02 February 2009

Forestalling Asymmetrical Logic in Democracy

By Ignas Kleden

It is no more than a political commonplace if a ruling party claims the achievements of the government as their own. However, a political dispute occurred in Jakarta recently, when the Democratic Party, to which President Yudhoyono belongs, claimed that the achievements of President Yudhoyono’s administration were equal to the success of the Democratic Party.

The decision of the government to reduce the fuel price for the third time within a relatively short space of time was believed by the Democratic Party to be the most spectacular action in the history of economic policy in Indonesia.
This claim has given rise to strong disagreements from other political parties. We all know that Yudhoyono’s Cabinet is a called the Indonesia United Cabinet, in which many important positions are assumed by politicians from other parties such as the PAN, the PPP or the PKS. Vice President Jusuf Kalla comes from the Golkar Party and is still the chairman of that party.

It is therefore an obviously inappropriate action – so the counter-argument goes – to gloss over the significant contributions of other parties to the achievements of the present government and to contend that all the success is owing to the genius of one single party, whose member happens to be the president of the country.

One might be tempted to ask: if the Democratic Party politicians dare to claim the government’s achievements as their own, will they be prepared and willing to take the failures of the present government as the fiasco of their own party?

Or will they say that the failures have resulted from the weaknesses of the whole government or even from the sloppy attitudes of the Indonesian people?

The habit of attributing success to one’s own strength while explaining away failures as the result of everybody else’s weakness reflects an obvious asymmetrical logic.

The sinking of the passenger ship Teratai Permai on Jan. 11, 2009, is a good example of this. From the 250 passengers there were only 35 who survived and 14 persons who were identified as dead.
As of today, the rest are still lost. Ironically the first information about the accident only reached the local port authority 12 hours later thanks to one of the survivors who was rescued by a fishermen boat and was brought to the local authority.

Transportation Minister Jusman Syafii Djamal, blamed the ship’s captain for being too reckless and leaving despite the bad weather. However, there have been too many boat accidents for it to be taken as merely the result of an individual error.

A press report says 80 percent of all the ships that are still operating in Indonesia are older than 30 years (Tempo magazine, Jan. 19-26, 2009). Of course this is not the mistake of the present government alone, but it reveals the hard fact that there are more complex factors troubling the maritime transportation industry.

On top of all this, had all the ships been operating well with no accidents, would the minister have acknowledged that everything was running well thanks to the individual ingenuity or personal discipline of the ship’s captain? Why is it that a success is treated as the result of a good system and an accident is attributed to individual error? Again we are faced with the bad habit of asymmetrical logic.

One has to be very careful in observing the economic behavior of retail traders. It is fairly easy to contend that the reduction of fuel prices does not necessarily lower the price of industrial goods or agricultural products.
Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu says this is the case because gasoline is only one of the components of the production costs in industry and agriculture, and makes up no more than 7 to 11 percent of the total cost. If the price of gasoline is reduced by 15 percent it will lower the production cost by only 0.7 to 1 percent. The explanation is quite reasonable.

On the other hand, however, we should give special attention to whether or not the increase of fuel price leads to the price increase of industrial goods and agricultural products, some of which might not use gasoline as a component in the processing.

People are wondering: Why is it that each increase in fuel price brings about a price increase of many industrial goods and agricultural products, whereas the reduction of fuel price has very little effect on the price reduction of industrial goods and agricultural products?

When the fuel price increased, the price of food and drink remained the same but the size of their packaging became smaller. Is asymmetrical logic also working in this case?

Asymmetrical logic is a mental strategy to escape responsibility when there are problems, while claiming credit (or profit) when there is success. It reflects a sort of psychological reluctance to bear the consequences of what one has done or has not done.

A good test for responsibility is to see the extent to which one is prepared to stand for and to account for bad consequences of one’s action or inaction. Otherwise one is mired in asymmetrical logic, which is another term for moral retardation or political opportunism.

The writer, a sociologist, is the chairman of the Indonesian Community for Democracy (KID)
Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2009/02/02/forestalling-asymmetrical-logic-democracy.html

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