Friday, April 07, 2006

The Parable Of Paternalism


Soon To Be Made Into A CGI Animation Classic By Dreamworks

A frequent visitor to this blog, Rohan888, brought this quote to my notice:

"The combination of excessive paternalism and a reluctance to accept foreign help has left Malaysia sticking out as the new poor man of ASEAN. Its listed companies are generally inward-looking with limited ambition."

This was apparently an opinion of a foreign fund manager, not exactly positive. The quote reminded me of a story/joke which I heard a long time ago, which now I am going to paraphrase and turn it into my own Parable Of Paternalism, enjoy! Its a bit long, but its worth it man! There is good paternalism or not so good ones, the latter abuses the right to decide in favour of some. This parable is about the dark side of paternalism.

I once visited my uncle in the Isle of Putrajaya, it was a nice place, hot and humid, occassional flash floods, plenty of natural resources... in fact very much like Malaysia. He took me around the island state and we had a wonderful time, but by the second day I was feeling ill, probably from gorging myself with all kinds of delicacies. My uncle said, no problem, and took me straight to Hospital PJ, apparently a heavily subsidised government hospital. At the check in counter, my uncle chatted intimately with the Head Matron for a few minutes. He came back and said, we should be able to get in and out quick. He told me there were three types of physicians I could see, all cost the same - traditional medicine department, western medicine department or mental retardation department. There were 3 queues, one to each of the respective departments, the longest being for western medicine, I think there were about 50 people. The traditional medicine line was shorter with just 20 people, about the same for those suspicious looking types lining for mental treatment.

Naturally I ruled out the third option, and told my uncle that I preferred traditional medicine as the line was shorter. My uncle whispered to the Head Matron and she held my hand leading me to go pass the queue to traditional medicine. I was shocked and embarressed at the same time. I mean, to jump the queue of 20 people in front of me, they must be waiting for at least 2 hours before they get to see the doctor. Plus I was fearing that someone in the queue might jump out and curse at my queue jumping for no apparent reason - I mean, I wasn't the sickest one there by a mile, and I am certainly not even near my retirement age, and I am certainly not physically handicapped in any way (that I know of). But the people in the queue were quiet, some even nodded to me as I passed them. The doctor treated me patiently and thoroughly, and as I walked back out past the line of people, some even smiled and waved goodbye. My shock and embarressment have turned into a power trip, I remember thinking "Hey, this is cool, I jumped queue and no one even showed me ugly faces... man, my uncle must know some important people here". It felt good. It felt so good that I turned to my uncle and said, "Well, since I am here, you think I could also visit the western medicine doctor?" Half hoping not to offend my uncle, but he said it was "No problem". We did the same thing again, only this time, the queue was much longer, but the same response I got. I was feeling quite full of myself, it felt like walking on air, exaggerated self-importance is a wonderful feeling I say. Heck, initially I felt sorry for those in the queue, but that kinda evaporated by now.

Coming out of the western physician's office, an outrageous thought crossed my mind, why don't I visit the mental physician too, just for the fun of it. I told my uncle that, and he whispered to the Head Matron, and off we went, passing each wierd looking person in the queue to the mental department. I looked at each of them as I walked past them, some stared blankly towards the ceiling, another just buried his face in his hands, then there was one with his mouth wide open making sqawking noises every 3 seconds. I was almost at the door of the physician when a lady in the queue stepped out, stared me down, stopping me in my tracks. She was quite pretty too, but there was something wierd about her. She was circling her left nipple with her index finger (non-stop). There was an uncomfortable silence, I couldn't stop staring and I didn't know where to look .... then she blurted out "Hey, who do you think you are.... don't you need to line up like everyone else ... or are you mentally retarded?" ... and then she gave out this bone chilling laughter that I will never forget. The end.

So, who are you - are you in the queue keeping quiet, why are we in line in the first place, are you the gatekeeper like the matron, are you like my uncle, who actually runs the hospital ... and who is the mental one in the parable?

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