By Andrew Wong     22nd  Jan. 2004

Malaysia – Rape, Reaction and Systems Thinking


Malaysia is outraged at the recent rape and murder of young girls.

There are many sincere reactions from various sectors : government, legislation, NGO, communities, etc. in either condemning such cruel and brutal act and / or seeking effective solutions.

The intent of this article is to explore and understand the fundamental structural forces that drive the social ills and more importantly the relationship with the action we take. Eventually we are interested to know the effectiveness and whether significant profound change can take place.

 To do so, we start by examining the pattern of events and the pattern of responses and the consequences of action taken.

We further explore the larger dimension so as not to get caught in stressful reaction to solve problem without a clue of the shape and form of the larger picture.

The Benefits

The main benefit of such an approach is avoidance of fire-fighting reaction to problems, whereby solution to perceived problem in isolation, often time, produces a) more serious problem in the long run, b) counter-productive, c) problem may initially seems solved but over time, a more serious un-intended side-effect develops, d) drain of resources, time and money and energy and yet not producing any tangible outcome.

From the System Theory perspective, if the underlying structural forces can be understood, we can better seek leverage with least energy and effort to produce the maximum and effective results.

Events and Response Pattern

On 17th January, 2004, a 10-year old girl was raged and murdered, reportedly by a security guard and other accomplices. The nation was already angry to read the news of the other 10-year old girl raped and stabled to death in Sabah on 8th January, 2004.

In both cases, the rapists and murderers are drug addicts.

This time our outrage is un-containable due to a) within a short time, 9 days, another major brutal crime, with recalling memory of similar assaults on young children in the past, b) earlier the culprit was the drug addicts, this time, a uniformed security guard, who most people will assume “safe” people. But this guard has eight previous convictions

This tragic incident triggers various responses from the society. As of today (21st Jan. 2004), attention is directed at a) the corporation that hires the security firm, b) the registration, control and issuance of license to commercial security firms, c) proposal of rapist registration system, d) re-look at the drug addicts rehabilitation system, e) proposal to include mental health as a subject in school,  …. As time passes, the list can increase if the sentiment and anger sustain.

These are legitimate and logical solutions.

Whether the proposed solutions are implemented fully or not, we would like to examine the effectiveness and the possible complexity involved in solving man-system dynamic.

Reactive Response from the Public

Public opinion or in this case, a concerted outcry, is a powerful societal force. The concerned authorities, government, organization or some individuals have to take some action appropriately in relation to the strong opinions.

It is the mass media, newspapers, TV ,radio or Internet that bring news to the public. Hence public react to news broadcasted or published. That becomes a problem. If there is no serious news, there is no public response. Hence if there is no more child molest, rape or murder case for some time, the public outcry will subside, and soon the voice disappears, until such time another similar or more serious crime is committed again.

At the same time, there will be other disturbing news. Remember, not long ago, it was the reckless bus drivers, killing the many in the bus on the highway. There were public outcry ago, especially seeing tragic accident scene of innocent students, house-wives. The response pattern was quite similar like today, there were task-force, new legislation, new solutions. Come another holiday peak seasons, or festivals, road accidents and deaths rate increase again.

When there is less or diminishing public attention over the passage of time, the authorities or parties concerned who are supposed to implement the solutions will generally tend to be lax. This human weakness will eventually lead to the same problem or more serious problems.

Event and public response at the material time is a pattern. But then such behavioral pattern is non-effective as far as making a profound change for the better is concerned. Hence we cannot really count on this supposedly powerful society force – the public opinions or response, until a critical point is reached that the masses forces the system to change completely.

Furthermore, public response is like shooting a moving target, which changes every now and then. Today this problem, tomorrow another problem. Attention and energy get dispersed and diluted.

This behavior is typical in organization setting. Public outcry is like management reaction to issues today safety accident, tomorrow productivity, then quality issue, then employee integrity issue.

Reactive Response from the Authority

Authorities or entities will usually with utmost good intention take corrective and preventive action, mostly in response to public opinion and / or major events. As we had discussed earlier, the proposed solutions are mostly logical and legitimate.

But the proposed solution can again present another problems. The solution-boundary will become a system by itself. But no system is totally isolated, nor can it be compartmentalized like in a scientific laboratory doing a controlled experiment.

For example :

It is not just the corporation security guards recruitment system or hiring of commercial security firms system, as the more thorough tracking system of criminals slipping into the uniforms is not in the hand of the corporation or commercial security companies. The tracking system may involve the prison system, the police system, and the registration system. Even with a reasonable tracking system in place, the corporation and the commercial securities firms having profit as the bottom-line focus, create a competitive atmosphere that can be detrimental to the tracking system, as there are always some clever and short-circuiting way to get the cheapest bodies.

We see that the many sub-systems are inter-related and interdependent with each other.

As we trace further the root problem of the drug addicts, something before these dangerous people slip into the security guard system, we re-look at the rehabilitation system. Again we cannot take this as another isolated system, as it is linked to many other systems and variables, like family system (whose children are drug addicts), the schooling system (whose students are drug addicts), the societal acceptance system ( accepting the rehabilitated drug addicts to make decent living for a new life), the recruiting or capturing of drug addicts into the rehabilitation center system. These difficulties are on top of the very internal problems of the rehabilitation system like inadequate facilities, budgets, qualified and trained personnel, effectiveness of the model of rehabilitation etc. etc.

Earlier, when incest cases and morality issues made headlines, the response was massive crackdown on illegal VCD, especially on X-rated movies. The underlying thinking was less exposure to yellow culture, less of sex offenses. This is again a direct cause and effect logic that cannot hold the water too long.

If we want to continue to trace further back, we could identify broadly the education as the key and critical variable to tackle - Education at home, and education at school. But that itself will open up another big can of worms.

Home education, when most parents are under pressure and stress and live hectic life, in pursuit of making decent and secure living, or others wanting to create unlimited wealth, there is little time for children, or lack of parenting and communication skills to effect closer relationship. And educational system in schools, well, the pursuit is higher academic excellence, difficult and academically poor students are expelled.

Where do these children and students turn to?

Again, in parallel with organization life, there are multiple systems and processes, but seldom cohesively linked and interact with each other to produce the overall intended outcome. For example, Safety Health Environmental system, Quality system, HR system, Production system, Financial system, Incentive system etc. each is defensively manned, guarded and protected by the compartmentalized position-holders in the hierarchy.

The multi-variable complexity of Societal Vision

If we take Malaysia as a single entity like an organization, there are many other systems or components that make up the entire living system. Besides the above cited examples of drug addicts rehabilitation system, criminal tracking system, commercial security registration and control system, corporation outsourcing system, education system, there are many others like political system, economic system, infra-structure system, foreign policy and trade system and so on and so forth.

The key question is :what are that fundamental structures that drive the many sub-systems we create, producing the pattern of outcomes that we experience? What are the key relationships among all these multi-variables giving rise to what overall pattern of behavior?

These fundamental questions are complex and difficult, yet important to address. Otherwise we fall into the trap of sub-optimizing the system, isolating a system from the entirety with solutions that produce other un-intended negative consequences. We will be forever in the fire-fighting mode, putting off one fire, then move on to another fire to tackle.

In recent time in the newspaper we read the various issues in Malaysia. brutal crimes on young and innocent, drug addicts, road accidents, corruptions, not many years ago the economic crisis and its repercussions until today,

We need to explore with searching questions, for examples:

What is the relationship with the road accidents and the rape-cum-murder of young children? What is the common thread between corruptions and the two tragic events we just mentioned? What are the common links between corruption, drug addicts and education system? What are the interactions among social ills, economic crisis, political problems, terrorists, and many other symptoms or issues?

What factors contribute to a particular symptom, is also contributing to another problem? In what way the different sets of factors interact to produce another unforeseen problems.

Web of Relationships

With the above exploratory questions, we need to understand the web of relationships arising from the entire living system that give rise to the symptomic issues and problems we faced.

In a complex system involving human being, a problem is not localized, nor can it be isolated for treatment. Try to take padanol to treat the headache daily when the root of the problem is a tumour in the brain, symptomic relief is achieved at the expense of possible death without discovery of the cancer.

We have a pictorial representation of the web of relationship of the many issues we discussed in this paper.

When we explore and trace every of these symptoms or problems faced by the society like what we did briefly in the above case, we will find a set common cores embedded in the system and in us, the humankind.

We need to have the ability to deal with multiple and complex variables and see the pattern of relationships among them in order to under the underlying structures that drive behavior and producing the many outcome we experience.

By doing so, we don’t need to feel guilty of our reactive responses from one issue to another issue like what we described in the “Reactive Response from the Public”, nor do we engage in futile effort tackle issues and sub-systems in a non-cohesive and fragmented manner.

We will be able to see the whole forest, seeking better leverage, with good consciousness of possible consequences to our action.

Learning Society & Community of System Thinkers

The above described inquisitive approach to understand the living system as an integral whole is not our habit of thinking. Ever since we were young we have been taught to break things into pieces to analyze and solve the problem. We are trained to fragment things and become skillful fire-fighters. While we are busy chopping trees and branches with good intention, we forget how to view the forest as a whole.

We need to develop new skills in systems thinking, not just logic, cause-and-effect and box-thinking.

When we build a community of systems thinkers, we begin to realize a learning society, daily increasing our capacity to create the results we truly desire – not wanting to see another innocent child raped and murdered, not experiencing corruption but integrity, no road accidents, no economic crisis, not terrorists but humanists  …….


QuaSyLaTic, Andrew,

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