Edmund Kong is currently studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at the London School of Economics. Edmund completed his A-Levels at Sunway University and is graduating in 2023. This personal statement was part of his successful application to and LSE, King’s College London and University of Warwick for PPE.
Stepping into my father’s BMW, I watched as my rural Malay friends got on their motorcycles, heading back to their villages. National Service had ended, and now we were heading for two different worlds. For me, tertiary education overseas. For them, education had ended. This was it.
Startled by the chasms of inequality that locked us into two different worlds, I resonated with the idealism of Marxism in my online Politics course, decrying inequality in all its forms as morally reprehensible. But rethinking that ethical judgement after reading Piketty’s “Capital”, I wondered, “What was morally wrong about inequality, when absolute poverty was not involved?”. Those lagging behind in OECD countries were not starving, they were just not as rich as others. But studying Malaysia lead me to conclude that inequality, mattered.
Malaysia’s strong and centralized state spared her the ugly fates of other nations in “Why Nations Fail”, and we developed rapidly instead. But growth still came from extractive institutions. The ruling elite’s economic clout swelled in this period, allowing it to dispense patronage, buy out media outlets and engage in corruption, monopolizing power. Watching a party official buy votes from hundreds in rural areas during my time in the Service, I concluded that while extractive institutions breed inequality, inequality sustained extractive institutions, locking us in a vicious cycle.
Statistical analysis from A level Math helped my study of economic data, revealing rising interracial inequality, isolating races along class lines and entrenching communalism in Malaysia. Unlike the nations that fell apart from racial conflict, communalism was mediated by the ruling party, which resembled Lijphart’s consociational model. But the party saw an opportunity to cement its grip on power. Instead of minimising conflict, it stoked racial economic insecurities, creating a state of perpetual, but managed conflict, so that its role as the Grand Mediator was indispensable. Fearing chaos, everyone kept the mediator who sow the seeds of discord around indefinitely. Inequality exacerbated communalism, forcing us to adopt consociationalism, a formula monopolized by a single corrupt party that made sure there were no alternatives to it.
Studying the Rohingya Genocide through an International Relations Conference showed me how high the risks for miscalculation were with the party’s tactics. But stories of pregnant children also reminded me of Ivan Karamazov’s passionate indictment, leading me to doubt if God existed. I was still unsure after reading T.J.Mawson’s “Belief in God”, given the plethora of arguments from evil. Ruminating on the Problem of Evil after reading Mark S.M. Scott’s “Pathways in Theodicy”, I realized that there was also an important question of our response to evil. The prevalence of evil required Philosophy, Politics and Economics to join forces to identify evil, the structures engendering it and to call out moral actors responsible. To respond to evil, I needed all three.
To understand these responses, I joined and won regional Debating and Public Policy competitions adjudicated by the World Bank and EY, sharpening my reasoning skills. After regime change, I lead a national student lobby that secured increased financial aid for education despite an austere climate. Articulating our arguments on mainstream and “New Media”, securing bipartisan support in Parliament, drafting papers that equipped a Minister to convince the Prime Minister, winning his support; these experiences helped me to forge stellar writing and verbal skills, but more importantly, strengthened my resolve to study our political and economic structures with their underlying ethical frameworks.
A spectre of oppression now hovers over Southeast Asia. But studying PPE will allow me to defend Malaysia, a beachhead for our region’s fight, for the freedom that never came.
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