Some folk’s got a vision of a castle in the sky / And I’m left wonderin’ why

Seth Godin’s lec­ture, as caught here, enti­tled Bro­ken, is worth a watch, even if it’s a lit­tle long. It’s a fair­ly humourous look at things we encounter day to day which are bro­ken, and why they are bro­ken. Here in Indone­sia, the word is rusak. And the lec­ture is fun­ny for rather dif­fer­ent rea­sons. It’s fun­ny, sit­ting in Indone­sia, because so many of the things that raise a laugh in the lec­ture hall in the USA are rather nor­mal here and would not, to the mass, be con­sid­ered rusak. Take the line about the illog­i­cal­i­ty of get­ting around in the West Vil­lage. In Indone­sia street num­bers don’t run in sequence – that’s how rusak it is. I’d love to be able to nav­i­gate a map in Indone­sia as eas­i­ly as I could find an address on Carmine.

In fact, pret­ty much every thing in Indone­sia is rusak. The police are com­plete­ly rusak; the courts are rusak; the banks are rusak; the inter­net is rusak; the edu­ca­tion sys­tem is rusak; the roads, rails and air­ways are rusak as are the air and sea ports; the water­ways and air qual­i­ty are rusak; the health sys­tem is rusak; the shops and super­mar­kets are emp­ty and rusak (unless you head to the Jakar­ta mega malls for the wealthy of course). It’s pret­ty hard to think of many prac­ti­cal things here that are not rusak (okay – the food and the Blue­bird Taxi com­pa­ny get a big tidak rusak tick)

The first round of the of the cur­rent elec­tion cycle was pret­ty much rusak, but giv­en decades of mas­sive and accept­ed cor­rup­tion and fraud at every lev­el, it’s hard­ly sur­pris­ing that elec­toral cheat­ing was endem­ic, and with that in mind it actu­al­ly went quite well.

Round two is com­ing, and the whole point, at least for the edu­cat­ed mid­dle class and many of the urban gen­er­a­tion com­ing of age, is to elect a pres­i­dent who is going to solid­ly push ahead with the de-rusak­ing of Indone­sia, thus real­is­ing it’s latent poten­tial.

To that end, there are three con­tenders.

Two, Megawati and Kalla, rep­re­sent­ing the last gasp of the very bad old days when keep­ing Indone­sia rusak was the key to the pow­er elite they rep­re­sent main­tain­ing their grip on pow­er – and the prof­its from one of the world’s biggest economies – at the expense of those that most need it.

But, unless we are some­how trans­port­ed back to the par­al­lel uni­verse these peo­ple still live in, they all look like­ly to be trounced by the cur­rent incum­bent, SBY, iron­i­cal­ly a for­mer Suhar­to Gen­er­al, albeit one who may be, at least as far as any­one can tell, less taint­ed and dirty than the oth­ers, and with a vision to make the nation kurang rusak, in a very slow and steady way.

Indone­sia may still be thor­ough­ly rusak but there are glim­mers from down the end, around the curve, over the hill and via a long taint­ed tun­nel, that there is some hope.

But before we west­ern­ers get too smug about this, look at the USA right now. Essen­tial­ly, over the past decade or so the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, at its core became more and more rusak. Sure, com­pared to Indone­sia the infra­struc­ture and the day to day life of the nation is infi­nite­ly less rusak, but the banks are rusak, the man­u­fac­tur­ing base was and is rusak, the self-per­cep­tion of its roll, rights and oblig­a­tions to the world was rusak, and the moral core of the nation poli­tik was utter­ly rusak, espe­cial­ly as defined by those it elect­ed to defend that moral­i­ty.

So, the peo­ple, like Indone­sia, decid­ed to elect a leader who promised to lead them down a jalan kurang rusak (a road less bro­ken) and they, or at least 53% of the 60 odd per­cent who vote in these things, elect­ed Bar­rack Oba­ma. The world was over­joyed and a bright new future less bro­ken than the pre­vi­ous eight (or one might rea­son­ably argue the past 20 or more if you were so inclined) loomed,

Or so it seemed.

But are we real­ly so sur­prised that, despite huge move­ments in the right direc­tion with regard to the envi­ron­ment, rela­tions in South and Cen­tral Amer­i­ca and less con­fronta­tion­al, para­noid (although it’s hard to let that para­noia go) face to nations like Chi­na and Rus­sia, the US still teeters on the edge of the wrong side of the precipice that leads to or from becom­ing a good glob­al cit­i­zen.

For every hand­shake with Chavez there is a slip back towards the Bush-lite-isms that increas­ing­ly seem to define America’s utter­ly con­fused and mixed up, with dis­as­trous and trag­ic results, War on Ter­ror, or what­ev­er it’s now been renamed.

The revival of the glob­al­ly despised mil­i­tary tri­bunals, the mas­sive civil­ian death toll in Afghanistan and Pak­istan which the US mil­i­tary is still able to sim­ply lie about, and the increas­ing slide into anoth­er quag­mire in that part of the world which threat­ens to dwarf the mess in Iraq. Obama’s fail­ure and unwill­ing­ness to date to define exact­ly why the USA is dif­fer­ent from the bad guys under­line just how com­plete­ly rusak the USA’s world view has become.

The cred­it cri­sis will blow over, but how Oba­ma han­dles these oth­er fac­tors will define both him and his nation in the years to come – right now he’s flag­ging an F.

To quote Glenn Green­wald :

We’re cur­rent­ly occu­py­ing two Mus­lim coun­tries. We’re killing civil­ians reg­u­lar­ly (as usu­al) — with air­planes and unmanned sky robots. We’re impris­on­ing tens of thou­sands of Mus­lims with no tri­al, for years. Our gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to insist that it has the pow­er to abduct peo­ple — vir­tu­al­ly all Mus­lim — ship them to Bagram, put them in cages, and keep them there indef­i­nite­ly with no charges of any kind. We’re deny­ing our tor­ture vic­tims any abil­i­ty to obtain jus­tice for what was done to them by insist­ing that the way we tor­tured them is a “state secret” and that we need to “look to the future.” We pro­vide Israel with the arms and mon­ey used to do things like dev­as­tate Gaza. Inde­pen­dent of whether any or all of these poli­cies are jus­ti­fi­able, the extent to which those actions “inflame anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ment” is impos­si­ble to over­state.

Am I dis­ap­point­ed in Barack Hus­sein Oba­ma? Yes. Am I sur­prised? No, not even slight­ly. Semua rusak … Let’s see what Cairo brings this week.

Right now Indone­sia doesn’t seem quite so rusak.

Update: Oba­ma said, when refus­ing to release the detainee tor­ture images this week:

And I want to empha­size that these pho­tos that were request­ed in this case are not par­tic­u­lar­ly sen­sa­tion­al, espe­cial­ly when com­pared to the painful images that we remem­ber from Abu Ghraib.

I’m not sure what his def­i­n­i­tion of sen­sa­tion­al is, but these turn my stom­ach. Joan Walsh says:

For the first time in his pres­i­den­cy, I had the sick feel­ing that Oba­ma was lying

It’s an ugly moment.

Share your thoughts