Using 3-C Lenses To Look At Complex Social Phenomena: The Case Of Malaysia – Essay


In my previous essays, I suggested ways to view society, drawing attention to the impermanence of truth as the construction of philosophical knowledge. I presented an example such as the similarity of looking at the situation of Ukraine as to how the mystery of the still-missing Malaysian Airline MH370 as an example of how truth is constructed, contained, or even construed, and ultimately to be consumed by the public. The idea of media as an enterprise of mediating truth is also discussed from a neo-Marxist perspective. We need a tri-focal lens crafted from Complexity/Chaos Theory, Critical Theory, and Constructivist Principles of Seeing. 

In the following, I discuss the way we can use such three-lenses-of-seeing and knowing in order to understand a phenomenon.

The craving of the post-Millennial mind

These three lenses as perspective are what we need, in order for the especially the young — those not well-versed in history, philosophy, politics, and anthropology to study phenomena.  It is useful for those in the universities who have been fed with a blend of propaganda and official knowledge and a tinge of critical sensibility.

We need to help the young “read” Malaysia (or any nation,) as a text and subtext and a context that is authored with a complex system of meaning and historicizing. Advanced digital communication technologies, a landscape of ideas framed from a military ala’ blitzkrieg-styled process of authoring, the muddling and muzzling of facts and fiction in the way elements of the memories of the nation get weaved and presented to this post-Millennial Malaysian generation, the role of political amnesia in shaping today’s politics, the intensifying interplay between the global and the local, and the impact of the successive waves of globalization on this “nation-state” called Malaysia — all these are the forces and ideological artifacts that are making Malaysia difficult to read. Let us look at some examples of the applicability of the 3-C lenses, as theoretical looking glass.

Malaysian cases in point

The following are some of the cases in point, requiring:

1) The massive global-proportioned and well-known 1MDB (1Malaysia Development Board) case of massive corruption and the Grand Illusion of Najibology as it clashes with the last breath of Mahathirist Spirit, and the complex ENRON, Barrings, AIG –styled scandal (and even bigger and more puzzling and mysterious) that is still plaguing Malaysia and helped her made to the position of runner-up in the world’s most corrupt country – this case requires a complex analysis using the 3-C lenses. Even today as of March 2022, cases related to the failed government investment are still being presented in court, such as the one involving Goldman Sach’s executive, Tim Leissner, an accomplice to the gang of crooks in the world-renowned Malaysian corruption case. It is being heard in a New York court.

2) The intricacies embedded in the once-proposed by the Obama Administration, The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement as an agenda of American corporate power; intricacies the regime of Najib Razak is not able to see out of the lack of analytical skills of analyzing complex systems and the application of at least the perspective of Critical Theory in reading the excesses of global post-(Milton) Friedmannian economics. This is the dimension of international political-economy that needed to be looked at from the multitudinal angles of post-imperialism, post-Reagan-Thatcher era of American foreign policy shaping the world over

3) The continuing ebb-and-flow of threats of the Deash (formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Malaysia and Southeast Asia in general, requiring the scholar’s expertise in cybernetic systems of transcultural flow of networking and how social media is used in recruiting Malaysian fighters and what the next steps will be for the militant-millinearistic global movement which was once a creation of the American empire in itself. Perhaps the genesis of ISIS, as an offshoot of Al Qaeda borne out of the womb of the Bush-Iraq-invasion-post- 9/11 era is one of the most complex areas of international strategic studies in need of those special lenses.

4) The long-term socio-political, economic, cultural implications of the bringing in of millions of foreign, especially Bangladeshi workers (adding on to the current 5 million workers already there, documented and undocumented) in a country of more than 33 million people. Whether these immigrants will be used as voters in the general elections to help the regime stay in power and become more totalitarian, we will never know — we are now living in an Orwellian world, albeit a Malaysian-styled comical one. This is an area of concern requiring Malaysians to use the 3-C glasses to not only understand the issue of the international flow of labor but also how it impacts the sovereignty of nations.

5) The unresolved case of the murder of the Mongolian model Altantuya Shaaribuu during the time of the former prime minister Najib Razak (now awaiting jail-time for the 1MDB fiasco) in the process of the French Scorpene submarine procurement and the global players involved and as the puzzle and the mystery of it becomes one and become more fascinating than a Hollywood or Bollywood plot or a Truman Capote novel In Cold Blood, or in the gruesomeness of the murder horror-story-author Stephen King would not dare dramatize — these are the elements of complexity we need to help the young understand. The epic story of Malaysia’s most corrupt prime minister requires a set of tools of analysis to extract the “truth” within and to help the younger generation make sense of how the state ideological apparatuses are used in hard and soft Machiavellian ways to even get away with the most hideous politically-motivated murder.

6) The continuing drama of the Malay/Malaysian monarchy flexing its muscle in this complex game of asserting power that was eroded in the early 90s and how the pattern of alignment and realignment and detachment with the current regime continue to take shape, the game of perception and the crafting of illusion of “greatness of a bangsa (maser race) that was never there as a bangsa,” the unforgettable fire of the brutality and happy and arrogant display of royal bruteness of the monarchy in dealing with their subjects, the love for the showing-off of material wealth and the fruits of labor of the royal conspicuous consumption, the use and abuse of religion in according this and that laws governing conduct of the rulers and the ruled, as in the still unresolved idea whether the hudud (Sharia-derived methods of punishment) too applies to the Muslim traditional rulers the world over or whether they could do whatever they like as how their grandfathers and ancestors understood the function of law, ethics and morality in statecraft — these and more are the fields of analysis needing the 3-C glasses.

Pardon my Joycean notes above, as an expression of how we ought to “read” this country plagued with the excesses of hyper-modernity – a country that is now entering an uncertain future, whether there will be some kind of unity emerging with the use of brute force against those opposing the government, as in the case of the Najib Razak regime, whether there will be another creation of post-May 13 1969 massacres- MAGERAN of the 70s (the NOC- National Operations Council) when things get rougher and the armies and cheerleaders and supporters of Mahathir-led coalition of the groups of political desperadoes and with their own agenda get rowdier — we will have to see. Again, a set of special lenses need to be put on.

Lenses we need

Essentially though, we still need a 3-C lens as not be drowned in this blue ocean of sharks, piranhas swimming in the deep, and up there by the beach where the Bahtera Merdeka (metaphorically, the great ship of Malaysian Independence) is sinking, we see old and new robber-baron politicians still arguing over old and new loots.

Through the Lens of Complexity Theory, we look at the historical-cultural-semiotics nature of the phenomena and in addition to these, we draw out the idea of the interconnectedness of events, people, and institutions as they interact with one another through space and time. Today the dominance of informational networks that have contributed to the advancement of the Networked Society, and corollaries of the impact of the artifacts of the Internet of Things have made the study of complex and “organized-chaotic” systems necessary even for those in the Social and Human Sciences.

Through the lens of Critical Theory, one may look at the historical-materialistic perspective of an idea and how it takes root in society, discerning its transcultural flow. Ideas such as the birth and growth of radical Islamism as a threat to liberal and progressive societies, or the rampant onslaught of free enterprise and liberal democracy which transmuted into a free-for-all and free-falling version of capitalism – these could be studied from a critical-trasculturalist perspective.

And lastly, through the lens of Constructivist principles of things we analyze phenomena and see their kaleidoscopic nature. This means looking at how Form and Substance of Things take shape and how concepts develop in the process of globalization. This is a Platonic and Vygotskyian view of the development of knowledge and next, of understanding the birth, growth, decay, and death of social phenomena.


In conclusion, I have briefly discussed how young minds especially need to be cultivated with the way of seeing things through the three lenses, namely drawn from the perspectives of Complexity, Critical, and Constructivist theories or principles. The world has always been complex and its evolution produces events that require increasingly sophisticated tools of analysis, to render our understanding of phenomena scientific and intellectually satisfying — until we hunger and thirst for newer ways of seeing when our understanding of the world and our lived experience undergo yet another Kuhnian shift or when more questions are not answered and worldviews collide and eventually collapse.

When paradigms shift.

In a world wherein the only permanent thing is change.

Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman is an academician, educator, international columnist, and author of nine books He holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in international education development and Master's degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies, communication, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Columbia University chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here. His latest book, a memoir, is published by Penguin Books is available here.

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