Of Popular, Populist, and the Oil's Price Declination

December 18, 2008

Qusthan Abqary

There was one dialogue between ex-military general who become president with professor of economics from reputable university at their home country. Those two important men got debate on whether the government should or should not boost the oil’s price in their country according to its price which has been increased in the global market.

The professor asked, “Mr. President, are you populist?” And then Mr. President arbitrarily answered, “Of course, I am popular!”

What the professor means is about the individual inclination of the president. By asking this question, the professor hopes that Mr. President would like to show his strong commitment to the poor and unlucky citizens, and then not to boost the oil price in their home country.

Unfortunately, the president has slipped his mind and tongue by thinking in the structure and vocabulary of his native language, but then answering the question in English. It makes the discussion disconnected and then Mr. President boosts the oil’s price in his oily country.

Does everyone also have to think in the English’s linguistic way of thinking while speaking or writing English than using his or her native linguistic way of thinking? This is one problem.

However, it will be very rude for everyone, especially who arbitrarily born and grow up with one mother language which relatively less complex than English, to speaking or writing English in its linguistic way of thinking.

It morally does not acceptable to force someone for thinking in the English’s linguistic way of thinking while speaking or writing English than using his or her native’s linguistic way of thinking. Compulsion of how someone has to think is not much different with how fascism, communism, and other authoritarian regimes rule their citizens’ mind and its way of thinking.

The dialogue shows that both professor and Mr. President’s native language less strict when defining the difference between populist with popular. In Bahasa Indonesia as such, populist refers to merakyat and popular refers to terkenal. Those two words have different but related meaning in Bahasa Indonesia.

When someone really does populist, he must be popular too. But not on the contrary. When someone gets popular, he does not always populist too. Populist person tends to live in a humble way but popular person does not always live in such way. Popular person tends to make some controversial things to keep his or her popularity on the top but populist person does not want to make some controversies.

Mr. President seems not to realize those two different meanings. He presumably slipped his mind and tongue caused by resemble pronunciation of those two different words and probably should give immediate reaction when he asked by the professor.

The vagueness also means that there is one difference between understandings with translating. According to Wes Sharrock and Rupert Read, “we have to assume that the words of the other speaker are used with the same meaning that our words have, that they do translate into our own meanings” (emphasize originally did by the author, Kuhn: Philosopher of Scientific Revolution, Polity press, 2002, pp. 146).

But there is another question which appears here: What are the measures for assuming “that the words of the other speaker are used with the same meaning that our words have, that they do translate into our own meanings”?

Does dictionary, for instance, really adequate to be one measure? Does someone, who knows both languages, sufficient enough to be another measure? We obviously do agree that dictionary made by someone who knows both languages, but not on the contrary. It implies that the process of translating still depends and related to each person’s assumption of the words. It also means that someone who is not native speaker of English still can thinking in his or her native’s linguistic way of thinking because translating assumes the same meaning of using different words either in English and the alien language.

In the populist-popular case, Mr. President thinks that those two words, in his native language, have the same meaning, and then arbitrarily assumes that it almost the same with the real meaning in English. If one president can does such fatal linguistic mistake, how with his less literate and less educated people?

What ever it takes, at least, the less literate and less educated people do not ever boost the oil’s price only to get balance on the state budget and then turn it down caused by the narrow-minded interest of politics which are (1) increasing his popularity, (2) making himself seem populist, (3) collecting people’s sympathies and then (4) winning the next national election.

Tentang Penulis

Qusthan Abqary - I am a lecturer and teach some subjects such as Ethics and Social Awareness, Corporate Governance and Ethics, Business Ethics, Critical and Creative Thinking and others. My research interests are political philosophy, ethics, peace, and war.

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