Monday, November 23, 2009

Friedrich Ebert Stifung conference in Penang

Over the weekend I was attending an intensive conference organized by Friedrich Ebert Stifung. It is an organization that promotes social democracy and network for social democratic political parties and Non-Government-Organization to liaise with one another. I get to meet many new friends who are actively involve in the development of their geographic area in one way or another. I also get to meet other young people such as Edward and Kia Meng from Democratic Action Party. I was invited by Steven Sim to take part in the conference.

Social Democracy is simply a political philosophy that emphasize on government's providence of basic needs (education, healthcare, water & electricity) and rights (religious, voting) to the citizens. Due to that, the market is not free and hence needed to coorperate together with the government to ensure the best livinghood and working condition of the employees.

Though with all its focus on the good of the society, yet I find that one of social democracy's lacks is the dialog skills needed to create and sustain effective negotiation with capitalists. Besides that social democracy is still fundamentally a secular-oriented political ideology and hence its moral vision such as equal human rights is derived from an inherited tradition which is often found rooted within the discourse of Christian theology. That's the impression that I get from talking with Olle Thorell during dinner, a social democrat Member of the Parliament in Sweden. Alastair MacIntyre's insight on morality's basis as grounded in inherited tradition is still very much relevant and alive. The problem is of course on how to negotiate such basis.

I had a good discussion with Edward during the dinner too when he asked for opinions on how should Christian politicians engage and deal issues such as abortion and homosexuality. I told him that it really up to what the political party does the Christian politician belongs to. Since each party has their own ethos, so each party has to argue from their own ethos/tradition. For eg. if a party that argues for human rights facing the issue of whether to legalize abortion, then the party have to take into consideration of whether or not the unborn children as human. If the unborns are human, then abortion cannot be legalized in order to maintain the coherence of the party's ethos. And if the party could not come to the know which stage can a fetus be considered human, then precautious over its abortion must be heightened to avoid the party from being irresponsible. So the party's stand on certain issues has to be examined from the party's ethos.

I had the opportunity to meet the gentle Ooi Kee Beng and told him how much I appreciate his involvement with Penang Economic Monthly. I also met Charles Santiago and had a brief chat with him on Malaysia's ethnic issue and education system. He shared a bit about his experience with the Indian Peranakan in Melaka and how that encounter shaped his idea on ethnicity in Malaysia. Previously I didn't know who is he until I was intrigued by a remark he made during one of the conference's session on 'social protection' as 'plastic approach'.

Two questions came to mind: Where is the church's place in such socio-political setting? Does the church even care to get involve? Edward, Steven, Kia Meng, Ivy, myself and a few others are Christians. Where and how do we appropriate such unfamiliar encounter?


Kar Yong said...

Hi Sze Zeng,
I think I have much to commend on your interest and passion here. I have lamented many times that areas such as social ethics and political engagement are so severely lacking in our seminary curriculum. Some of the seminarians are not even registered voters and do not see any need in casting their vote.

It's an uphill battle here, but I do see sparks of hope. Perhaps you and the rest can be charting a new trail here for the church in Malaysia?

Have a good break in Penang. I will be having lunch with your OT lecturer in Tyndale next week, who has submitted his PhD and will be retuning to Singapore in 2 weeks' time.

Steven Sim said...

I am sure if Joshua who is a "poor helpless student" can do something, u will be able to accomplish much more. Fulfill your real potential!

Steven Sim