The Practice of Moderation
Extremism and radicalism are dangerous for social harmony. Extremism and radicalism are belief systems based on the construction of infallible and ‘exceptional’ values. Aligning oneself with extremism means to reject competing belief and value systems well before analysis or judgment is passed. Extremism and radicalism means to reject critical thinking.
Social change and activism that does not consider practical ideas, social evolution, and specific country development context, is not beneficial to society. The challenges of rising populism in Europe provide important lessons for Cambodia, especially considering Cambodia’s already divisive society.
Opinion leaders, experts and analysts should be role models for the promotion of moderation, encouraging people to strike a balance between various value systems instead of wholeheartedly committing to one specific values system. Experts and analysts can be defined as people who have conducted lengthy researches, authored academic articles, or have extensive experience in specific fields. Their ideas or arguments are the result of compositing diverse perspectives, which have withstood challenges and scrutiny from their academic peers.
Practicing the balance of different social values and interests would ensure more moderation in thoughts and acts. Values are based on subjective judgment and sometimes it is difficult to decide between a clear-cut right or wrong. Here, I would like to raise some questions to challenge our thoughts.
What is justice? If the Khmer Rouge kills your family, will you kill them for justice? What is the meaning of justice to the victim, to the law, society and peace?
If the public believes that a famous bamboo bridge should be preserved at the price of the owner’s financial loss, are the owner’s interests excluded from the public interest?
When we believe that majority is important, then what if all of us want to work less but want more money and don’t want to pay tax? In such a case, is a simple majority the best reflection of interests that bring the most benefit to society?
When we believe that preserving cultural identity is important, does it mean that we must maintain a primitive identity for touristic purposes?
Similarly, when we promote gender equality, does it mean that we have to eliminate “Chbab Srey” (a Khmer traditional manual for women) to conform to a universally applicable standard of gender equality, divorced from cultural context and nuance? Or does it mean that we need to dissolve the Ministry of Women Affairs to prove that our society is already gender-balanced?
If an eco-tourism resort owner’s revenue cannot afford him a one week holiday in Europe, while the average wage in an iPhone factory allows workers to enjoy a one month holiday at an eco-tourism resort, what career path will people choose? If the annual revenue from growing rice can buy a farmer an iPhone, yet producing one iPhone a day can buy the same annual rice stock, then what career path will people choose?
If an eco-tourism resort owner’s revenue cannot afford him a one week holiday in Europe, while the average wage in an iPhone factory allows workers to enjoy a one month holiday at an eco-tourism resort, what career path will people choose?
If the annual revenue from growing rice can buy a farmer an iPhone, yet producing one iPhone a day can buy the same annual rice stock, then what career path will people choose? How do we balance the preservation of some hundred rare species of turtles with building the Neak Loeung Bridge, which would provide benefit to millions of Cambodian people?
If we are told not to develop hydropower by countries that have utilised their many hydroelectric power plants, fossil fuel power stations, or even nuclear power plants for decades or centuries, are we not to reap the same dividends from these energy sources that they have previously enjoyed? If we tell those countries to close down some of their power plants for environmental consideration, will they follow what they preach to us?
If we complain everyday that local authorities perform poorly, how many university graduates would be willing to work to better social development in the sub-national government?
These are questions that challenge what we constantly believe to be fixed values to justify our choices or thinking. The more we work, the more we put the task at hand, the more we see actual contradictions and challenges. After all, for a country at this level of social economic development, one can only expect social discontent and it is easy to ignite people’s extremism and radicalism from such social shortcomings. However, extremism and radicalism can clearly never be a force for positive development of society because it does not seek harmony within society that naturally comprises many different values.
The opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of the Asian Vision Institute.