The paradox of intellectual honesty

The paradox of intellectual honesty

 Jeremiah Liang’s letter to the Malaysiakini

The ability to consider dispassionately two opposite ideas is a sign of


  • intellectual maturity
  • and honesty.
  • Far be it for a sound-thinking rational person to have no passion about anything.
  • But it is essential for him/her, when faced with 
    • two opposite ideas, 
    • two contrasting choices, 

to consider everything with a cool head and a warm heart.


Aristotle wrote: ‘It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.’

Our country is at a crossroads  and the rest of the people, need to seriously consider several choices that will affect our future for the next decades.

The window of opportunity is very narrow and it is now open thanks to the dramatic shift in the political landscape.

The two issues which we, the people of all races and faiths, need to address are:

1. What are the real choices we face? 

For all who may be facing a possible snap election, the choices appear to be between


  • choosing an outright change in government to clean up and reform the entire executive
  • or maintaining the current status quo, which is mired in a stalemate.


In fact, there are two opposing political ideas which we are struggling with


  • individualism, which promotes the liberal interest of the individual over the state
  • and statism, which promotes the interest and power of the state over the individual. 
  • There is in fact, a third middle way, which is distributism.


According to Wikipedia, ‘distributism distinguishes itself by its distribution of property.

Distributism holds that,


  • while socialism allows no individuals to own productive property (all being under state, community, or workers’ control),
  • and capitalism allows only a few to own it,
  • distributism itself seeks to ensure that most people will become owners of productive property.’


2. How do we make the right choice?

  • In other words, do we make choices emotionally because we are wired to be communal and put the interests of our race and religion first?
  • Or should we make decisions with a cool head and a warm heart? Having a warm heart is not a problem for most of us because we are known to be one of the most hospitable, gentle and peace-loving peoples (notwithstanding our bad behaviour behind the wheel).


However, all the people  are not so blessed with cool heads because

  • they tend to allow their emotions
  • and their cultural habits to colour their thinking and actions

leading to emotional reactions to racial issues.

From an intellectual perspective, the two opposing ideas which we need to consider are on the one hand, a race-based political structure that could lead to further polarisation of society but which has ruled the country for the past four decades. 

Present government has both elements of


  • statism (where the state interferes with the market economy)
  • and individualistic capitalism (where capital and power are vested with a privileged few).


On the other hand, opposition offers

  • the alternative political structure of non-racial politics
  • with priority given to the underprivileged
  • and the lower classes who have been left behind by the country’s inefficient education system.
  • However, this party also has elements of statism while promoting democratic rights for all citizens.

The paradox of intellectual honesty is that even the most rational, most sensible political choice should be considered with skepticism because human nature is weak and vulnerable to errors of judgment.

Is there a middle way offered by the political philosophy of distributism which enshrines the interests of the family unit rather than the state or the individual?

Politicians should realise that,

  • unless and until there is a Middle Way
  • which appeals to the common interests and values of all party members,
  • the two main political parties will be inherently unstable.

Each faction will be holding on loosely to the coalition for the sake of political expediency and not for a foundational common interest.

As citizens, we must always keep in mind that we are not choosing between

  • good and evil
  • but between two differing types of government
  • and political values.
  • Let us not fall into a moral and intellectual error by choosing to please either our emotions or our reason. 

Right decisions are invariably made by listening to the voices of the conscience and the reasoning mind.

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