being kind, because I would have picked “insane” as the word of the year.

Insanity was abound not just in far-flung parts of the world—Brexit, Trump, Syria—but also in corners right here at home. Just look at the escalating tensions over ethnics and religions lately, partly thanks to the rise of conservatism in the recent decade.

I’ve never been a fan of DKI Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama and frankly I think what he repeatedly said about Al-Maidah:51 was unwise and uncalled for, but catering to the incessant demands of hardliners like FPI to portray this as a holy war for all is just as necessary in the short run and dangerous in the long run. That the President shared a stage momentarily with FPI leader during a mass rally and a Gubernatorial candidate felt the urge to pay respect to FPI headquarter is not being practical in politics, it is normalizing the likes of FPI in state affairs. Why are we normalizing vigilantes? Why does the establishment fear vigilantes? Don’t our taxes still pay for armed police and military, and yet we kowtow to vigilantes armed with white robes and batons often enough to set precedence for their ilk to demand even more in the future? So insane it’s surreal, I should get my tax money back.

Judging from Donald Trump’s first press conference as a President-elect, it’s probably what some American taxpayers are also thinking about. Not only after winning the election his outbursts could still be baited by a movie award acceptance speech or a mere tweet, he publicly had a shouting match with a reporter and denied answering another, in addition to repeat the baseless claim about Mexico paying for a border wall that prompted no less than a former Mexican President to tweet a rebuke. Is this the new normal, executive elites exchange disagreements casually over social media posts instead of vetted diplomatic channels? Is it also the new normal for journalism, supposedly the vanguard of democracy, when other journalists didn’t come to their colleagues’ rescue upon public mistreatment by establishment that’s represented by Trump? So insane it’s surreal, especially when taking place less than 24 hours after Barack Obama’s lucid farewell address on human rights and responsible information that I wonder if some of Trump voters secretly wished to take their vote back.

And don’t get me started on how educated and moneyed people around me start believing and distributing hoaxes, from vaccines to religions, on WhatsApp Groups and Facebook, without using the same fancy gadget to at least try Googling trustworthy, impartial news sources. So insane it’s surreal their schools should retrieve the diploma back.

No wonder so many icons departed last year—the cool set refused to join us on the spiraling rat race down the intelligence gutter. It is indeed the age of smartphones, when the phones are smarter than some humans using it.

My fengshui devotee friend blames it all, including the sad state of economies, on the mischievous Year of the Monkey that started early February 2016 and will end this month. While it’s indeed a tempting notion to assume that 7 billion human beings have fallen victim to supernatural mega forces that reduce us to an unintelligent and irrational pack for the past 11 months, it’s simply irresponsible to rest our fate on the turns of an ancient calendar.

Obama advised to start real life engagement with people you disagree with online. Not only I resolutely agreed with that idea, I’m going on the limb here to suggest people to take up reading again. Reading academic science books instead of pseudo-science or science fictions, reading history books from both accounts instead of relying on salacious conspiracy theories over people’s social media accounts, reading holy books with inquisitive mind instead of inflamed loins.

And if after reading books voraciously you still have resources left, allow me to indulge you to traveling to places you’ve never been so you’ll get to meet new people on their own turf. Try being the minority who needs to figure out how things are from the knowledge or wisdom only locals can offer. Try visiting downtrodden areas and see how challenging it is for science teachers at local schools with very limited tools to teach basic knowledge like round Earth that your educated friends carelessly dump thanks to some fiery sermon they hear last Friday or Sunday.

Even if the world seems set on enforcing a new normal for all of us, it doesn’t mean that we can’t retain some sort of sanity for ourselves. For me, I suppose, it’s even more reading, traveling and spending time with people in real life than I’ve increasingly done in recent months. In fact, I may just go to the Shangxi province in China, where Seattle-based animator Casey Latiolais’ giant glass rooster was sculpted as such to bear striking resemblance to Donald Trump, pompadour head and pointing finger intact, or to Shenzhen, where a company created a luxurious, functioning, Toilet Trump. Perhaps in their own way, the Chinese are also trying to find their new normal.

Gong xi fa cai, everyone. Oh Rooster, please be less insanely surreal.

As published: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2017/01/14/urban-chat-new-year-and-surreal-new-normal.html

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