You still need the human aspect

I used to feel inexplicably uneasy every time I watched videos by Wendover Productions. It is one of the channels which topics genuinely intrigue me. But, something always felt off.

Thanks to Alan Fisher, now I know why.

Fisher is another Youtuber whose content shares thematic similarities with Wendover, albeit his is more niche. He criticises Wendover’s videos for being hollow shells. Lots of technical information on the surface, no humanness underneath. That critique explains my uneasiness.

While there aren’t that many, I found comments critical of Fisher’s take, saying they would love science and tech videos free from personal opinions.

I do understand their frustration; they are coming only for the technical information. But, we should not forget one thing about STEM: they were created to benefit mankind. Sooner or later, we have to have discussions about how they affect us.

(Note: the following topics are not something Wendover has discussed in its videos. They are just something I have talked about with other people)

You can explain the differences between metric and imperial measurement systems. But, you also have to acknowledge that a system which conversion simply requires moving the decimal point is significantly more dependable and less likely to cause accidents than a system which requires one conversion formula for every pair of unit. Not to mention that metric is much easier to people who suck in math.

You can explain the technical details of man-made physical environments (e.g. buildings and urban planning) and machinery of different modes of transportation. But, you should also talk about how they affect our physical, financial, social and psychological well-being, both on collective and individual levels.

You can explain the technical details of information technology. But, you should also talk about how to ethically and cautiously utilising it, making sure it improves interconnectivity instead of stoking divisions, spreading misinformation and violating privacy.

You can explain the technical details of GMOs, pharmaceutical products and nuclear energy. But, you should also mention their political and/or corporate misuse, which distract the masses from seeing the actual benefits.

You can elaborate on the latest technological breakthroughs. But, you should discuss whether they are actually beneficial and sustainable in the long run or they are just symptoms of fake futurism which may or may not exacerbate humanity’s existing problems.

You can elaborate on evolution theory. But, you should also talk about the taboo attached to it. Is it because of literal interpretations of the scriptures? Is it because of anthropocentrism? Is it both? Is it because of a reason I have never thought of before?

If we want to know which technical knowledge is the most beneficial, we must take a look at the data. If it is clear, then we must take a stance by choosing the empirically-proven approaches and ditching the ones that aren’t. If the data isn’t clear, then we must have discussions, which inevitably involve lots and lots opinions.

If we want to know how theoretical knowledge affects us, we must observe people’s responses to it. Do they embrace it to widen their horizon? Do they reject it for contradicting their personal beliefs? Do they believe certain knowledge is useless if it does not bring immediate practical benefits?

Why do humans have such varying responses? How can we spread science appreciation to the wider society? How can we convince people to change their beliefs when faced with refuting evidences? How can we convince them that expansing one’s horizon is also an actual benefit?

If you think science communication must convey nothing but technical information, why bother?

Why bother with science communication – which is meant to make the masses appreciate STEM even more – when you disregard its significance in our human lives? Why bother when you could have just written and read textbooks and scientific papers?

It sounds like I absolutely hate Wendover. While I do think most of his videos aren’t that great, there are two which I truly love: The World’s Most Useful Airport and The Final Years of Majuro.

The former is about an airport in an extremely isolated island called St. Helena. It covers the airport’s arduous technical aspects and its impacts on the islanders’ lives. He interviewed the locals, including a couple whose baby received urgent life-saving treatment thanks to the airport.

The latter is about how climate change is threatening to swallow the entirety of Marshall Islands, which means the Marshallese people will lose their ancestral homeland soon. He interviewed them as well, even ones who lived abroad.

They tackle issues which can be solved using STEM and warn us about the consequences of our refusal to solve them. Unless you are a robot or one of those Ayn Rand-esque selfish bastards, hearing the human side of the stories would make you more appreciative of STEM’s existence and more concerned about its use.

The thing is Wendover does not need to travel to a far flung place and interview its residents. If he compliments his STEM content with some dashes of social sciences and humanities and he acknowledges that it is okay to add personal opinions as long as they are well-reasoned and respectful of facts, his other videos would have been much more profound.

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Neutrality =/= Objectivity (we need to remind “smart” people about this)

Neutrality is all about not taking sides. Whether it is about the tastiness of pineapple pizza or the justifiability of the holocaust (do I need to explain why it is unjustified?), you don’t take sides regardless of the facts each side provides.

Objectivity is all about siding with facts. Whether you believe it or not, there is always chance that one party is more wrong than the other; it is hard to find a conflict in which both sides are equally wrong.

If both sides get many of their facts wrong and one is more guilty of it, you should frame it as wrong vs more wrong. If one gets most of its facts right and the other gets most of them wrong, frame it as mostly right vs mostly wrong.

Objectivity is all about siding with facts. If you get most of your facts wrong, you deserve objectivity’s middle finger.

Oh, and I believe objectivity can be used to determine our moral integrity, at least in the realm of bigotry.

A bigot reduces a particular group of human beings to mere stereotypes, which are over-simplified and preconceived beliefs desperately seeking validation. Basically, a bigot gets most (all) of their facts wrong.

Let’s face it: they get their so-called facts from hearsay, their feelings, other people’s feelings, media representations, studies with questionable samplings and methods, studies which results cannot be duplicated and, of course, hostile interactions which the bigots instigate. Here is a surprising fact: those are not great sources of reliable information about the “others”.

You don’t need to be a genius to intellectually defeat a bigot. As long as we cherish facts and we aren’t deranged animals with extremely insatiable lust for neutrality, everyone can do it.

But then, we are talking about humans after all. If the BBC cannot be factual regarding trans issues, it is naive to expect anything better from the average cretins.

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Those positive Muslim stories no longer entice me

In fact, as a Muslim, I find them nauseating nowadays.

I used to relish on them. I used to believe those feelgood stories would help tackling anti-Muslim bigotry; even if they didn’t, they would give the bigots the finger.

But, slowly, I started to feel uneasy about such stories. Then, I realise they can be problematic for two reasons.

Reason one: they exacerbate some Muslims’ denialism

There are some Muslims (focus on the word SOME) who genuinely believe the Muslim world is inherently problem-free. Consequentially, those particular Muslims dismiss Islamic extremism a conspiracy by the CIA and/or Mossad. Either that or they see it as harmless expressions of faith, hated only by “fake Muslims” and “Islam-hating infidels”.

The more they encounter those saccharine stories, the more they feel entitled to praises just for doing the bare minimum.

Reason two: they are infantilising

Oh, a group of Muslims behave like decent human beings? So fucking what? How is people doing the fucking bare minimum worth the news?

If our decent behaviours are worth the news, it means you are still surprised by our ability to be virtuous. Therefore, regardless of how “woke” you claim to be, you still see us as mere stereotypes. You still expect the worst from us.

So, should we keep the negative media coverage, then?

Well, yes…. with a big but.

On one hand, we have to keep making a big deal out of Islamic extremism. We have to keep reminding everyone -especially Muslims- that it is not something to be tolerated, let alone embraced.

It is also something which does not feed on attention-seeking. Its growth will continue regardless of our (in)attention. Unless you are one of the Muslims who care more about our image than our moral integrity, you would want the negative coverage to continue.

But, on the other hand, many western media outlets (which are unfortunately globally influential) seem incapable of reporting extremism without pigeonholing the Muslim world. They don’t always interview Muslims. When they do, they interview extremists and present them as good representatives. When they do interview peaceful Muslims, they often treat the peacefulness as a bombshell; worse, they also accuse those peaceful Muslims of being complicit to extremism, simply for sharing a religious label with the extremists.

Obviously, journalists must suppress their preconceived beliefs. Unfortunately, we are talking about humans here; it is easy to succumb to prejudice. Even if they try their best, they have prejudiced higher-ups to bow down to.

But, regardless, those saccharine narratives are still the wrong way to go. As mentioned earlier, they belittle our ability to be dignified human beings and they encourage some Muslims to exaggerate the goodness of the Muslim world, discourage them from acknowledging the problems.

Whether we like it or not, the negative coverage must go on. Because feeling good all the time benefits no one.

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Dear fans of Cuties…

What the fuck is wrong with you?

I keep seeing comments by you accusing us, the film’s detractors, of being unable to accept the harshness of our reality.

Now, I am not going to deny that. I know for a fact that some humans think it is problematic to call out problems. My fellow Indonesian Muslims think I am being divisive simply because I call out the divisiveness of the Indonesian society.

But, that’s not the really the case with us, is it?

If you even bother to listen and read our words, you would know we hate the film NOT because it acknowledges the existence children’s exploitation, but because it perpetrates it! We hate the film NOT for exposing the problem. but for being the problem!

If anything, you are the ones who should be interrogated here.

How the fuck can you watch a film featuring actual pre-pubescent girls twerking on camera and don’t see anything wrong with it? How the fuck can you watch blatant children’s exploitation and think it is a great commentary against it?

I don’t know what kind of world you live in. But, in the real world, condemning something means you don’t do that something. I mean, it is just common sense; you can’t commit murder and expect us to believe you are against it.

And the worse part is, I know damn well that many of you are not fucktards.

I know Youtubers whose commentaries I consider to be thoughtful. So, it surprises me that some of them praise the film for supposedly being anti-child exploitation.

I don’t know why you are like that. Maybe I overestimated your thoughtfulness. Maybe I am being reminded about the fallibility of my fellow human beings: just because you have many thoughtful moments, that does not mean you are immune from idiotic ones.

Maybe you are easily smitten by good intentions. You don’t care about the methods and the results. It is the thought that counts, you naively believe.

Whatever causes it, it is genuinely unnerving. Not as much as people who are aroused by the content. But, unnerving nonetheless.

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Punching sideways

In general, I despise jokes and satires which punch down.

Punching down can give the impression that marginalised groups create the most number of problems in their societies, despite their lack of political power and smaller population sizes.

I have made a blog post about it. But, it seems I forgot to talk about punching sideways.

Another issue with punching down is the punchers are often ignorant about the problems within marginalised communities. The punches are either full of oversimplifications or inaccurate stereotypes. Do you know who can provide nuanced and accurate information about said communities? Their own members!

Admittedly, I don’t believe you understand a community just because you grew up in it. Fanaticism and cultural cringe can cloud your judgement, compelling you to whitewash and exaggerate the problems among your people, respectively.

But still, if you want to truly understand a community, wouldn’t it make sense to listen people who have lived the life?

I wouldn’t think about this if it wasn’t for a video titled The Darkness by Youtuber Natalie Wynn AKA Contrapoints, in which she asserted that telling funny trans jokes requires knowledge to actual trans experiences. And yes, she has made lots of funny trans jokes.

Disclaimer: I am cis. I certainly don’t know what kind of trans jokes trans people like. But, I have yet to see her any significant backlashes from the trans community regarding her trans jokes.

This also reminds me of Muslim American webcomic artist Huda Fahmy, known for her work Yes, I am hot in this. While she does not create crude content, she constantly makes fun of her fellow American Muslims and, to a lesser extent, the entire Muslim world.

And the fact that she is a hijabi reveals a previously-hidden complexity about Muslims.

When you think of a hijabi, you think of someone who supports shaming of non-hijabis and takes hijab too seriously. That’s what anti-Muslim bigots, liberal Muslims, ex-Muslims and even some moderate Muslims (the old school Indonesian ones, at least) believe.

Huda Fahmy isn’t like that.

For one, she believes in giving women the freedom to wear anything they desire. She despises the idea of shaming them for dressing “immodestly”. In a satirical tone, she offers new dehumanising pro-hijab metaphors which do not involve ants and candies. She even acknowledges that modesty does not prevent sexual harassment.

She also makes jokes about hijabs, including one which she jokes how women become hijabis after bitten by hijampire, who has snaggle pins as fangs.

Never mind non-Muslims. As someone who grew up Muslim in the biggest Muslim-majority country and attended two Islamic schools, I have yet to met a hijabi who makes such jokes. She showcases an aspect of the Muslim world which is hidden even from many Muslims.

Basically, unless your intention is to dehumanise them even further and make them even more prone to discrimination, you have to learn about intricacies of the lives of marginalised peoples before you make fun of the them.

And no, stereotypes are not good enough. They are beliefs about our fellow human beings which are never 100% accurate, but shamelessly waiting to be affirmed.

Apart from the power imbalance, the absence of nuanced perspectives is another reason why punching down is problematic.

Yes, black and white thinking is problematic. It is just a few steps away from misinformation.

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From shallots to religious peace

I hate how my fellow Indonesians represent their country to foreigners. They don’t seem to understand it even on the most basic level.

I will start ranting from the most trivial thing and ends on the least trivial.

For many Indonesians, the English word onion refers to not only actual onions, but also shallots. It is understandable if the Indonesian language calls them by the same name.

But, it doesn’t!

Shallot is called bawang merah and onion is bawang bombay! Not only we have different names for them, we know how to distinguish them just by looking at them!

I don’t know how we continue making this error. But, I do know it creates a misconception among some foreigners.

One time, SortedFood -a British cooking Youtube channel- made a video about rendang… and instead of using shallots as the recipe calls, they use fucking red onion!

Of course, shallots might not be available in shops near them and they needed a substitute. But, in this case, it clearly wasn’t the case. If it was, they would have mentioned the word shallot and yet, they didn’t mention it, not even once!

That makes me wonder if there are many more foreigners have made the same mistake when cooking Indonesian dishes.

I notice some Indonesians try to translate soto as soup… and that is incorrect. Soto is a type of soup traditional to Indonesia; we have words for soup: it is either sup or sop.

Maybe they feel obligated to translate every single word. But, the thing is, if the words have no direct translations and they are names of foods, don’t translate them! Just keep using the original words! I mean, languages like English have lots of foreign words in them; using soto in an English sentence is not a sin!

Oh, and I hate how we mindlessly call many of our dishes “curry” when -with rare exceptions- we almost never refer to them as such, even the ones with obvious South Asian influences!

Yes, it is easier this way if we want to explain Indonesian cuisines to uninformed foreigners. But, we also have to be explicit about the fact we rarely call our foods “kari”.

Still on foods, I am also annoyed that we never showcase the diversity of our cuisines. We love presenting the dishes as if they are of the same cultural backgrounds, even though they clearly aren’t. We literally have hundreds of ethnic groups here and yet, we love to represent ourselves as one cultural monolith.

To this day, I still don’t know why many Indonesians -the ones I have encountered, at least- never brag about our cultural diversity to foreigners. They also never realise that we have a relatively wonderful inter-ethnic relations.

Ethnicity almost never determine whom we befriend or have romantic relations with. While there are indeed ethnic conflicts, they mostly occur among people of rural backgrounds who grew up unexposed to other groups; they almost never occur among most people who grew in diverse urban areas.

I initially thought we were like fish who don’t realise they are in water. Probably because many of us had multicultural upbringings, we may be unaware of the existence of cultural diversity. But, I doubt that is the case.

In celebrations like the independence day, we love showcasing the contrasting styles of our traditional attires. We love making fun of other regional accents. We can be picky with certain cuisines because other regions’ taste buds may not suit ours. We even love stereotyping each other.

Basically, we do know how culturally diverse our country is. But, inexplicably, we never use that fact to positively boost our image on the world stage.

To make it even more confusing, we prefer to brag about our supposed religious peace instead.

One thing for sure, Indonesia is indeed way better than Iran and Saudi Arabia. We are not a theocracy which commands every citizen to live a strictly Islamic lifestyle.

But, at the same time, Muslims are clearly the most privileged religious group in the country and non-Muslims in predominantly-Muslim provinces have to adjust to life which benefits Muslims the most. Religious conflicts also happen far from rarely; while their occurrence is not regular, it is frequent enough to worry anyone whose heads are not on cloud nine.

And we are not even that religiously diverse.

With ethnicity, the biggest and second biggest groups comprise about forty and twenty percent of the population, respectively. With religion, the biggest one -obviously, Islam- comprises eighty percent.

Christians are the most visible religious minority and, for many Indonesian Muslims, they are the only non-Muslims we have interacted with. We are also exposed to Buddhism and Chinese religions, but only if we live in places with visible population of Chinese-Indonesians who still embrace their ancestral heritage (the ones who don’t are Christians). Hinduism is extremely rare outside Bali. Animism is rare in urban areas and it is not even seen as a religion. Judaism and anything Jewish are seen as bad as atheism; Indonesian Jews are practically non-existent. Oh and, it is much easier to find Hindus than it is to find non-Sunni Muslims.

Basically, many Indonesian Muslims still live a religious bubble. With that in mind, the existence of religious tensions -especially when Muslims are the bigoted ones- in Indonesia is anything but unexpected.

I don’t know exactly why we always brag about our religious pluralism instead of the ethnic one. Maybe it is our inferiority complex; we are seen as a model country in the Muslim world (for some goddamn reasons) and we rarely get any ego boosts on the world stage.

My point is we should be careful on how we present our country to foreigners.

If you improperly translate the words you use, you may end up giving them misinformation which is trivial but infuriating nonetheless.

If you are driven by feelgood, blinding nationalistic sentiment, you may end up sugarcoating your country’s image and burying the actual dirt underneath.

If the foreigners are gullible, they would be fed with factual inaccuracies and end up perceiving the world inaccurately, thanks to you. If they already have negative preconceived beliefs, they would accuse you and your fellow countrymen of whitewashing the problems in our country, inadvertently exacerbating its already-negative image.

Oh, and it can be a missed opportunity. Because you are too focused on exaggerating the positivity of some aspects of your country, you end up ignoring ones which are genuinely good.

Yes, I am also far from perfect. I still have surface-level knowledge about my own home country and I may have unknowingly given wrong info.

But, I am confident about something: I am not stupid enough to translate bawang merah as onion and soto as soup….. and I am certainly not dishonest enough to think Indonesia is an entirely heavenly place for non-Sunni Muslims.

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Religions are not that scary

Yes, I do believe that, even if I agree all religions are inherently violent.

Religious extremists are indeed people we should be fearful of. But, we keep forgetting they are human beings who can pose actual threats to us, while the religions they adhere to… you know… are not human beings.

Everyone knows this as a fact… and yet, many are still unable to think clearly.

The thing about dangerous humans is they will always pose threats against us. It does not matter if they are wiped out of our memories and their existence is not documented anywhere. Their existence is unaffected by our obliviousness.

Religions, on the other hand, are sets of spiritual ideas which guide or dictate their adherents in how they live their lives, especially in searching for the meanings of life. Basically, religions are intangible non-living entities which entire existence is reliant on our memories and our records of them.

Once all of its records are lost, once it disappears from our memories, it will cease to exist.

Fear of extremism is a good thing; it shows that you still possess common sense and basic human decency. But, spending so much time fearing abstract entities is just too unreasonable for me to tolerate.

It may seem like I am making an apologetic to potentially dangerous religions (or ideas in general). Don’t get me wrong, I do think we should fear them. But, if we focus too much on them, we would ignore the actual root of the problem: humans.

From my limited observations, there are three types of people who will likely end up as extremists: those with no sense of directions, those who are unbelievably gullible and those who were already degenerate in the first place.

Those with no sense of directions are desperate to belong somewhere. They will join any communities which offer open arms, willingly overlook even the most blatant acts of immorality.

The gullible ones will take every word coming from supposedly authoritative sources for granted. Any sources can be authoritative for them; they can be clerics, politicians, fringe academics, entertainers…. and even anyone who constantly share conspiracy videos on WhatsApp groups.

The genuinely degenerate ones can be divided to two subgroups: those who feel empowered by extremist ideas and those who want to justify their degeneracy by making twisted interpretations of any beliefs they can get their hands on.

Even if you think my categorisation is too simplistic (and I agree with you), it is very hard for you to deny that humans are the roots of the problem.

We should help people overcoming their gullibility by teaching them critical thinking and making sure they are well-informed. We should help people -especially the young ones- feeling at home in the places they live in. We should encourage -and NOT forcing- people to be more moral if we want them to be genuinely moral; if that is hard to enact, the least we can do is making sure we are not empowering immoral people.

I acknowledge that my solutions are either vague or non-existent. But, at least, I also acknowledge that if we want to tackle extremism, we should also focus on preventing it from taking roots in the first place.

Getting too obsessed with the religions won’t tackle it, considering you are just waiting for the problems to start happening. Banning the religions also won’t cut it, considering those problematic people are ticking time bombs and anything –literally anything– can ignite them; the ban will only lead to a false sense of security.

I just realised this may also apply to violent entertainment. If someone becomes violent after enjoying certain works, that means they already had problems in the first place.

But, I choose to focus on religions because I am one of those people who can get heated when discussing them.

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Shopping while crammed

On Google, I love searching for differences between countries and regions within a country. Obviously, I have to be careful possibly stereotyping. But, in some articles, I found something interesting about a supposed major difference between the US Midwest and New York city: their supermarkets.

Due to the availability of spaces, Midwestern supermarkets are ridiculously spacious and New York ones are ridiculously crammed. The former have ridiculously wide aisles and offer a ridiculously wide range of products. The latter have limited products to offer and, not only the aisles are much smaller, some of the products are placed on the floor.

I cannot confirm the validity of the claims as I have never been to either place. But, one thing for sure, I don’t find Midwestern supermarkets appealing in any ways, especially after seeing the (supposed) photos.

I do love my space spacious, where I can move easily and any news items won’t immediately cram the space. But, I also believe in necessity. I don’t see why we need aisles which can we can drive cars through. It is shamelessly wasteful.

The abundance of options can be burdensome and futile, depending on the situations.

If l have tried most of the options and I like most of them, the abundance will lead to indecisiveness on my part, making me wasting precious time. I certainly cannot buy every item I like because of health and financial reasons. Yes, even citizens of third world countries can experience first world problems.

If I haven’t tried most of the options, I will play safe by picking the ones I have tried before and I actually like. On some occasions, I will try picking the cheaper options and see if they are as good as the pricier ones; most of the time, they aren’t and that compels me to stay playing safe in the future.

But, I do have a weird reason to not prefer overtly-spacious shops: they don’t have the homely feel.

No, I didn’t grow up literally living in a crammed shop. It just happened that I grew up buying my favourite treats in such establishments. Even the local supermarket chain in my Indonesian hometown of Batam still retain its crammed branches, despite already building newer and more spacious ones.

Regardless of inconvenient they can be to navigate, there is something oddly nice about crammed shops. While they don’t give me any fuzzy feelings, their vanishing would certainly leave a void in my life. They have become a part of my cultural identity.

Obviously, Indonesia and my hometown specifically do have spacious supermarkets, loads of them. But, none of the ones I have been to leave lots of empty spaces. They always make sure extra floor space is utilised. Most of the time, they simply add more stuffs to sell. In some cases, they also put promotional stands.

That’s why I associate unused extra space as a waste of space.

Oh, and crammed shops -the ones I visit regularly, specifically- are not a problem during this pandemic. I was initially concerned about entering one as physical distancing would be impossible. But, I was wrong.

The thing about them is most were never that crowded in the first place, which means pandemic changes little or nothing at all. Fear of the virus may also discourage people from visiting anywhere crammed. Not to mention that establishments in Indonesia -the ones I have been to, at least- always limit the number of people entering their premises. Mom and pop shops which do not sell food end up embracing full counter service.

If I didn’t grow with those crammed shops, my opinion of them would definitely be less stellar. But, I wonder if my opinion of those Midwestern-style supermarkets would be any different.

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Harry Potter, my national identity (and also politics and morality)

Note: I took an online course on EdX -HarvardX to be specific- called Tangible Things: Discovering History Through Artworks, Artifacts, Scientific Specimens, and the Stuff Around You (yes, that’s the full name). To sum it up, it is a basic and relatively accessible introduction to the world of museology. It teaches us how to appreciate the tangible objects in front of us beyond their physical appearances. This blog post is my final project.

Note ends.

My chosen object is a copy of the Indonesian translation of Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix, first edition.

The cover design

Obviously, that was the first thing I noticed. When I first saw the covers of the Indonesian editions, I naively thought how impressive it was for my fellow countrymen to create such beautiful works. The visual magical realist style successfully evoke the atmosphere of a magical reality. I was disappointed to realise they were the works of Mary Grandpré, an American.

I don’t know why Gramedia -the publisher- chose to re-utilise the American covers. I don’t believe cost was a problem considering Gramedia was already a big company by that time. It is much more believable to say it has something to do with xenophilia.

Collectively, we love looking down on ourselves. We are more trustful of the expertise of foreigners than we are of our fellow countrymen, even when there is no reason to be so. Even after the resurging popularity of batik in the recent years, we still think our historically and heterogenously rich heritage is inferior compared to the foreign ones.

Unfortunately, I still cannot find papers that back my argument. I can only provide anecdotes. But, I can ask you these questions:

When was the last time you see Indonesians promoting their country as aggressively as the Koreans? When was the last time you and fellow non-Indonesians around you were smitten by Indonesia’s soft power? When was the last time you see Indonesians being genuinely proud of their heritages and not begging for validations from foreigners?

For the first two questions, I am sure the most likely answer is ‘never’. For the last question, the answer is very apparent when one watches lots of Youtube videos; every time a foreign Youtube channel makes an Indonesian-themed video, a hoard of Indonesians would come seemingly out of nowhere and swamp the comment section.

In 2017, there was a development, though. The Indonesian editions are now published with illustrations made by an Indonesian by the name of Nicholas F. Chandrawienata.

Stole it. Can’t remember the source.

Frankly, I am not a fan. I think his illustrations are not atmospheric enough and are too aesthetically similar to manga, making them appear more Japanese than Indonesian. But, compared to many Harry Potter cover designs, his works easily stand out.

Usually, Harry Potter covers utilise a wide range of deep, vivid colours and depict the individual story’s major characters and/or events. Instead of following the same path, he chose to depict the head of a creature which is prominently featured in the individual story (e.g. a dragon or a phoenix), surrounded by all of the characters and, to a lesser extent, narratively significant objects; his chosen colour schemes are also more muted and less colourful.

As much as I am not a big fan of the new covers, I have to commend the designer for creating such distinguishable works.

The (mis)translation

Content wise, the first thing I noticed was the poor translation.

I don’t know why the translator did not translate the places’ English names. Privet Drive can simply be translated as Jalan Privet (we don’t have a large variety for the word ‘road’). The Burrows can simply be Burrows, considering Malay/Indonesian does not have definite articles. St Mungo’s, the name of the magical hospital, can simply be St Mungo, as it is weird to use third person possessive in names. Grimmauld Place can be Kediaman Grimmauld or Rumah Grimmauld. Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley can be translated as Gang/Lorong Diagon and Gang/Lorong Knockturn, respectively.

Admittedly, I am making a big deal out of this. We Indonesians don’t always fully translate names of foreign places. We still refer to New York and The Hague as New York and Den Haag, respectively. I will let this slide, albeit grudgingly.

If you haven’t noticed, some of the names are puns. Grimmauld Place is Grim Old Place, Diagon Alley is Diagonally and Knocturn Alley is Nocturnally. I personally think it would be exhilarating if the Indonesian translator created her own puns, just like what her Brazilian counterpart did (Goldstein 2004). But, acknowledging the difficulty of such endeavour, I am content with direct translation.

I don’t know why the translator still kept the English Mr and Mrs titles, even though they can be easily translated into Indonesian. While apparate and disapparate are words created by J.K. Rowling, we certainly have words for appear and disappear; we could have easily repurposed them to describe the acts of apparating and disapparating.

This is indicative of our cultural cringe. We will purposefully use foreign words to convey certain meanings in order to sound ‘cool’, ‘educated’ or ‘modern’, even though there are available Indonesian words. Even I am guilty of such sin when conversing.

I also hate how stilted the dialogues are. It seems almost every character speaks in an almost formal manner. I notice it is not that unusual for some native English speakers to speak with standard or semi-standard English in their daily lives. But, that’s not the case with Indonesians.

Indonesian language is one of two currently-used standard variants of Malay and no Indonesians speak it in our daily lives. We only use it in writings or in scripted speeches. Even Indonesian language teachers use colloquial speeches when verbally teaching their students.

This happens because Indonesia is a highly-multilingual country where many still have attachments to their ancestral tongues; in such situation, a lingua franca is definitely needed to ease the intercommunication (Martin-Anatias 2017).

If the Indonesian translation uses colloquial dialects for the dialogues, I can guarantee the resulting storytelling would be much more dynamic. But, this adds a complication to the translating process: which colloquial dialects should we use?

There are countless of them here. Some Indonesians use regional languages in their everyday lives and some use other Malay dialects, which may or may not be considered as ‘improper’ Indonesian (Martin-Anatias 2017). If we use other Malay dialects, we should consider the factors of how much the speakers are influenced by the latest slangs. We should also consider whom we are speaking to; Indonesian is one of the languages in which the age and status of the speakers affect the choice of words.

But, again, I will let this defect slide. Unfortunately, many Indonesian films and TV shows also love using stitled dialogues that nobody use in their everyday lives.

One defect I will never tolerate is mistranslation.

Most of the time, the words are properly translated. But, there are occasions when they are incorrectly translated and stick out like sore thumbs. But, I believe the mistranslation of the word dream is the worst of them all.

In Indonesian, there are two words for dream: mimpi and impian. The former has multiple meanings: the dream we experience during sleep and an idiom for aspiration and daydreaming. The latter only means aspiration, desire or the likes; it has no other meanings.

But, for some reasons, the translator translated sleep dream as impian.

I don’t know how the translator bungled it up. No, she was not a foreigner who still had a relatively poor grasp of the language. She was an Indonesian!

Mistranslation is already bad enough. But, poor grasp of one’s native tongue’s basic vocabulary is even worse!

Its loaded content

While it was not the first book I read, Order of Phoenix was the first one that I read from start to finish. My twelve-year-old self was shocked; naively, I expected a fantastical world which I could escape from reality to.

Well, the depicted world is indeed escapist and fantastical. But, it also depicts inept and corrupt political establishment, political interference in the academia, propagandistic media and a PTSD-stricken titular character. Combine them with death and prejudice being recurring themes of the series, with the villains – Voldemort and the Death Eaters – who are often compared to the Nazis due to their violent obsession with being ‘pure-blooded’.

The plot of this novel is often compared to specific moments in history, in which the authorities either dismiss or partake in the worrying rise of sectarian populism; it can be argued one of the moments is happening right now in the United States (Calo 2018).

As an Indonesian, I can relate to the situation with the rise of Islamic extremism in Indonesia. While I still don’t know any Indonesians who are comparable to the villains, the increasing presence of Muslim extremists is worrying and personally, it does feel like the government does little or nothing to curb their influences.

I have read quite a few articles about this. But, disappointingly, none of them mention this: we should have seen the phenomena coming.

In the Harry Potter universe, pure blood supremacy is depicted as an age-old inclination among many witches and wizards. In the real world, people like Trump supporters and Muslim extremists have existed for many years, decades even; being under-the-radar is not the same being non-existent. We don’t have the privilege to be surprised by their rise to power.

The character Dolores Umbridge is even more interesting. Unlike Voldemort -whose acts are thankfully not mundane for most of us-, she is just too close to home. She is seen as a representation of sadistic power abusers we may encounter in our daily lives; even Rowling herself said her inspiration for the character was a real person she knew (Rowling 2015).

If that is not intense enough, we experience the story through the perspective of our PTSD-stricken teenage hero. To describe the reading experience as an emotional rollercoaster is an understatement. It took me many years to truly appreciate it.

I am not one of the people who take the ‘Harry-Potter-makes-you-a-better-person’ study for granted. Considering nothing lives in a vacuum, it does not make any sense to solely credit or blame one thing for our moral standards.

Some fans -me included- also notice a few things in the series which maybe considered “problematic” or “poorly-aged”. Combine that with accusations of queerbaiting and transphobia directed at the author. The more you know, the harder it is to not see Harry Potter as a wellspring of hypocrisy.

But, the series does have socially-relevant mature topics as recurring themes.Whether we like to admit it or not, Rowling’s highly escapist works successfully compel her young readers to take more heed about the reality they live in.

In this instalment specifically -in which the topics are more brazenly depicted-, she compels them to try putting themselves on someone else’s shoes, to imagine how it feels to suffer from PTSD and to deal with corrupt political establishment.

Conclusion

Regardless of how (un)impressed you are with it, you cannot deny that Harry Potter’s thematics is influential among the readers. Many do take the commentaries to their hearts, hence the backlashes against the author’s statements regarding trans people.

I am indeed sceptical about works of art and entertainment influencing our morality. But, with the right approaches, they can encourage us to contemplate about our own moral stances; whether we change our minds or not, it depends on us.

When I chose this novel as my object, I only expected to analyse the thematics, the cover’s visual aesthetic and the quality of translation; I genuinely did not expect to ponder about my national identity.

It took the publisher a long time to hire an Indonesian illustrator. The translator refused to translate the honorifics and place names into Indonesian; she also refused to translate the dialogues into vernacular Indonesian. It is inevitable that I will be reminded of how prevalent cultural cringe is among my fellow countrymen.

Calo, A 2018, ”Harry Potter’ and its frightening political parallels: ‘how we are living through the Order of Phoenix”, <https://medium.com/@andreacarlo/harry-potter-and-its-frightening-political-parallels-how- we-re-living-through-the-order-of-the-148698d4>

Goldstein, S 2004, ‘Translating Harry Potter, Part I: The Language of Magic’, <https://bytelevel.com/global/translating_harry_potter.html&gt;

Martin-Anatias, N 2017, ‘Who speaks Indonesian, ‘the envy of the multilingual world”, <https://theconversation.com/who-speaks-indonesian-the-envy-of-multilingual-world-85011>

Rowling, J 2015, ‘Dolores Umbridge’, <https://www.wizardingworld.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/dolores- umbridge>

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Actually growing up multicultural

I have encountered so many westerners who either brag or complain about how their western countries are the world’s diversity hotspots, with MAGA Americans being the loudest.

I always counter them with the data which clearly indicates otherwise. In fact, because I have too much time on my hands, I wrote an entire blog about it.

Months laters and I still encounter those people to this day, making the same predictable talking points. The more I encounter them, the more I disappointed in myself, though.

Almost all of them act like they know how it feels to live a multicultural life. I am disappointed in myself because I have been noticing that for a while… and yet, I haven’t written about it.

Overall, it does not make any sense. How experienced you are with other cultures is not determined by their mere presence around you; it is determined by your interactions (or the lack thereof) with the people. You can live in one of the most diverse places on earth and still trapped inside a cultural bubble. For your information: New York City is (not was) infamous for its segregated schools.

In fact, not only they are too proud of themselves, they tried to discredit me as a bubble dweller who know nothing about the outside world.

Yeah, about that…

My Indonesian hometown Batam has not one but five dominant ethnic groups (due to it being a planned city) and, while being predominantly-Muslim, churches and Buddhist temples are easy to find; it is also very close to Singapore and Malaysia, making it one of Indonesia’s gateways to the outside world. I have lived in two cities in the Jakarta metro area, which many Indonesians migrate to and also one of the country’s gateways to the world. I also lived in Melbourne for about a year.

I, an indigenous Indonesian Muslim, attended a middle school where the student body was predominantly Chinese-Indonesian -whose religious affiliation was Buddhist (and possibly also Taoist and Confucian)- and many of the teachers were Filipinos, with one American and one Aussie. My high school also reflected my city’s demographics: visible Christian and Buddhist minorities and multiple dominant ethnic groups. I briefly attended an Indonesian university which attracted students from all over the country. I graduated from an Australian university with an international student body.

Apart from Australia, Singapore and Malaysia, I have also visited other foreign countries like Thailand, New Zealand, China (Hong Kong included), Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Palestina, the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Czechia, Austria, Hungary and Switzerland.

On Facebook, my social circle consists mostly of foreigners and there are lots of times when I get myself reprimanded for resorting to cultural stereotypes.

How is that for a bubble dweller?

After realising how culturally-rich my upbringing was and interacting with so many misguidedly proud westerners, I learn two lessons about what it means to be a multicultural individual.

Lesson one: being multicultural is not about simply enjoy cuisines and arts from other cultures. It is actually interacting with the people we divisively refer to as the “others”.

And I am not talking about professional situations; I am talking about ones where we interact because we sincerely enjoy each other’s presence. While intimacy is not required, informality certainly is. Those are the occasions when we can get to truly know the “others” beyond the labels.

I am not saying enjoyment of other cultures’ cuisines and arts is bad; in fact, we should always encourage ourselves to broaden our tastes. But, they are surface-level aspects of cultures; if we are too focused on the surface and disregard the more abstract things beneath, we may end up making caricatures out of the people. Weeaboos are a great example of how NOT to appreciate other cultures. Admittedly, stop stereotyping people after doing it your entire life is easier said than done.

I am also not saying interaction alone helps. If we only care about affirming our preconceived beliefs or having token minorities in our lives, no amount of interactions will ever enlighten you. But still, if you want to understand your fellow human beings, wouldn’t it make sense to… you know… actually interact with them?

Lesson two: being multicultural is not about tolerance, it is about resilience. It is less about accepting and liking the trivial differences (emphasise on the word trivial) and more about how well you are in dealing with them.

Someone may annoy you for being too polite or rude. But, instead of wasting your time whining, you should move on with your live and accept that none of your fellow human beings will be 100% likeable to you.

I have to say reactionary monolingual Anglophones score really low in the resilience department. For someone who love to call people snowflakes, they sure can’t handle the mere sounds of any other languages. Even Indonesians who are very racist against Chinese people are not that triggered by the mere sound of Chinese languages (as far as I am concerned); mind you, Indonesia used to banned any public of anything perceived as Chinese!

Humanising your fellow human beings and skilfully traversing trivial human differences. In my personal views, you need both in order to truly experience multiculturalism.

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Oh, and about the people I argued with…

Some did end up acknowledging that diversity does exist outside the western world and more prominently so. But, it was not an admission of error on their part.

After the acknowledgement, they proceeded to talk about how politically unstable those diverse African countries are, proving diversity is bad for unity.

Now, did you see what just happened there? In case you didn’t notice, there were goalposts moving and gaslighting happening.

They acted as if they already acknowledged the diversity of non-western countries from the very beginning, even though their refusal to do so was the reason why we argued in the first place.

They acted as if we were arguing the merit of diversity, even though we argued about its existence outside the western world.

And they also acted as if I defended diversity as an inherently beneficial thing, even though I never made the argument. Not even once.

I know some people are against this behaviour. But, I can’t help myself: my opponents clearly lost.

Well, they already lost when they made a claim proven false by data. They lost for the second time when they started moving the goalposts and attempting to gaslight me.

And one person lost for the third time when he said my refusal to vindicate his make-believe was a sign of autism.

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