Learning about governance from Balinese traffic

Written by: Si Ying | Offbeat Perspectives

A week ago, I spent four days in Bali observing the traffic on the road in the moving car. I’d also seen how my reactions varied during short period when we maneuvered into high-traffic turns or met disorganization on the roads with vehicles of all sizes freely declaring the lanes they want to takeThere were a couple of honks and sudden jerking at the beginning but our car eventually grew accustomed and slightly comfortable to the norms observed on the road.

There was also an occasion when we made a turn into a narrow, one-way road and our car was driving against others. There were puzzled looks by pedestrians and drivers/motorcyclists but no honks or visible swearing. A driver who appeared to be a local rolled down his windows and indicated to us that we were on the wrong direction. Some vehicles made way for us while there were also others which didn’t. Road courtesy wasn’t necessarily abide to like in this occasion but nobody was pissy about it. They just gave in and adapt to these roads.

Unlike in orderly roads with traffic rules abided by the majority , we didn’t observe any angst, road rage on these “lawless roads” that we’d described it throughout this period – no drivers flipping the finger and screaming through the tinted glass.

You’d think it’s not possible for us to operate civically without order and especially having the traffic police hounding from whichever side of the road, then whipping out our seat belts for “show.” During the trip, we were stuck with multiple traffic jams for hours but without punching the honk or hearing any around us. We waited like the rest did. Sure this might be one fortunate and coincidental instance and it’s too short of a time to deduce that Balinese drivers have come to develop this sense of tolerance and more importantly self-regulating behavior to adapt to this day-to-day havoc on the roads.

Reflection about governance
I contrast the way traffic operates in Singapore vice-versa Bali and it made me reflect about governance and its aims. Governance has brought about order and a whole lot of efficiency that we are very proud of here. On the surface, this order appears to be civic behavior that has been achieved through governance with the punitive sanctions that comes with it. Is it really? Civic behavior on the roads I early presumed could have only been achieved through legible traffic rules/laws and legitimate roads designated for vehicles.

The “governance” conducted on Balinese roads (whether or not there is) might have unintentionally led to a situation whereby drivers “check” themselves instead of positing fines and demerit points to make sure drivers don’t violate even road courtesy like cutting lanes and speeding. They adapt to the natural illegibility of the roads and their counterparts operating on the same field. For mere four days in Bali, it is quick to assume that chaotic behavior hardly occur on Balinese roads. But people tend to work within the structures they are placed into.

Aims of governance — inducing reliance or cultivating independence?
I don’t mean order is not not-good. Every other governing system has its perks and consequences as well.  Governance, besides providing for efficiency, comes with an upsize of dependency of the governed on the governing. Should dependency be the aim of governance? Or should it teach the art of looking after each other (part of our natural tendency to self-regulate without a higher authority pointing fingers at us to do so) to promote a more sustainable coexistence without reliance on public institutions that is highly-susceptible to party politics such as uncertainty as to who holds the incumbent political position in elections to come?

Also, the deal of dependency that we’ve been so used to also creates a debt of gratitude among the governed that is able to sustain the power of the governing. Surely we have every right to be grateful for the privileges we enjoyed from “good” governance. Admittedly, governance that is good enough to provide for the sufficiency of its people is still hard to come whether it’s in the past or even today. But the sort of power imbalance between the governing and the governed (civil society) shouldn’t be taken for granted just because the government has kept to the end of its deal in fulfilling its duty to the elected.

Diminishing faith in my government
Self-censorship occurs so often among us that it seems that we can hardly blame anyone but ourselves on the first thought. But when the government is aware of this and has not come forward to clarify the misconceptions about the consequences that entail expression, self-censorship in the population is no longer a magical phenomenon that has no basis. The fear and apathy with self-censorship were derived from seeing the consequences suffered by others who have attempted to inch into “blurred forbidden areas” in laws targeting expression – When does it offend someone? Whose feelings in the community are hurt?

There has been a wave of efforts posited by the government to engage the population but how can discussion about social issues completely bypass being political? How can civic knowledge and participation be not be allowed to be conducted through regularity among ourselves (civil society) but only taught through the convenience of “public conversations” initiated and conducted with only those in their ivory towers?

Only paper flowers are afraid of the rain. We are not afraid of the noble rain of criticism because with it will flourish the magnificent garden of music. — Konstantin Dankevich 

A good government is not afraid of criticisms and has faith in its people by recognizing that they have a mind and will of their own in deciding who best to govern them. The “mind and will of their own” isn’t accumulated through carrots and sticks but civic participation among people who would include those who disagree with the government. Why should a good government be threatened by a minuscule segment of the population that disagrees with them and have such low confidence in the governed to think that they would be “brainwashed” and revolt against them?

The captures and warnings received by the very limited civil society in Singapore is diminishing the good faith that the governed has of the governing. And also, the more often self-censorship comments made by all of us to better not write or talk about this. You wouldn’t want to revoke your scholarship, jeopardize your career or relationships with your closest kins.

Upsetting the status quo
We wouldn’t want to run the risk of tipping the status quo (getting captured) by contributing back to the status quo (self-censorship). But do we realize that when more of us make some effort to challenge the status quo (inching back and forth talking about issues that affect us) to commit to our basic responsibility as a citizen, we aka the governed hold the possibility of tipping the status quo together and the tipped point becomes the status quo (active civic participation without handholding by the government)?

We’re famously known as a “nanny state” without having qualms about the label and there’s nothing wrong with depending on a government that is very efficient and capable. Rational citizens depend on the government knowing that it can be depended upon. But it isn’t just about only depending on it to provide good and services but also the protection of its citizen’s rights to participate in the nation-building process and making the society a better place for everybody. Why should the government be doing otherwise if I didn’t infringe on someone else’s freedom to do so, or rationally would my behavior have posed the risk of in/directly causing a revolt with others and upsetting social stability?

All parents want the best for their children but does the “best” means lifetime reliance on them or cultivating independence to eventually manage the household on their own one day?



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