The tools at our disposal

Last few weeks, it was reported that Malaysian authorities had turned away a boat carrying about 200 Rohingyan refugees, including women and children that was said to enter the country ‘illegally’. The justification provided was that the country was in the midst of battling Covid-19, and by letting in foreigners, which includes these asylum seekers, would further risk the spread of the virus of the country. In doing so, however, it meant risking the lives of the actual human beings, having to gamble the fate of their lives seaborne after they had fled persecution and violence in Myanmar and other countries they had been seeking protection from. Human rights organisations all around the world condemned Malaysia’s decision, saying that the virus is no basis for pushing the refugees back into the sea, and that the action violates international obligations of providing access to asylum and not returning them to the places where they risk being tortured. Meanwhile a great number of Malaysians however, citing that the influx of Rohingyan refugees had been problematic — the cause of increasing crime and violence, and the fear of “having to compete for jobs with them” (verbatim quote) — applaud the move. While some of us, knowing that we are dealing with human beings with actual lives and emotions and supposed agency here, are left befuddled as we defended against xenophobia and racism left and right, which sometimes came from our very own (sometimes seemingly progressive) friends and family. 

I recently read this novel The City and the City by China Mieville. It is set in two separate fictional cities, Beszél and Ul Qoma — with governments, languages, customs, and traditions of their own — forced to share the same territories with each other. The structure of the city works in such a way that for example, one building might be located in Beszél and the other end of it in Ul Qoma. There are also some areas which are ‘cross-hatched’ and shared by the two cities, but having different names according to the respective cities. While the architecture of the city might sound peculiar enough, the sociological model of it is even much more interesting. The residents of both cities are not allowed to cross into each other’s city, and those who do so are often severely punished by a secret organisation called Breach. Moreover, the residents of each city are not allowed to look at people or objects from the other city. They were taught from the young age to take no heed of what’s happening on the other side, so the ignorance spilt into their adult lives where they have pretty much internalised this construction of reality.

In a seemingly similar premise, there was also Black Mirror episode where you could ‘block’ people in real life by pressing a button, much like what you could do in Facebook or Twitter. In a way, when you block someone, you also refuse to associate yourself with the stance and ideas belonging to that person.

I have been thinking about the construction of reality a lot after the Rohingyan refugees’ issue, especially of how some people are adamant of demonising the asylum seekers in the same playbook as the white nationalists of the United States’ perspective towards migrants, “they’re going to steal our jobs!”. I have also been thinking especially of what makes my views and the views of some people of whom I have gone to school with, grew up with, and worked with, differ in many ways. It brings us back to understand the sociological issues at the root — that how we build our realities were borne out of the different lives we lived, that the choices and how we see the world was constructed from the tools at our disposal. Eventually this construction of realities lead to the construction of values, yet again, will be encoded into the lives and the system we design. This is perhaps why the anti-vax movement was so gungho about refusing for their children to be vaccinated, or that there are some Americans filling up the streets, ignoring social distancing, to protest against the virus (?). This is also perhaps why some people in the middle class range hate the poor, refusing to believe that the rich never was on their side, and would never ever save them anyway.

Reading in my tabs today:


  • Reading: Toni Morrison’s The Source of Self-Regard.
  • Listening: I returned to listening to alt-J shows in La Blogothèque, which at one point was my Saturday morning routine.
  • Viewing: I started watching Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever, and I liked it so far!
  • Food & Drink: I have been busy working on my viva preparation, so I only made egg sandwich and iced lemon tea.

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