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Matter Loading #1: Ospek, COVID-19 Vaccine Race, And The Social Dilemma

Hello, welcome to the first edition of Matter-Loading, a weekly article I planned to publish every Wednesday. This should have been published on Wednesday as well, but things change and I like Among Us a little bit too much which delays the publication of this article.

The goal of this article is to help the readers to get matters for debates. In this article, I curate, review, and explain things that happened this week. My hope is by reading this article, the debaters can have a more efficient time matter-loading. I would be happy if someday this article would push you to unsubscribe to The Economist. But as of now, I just hope that people would find this article series helpful for their debate training.

The Ospek: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Ugly

This week, we are seeing a resurgence of the ospek discourse. This is almost like an annual tradition by now, a conversation about ospek would come out, the same arguments and counterarguments would be rehashed, nothing significant would change, and it will repeat another year. This year is slightly different because the ospek (now called PPKMB in most cases) is conducted online and even streamed. Many people outside the university can witness the bizarre effort to continue the ospek tradition but via zoom. Needless to say, it got viral.

The prime example of this is UNESA. The clip of their PPKMB where two seniors are yelling to their junior for not wearing a belt got viral and universally condemned by the public. After the incident, the university was in a full damage-control mode. They delete the video that shows the ospek in action, apologizes to the family of the ospek’s victim in the viral video, and provide counseling for both the seniors and the juniors involved. Still, the ospek was heavily criticized for sustaining a rotten culture of seniority and bullying. It even got the head of Komisi X DPR, Syaiful Huda, to speak up about the ospek, saying that the rectorate should punish the seniors involved.

I find punishing the seniors involved in the viral video to be throwing them under the bus. A lot of people are involved in this ospek, including the university that allows the event to happen. For the organizing committee of the ospek, they are merely continuing a tradition in ospek that has gone for years. Usually, the end of ospek shows Komdis apologizing or “breaking out of character”, showing that they are just performing a persona of the disciplinary committee that yells and berates you to train your mental fortitude or other bullshits. Most likely in their mind, they are not bullying because, in the end, they will be like “just a prank bro” to show that they are just playing a character.

The bad publicity that Unesa got might finally push the universities to reconsider this practice. If you remember, IPDN used to have what might be the worst bullying culture in Indonesia. The violence between students and between student and teachers are so rampant that several people died from it. After years of bad publicity, things do change in IPDN. The violence is still there, unfortunately, but instead of 35 people dying between 1993–2007, we have 4 between 2007–2017. Such is the result of a top-down approach that has not changed the culture on the ground. Things change but incrementally. It remains to be seen what kind of change would happen after this incident. Would the ospek change? Or would they continue what they did now that the ospek is free from the prying eyes of the internet?

The Good

As a part of its PKKMB, UI made a class about consent and sexual assault. Unfortunately, this very important knowledge that every new university student should know was mainly known to the public due to the protest from a lawmaker from PKS. The lawmaker accuses UI of teaching their students free sex which violates the constitution and law because education in Indonesia has to be based on religious value, cultural value, and morality. The basis of this lawmaker argument is the class states that consensual sex is a healthy and valid form of sex, which is an idea of consensual sex from the west and improper for Indonesia. Judging from his statements, which can be seen here, it seems like he wants the inclusion of religious value as a requirement for sex to be healthy and valid instead of just “consent”.

So far, the university responds to this controversy by making the video private. It remains to be seen if next year we will see something similar in this PKKMB. However, this class also got a slot of support from academics and lecturers within the university. Saraswati Putri, a philosophy lecturer who signed the written statement supporting the class stressed the need for sexual education since there is no legal framework supporting sexual abuse victims.

“Students must realize that they are fully in charge of their own bodies, so they need to learn that they have absolute authority over themselves,” she said.

There are feminist activists among UI lecturers, you can easily find Saraswati Dewi among the organizing committee of Women’s March Jakarta for example. They will not just sit idly if the university decided to discard any sexual education in PKKMB.

All things considered, the new batch of UI students got a valuable sexual education and I considered it to be at least one good thing in this ospek.

The Bad

Sadly, the same university who did what I thought was a very necessary and important sexual education was also involved in limiting the political participation of its new student. In a WA group, a senior asked the new students to sign a pact called Pakta Integritas (UI has since denied their involvement in obliging this Pakta Integritas but change it to another document that… basically has similar contents? Their statement can be seen here). The pact ranges from something mundane like accepting to be fired in case of a violation of university rules, commitment to represent the university seriously in competitions, to something weird like upholding university value in daily life or taking personal responsibility in case of mental or physical illness (this one is not only weird but also evil, looks like a blatant effort to neglect students’ health). The breakdown of the points can be seen here.

But the most controversial part comes in the points about politics. Point 10 said that UI students are prohibited from participating in a political activity that disturbs the academic and civic order. Point 11 said that the students are prohibited from participating in activity from an organization that is not acknowledged by the university.

At a glance, it seems like the university is aiming to limit the influence of Organisasi Mahasiswa Ekstra (Ormek). In campus politics, Ormeks are very influential. It is almost impossible to be elected as a president of BEM for example, without aligning or becoming a member of some influential Ormeks on your campus. In every BEM election, coalitions between Ormeks are made and broken. Ormek is arguably the main driver in the student’s demonstration as well, although there are cases where the students broke rank with the center organizations, notably in the last Reformasi Dikorupsi (the link also includes the story about how the conflicts between BEM alliances stops the momentum of Reformasi Dikprupsi, a very interesting read).

There are diverse kinds of Ormeks depending on the location of the campus. The most infamous would be KAMMI, the youth wing of Partai Keadilan Sejahtera. Most BEM presidents in BEM Seluruh Indonesia (BEM-SI) is led by a cader from KAMMI. Another big Ormek is HMI, which is not a youth wing of any party but has a lot of its alumni sitting at a top level in different political parties. There is also PMII, the youth wing of NU, and GMNI, the youth wing of PDIP. Campus politics is also a place where leftist politics is still very much alive, with FMN as the most prominent left-wing student organization in Indonesia.

For students, Ormeks are the organization to choose if you want to make a career in politics. The connection, resources, and experience you get there provide important networks if you are neither rich nor a part of a politician’s family. For universities, they can be a pain in the ass. It is not often that the narrative that the BEM brought in the demonstration conflicted with the campus interest. For example, if you are a university seeking to make closer cooperation with the government, you must get frustrated to see an almost comically harsh messaging to the government from KAMMI-backed BEM, ranging from “Lengserkan Jokowi”, “Turunkan Jokowi”, and so on. There might also be many who feel that Ormeks are outside agitators that create trouble in the university. At least some might note how these Ormeks create a climate of sectarianism within the university. Many others might note that the Ormeks are driving the students to be more critical of wrongdoings that the university can sweep under the rug in other cases.

Ormeks are problems for the university because while it holds a big influence on campus life, the university cannot control them. This tension can only escalate as students get more critical and combative to the government or/and the university.

COVID-19 Vaccine Race

Recently, the phase-3 trial for the vaccine from Oxford and AstraZeneca was paused after two participants reported an adverse reaction in the middle of the trial. Both participants developed an inflammation of their spinal cord that can cause paralysis. The first case was found in July, but the trial continues since the participant had sclerosis which could cause the same inflammation. The second case was found 2 weeks ago, but the participant has since recovered.

It remains to be seen if the trial would continue or not, an adverse effect can forcibly end a trial but there are possibilities that the Institutional Review Board, an independent body that reviews and monitors research involving human subjects, would allow the trial to continue if the risk is deemed acceptable.

This makes Russia and China firmly on the frontline of the COVID vaccine race. Not necessarily because their phase-3 trial is progressing ahead of the others, but because they start rolling out vaccines to a wider audience while their phase 3 trial has not finished. Russia had made a deal to supply 200 million doses to Latin America and India, as well as registering and delivering the vaccines to its citizens. Meanwhile, China is supplying vaccines to the UAE and tens of thousands of its citizens. This creates a diplomatic tool that they can use for months to come.

However, this also worries experts. The conclusion of phase-3 is not only showing the efficacy of a vaccine but also to see if there is any rare but severe side effect that is not detected in the previous clinical trial in phase-2, which has a fewer number of participants. A case in point is the AstraZeneca vaccine, where they knew a potential for spinal cord inflammation in phase-3 trials. Another worry is ADE (antibody-dependent enhancement) where instead of protecting, the antibody makes the second infection worse.

It seems unlikely that this trend would stop, however. Kirill Dmitriev, Head of Russian Direct Investment Fund puts it best: “The criticism was that you cannot register a vaccine before Phase 3. But after this, China registered a vaccine, the UAE registered a vaccine before completion of Phase 3, and both Britain and the U.S. said publicly they’re considering registering a vaccine before Phase 3. So this part of the criticism is gone.”

In Indonesia, at least we can see an intention to follow the lead of China, UAE, and Russia to implement an emergency use of the vaccine to wider recipients before the clinical trial ends this December. With how messy our responses so far, a vaccine would look like a glimmer of hope to our government and desperate citizens. However, we need to remember that a vaccine would not necessarily put an end to this pandemic immediately.

The Social Dilemma

Netflix just published a new documentary that seems to reignite the debate about social media. In this documentary, former tech executives, former tech engineers, academics, venture capitalists, and gather to talk about how social media and big data can create an existential threat to humanity. Despite the seemingly outlandish claim, the documentary backed this up with nuanced arguments on how social media can influence us and how the financial incentive of this social media company leads us to the worst of us.

With this documentary being a hit, it is almost certain that somewhere along the way a motion about this documentary would come along. Before such motion comes out, we have got several articles to get you ready. First of all, let’s start with the critics to The Social Dilemma itself, what does it go wrong? Casey Newton from The Verge explains where he thinks the documentary fell short of its claim. Richard Seymour who wrote a book about Twitter discourse provides a critique from the left as well which you can read here.

The end of the Social Dilemma talks about the needs of regulation for internet companies. How do the regulations look like? One of the most well-known policy proposals is of course breaking up Big Tech. Warren’s policy proposal in her presidential campaign can be a good place to start, you can see it here. New York Times Debatable column also has curated articles for and against breaking up the big tech which includes diverse opinions on this issue.

Another interesting proposal that came up was a tax on user data. The idea was creating a disincentive for tech companies to collect every personal data they can get. There is also an argument about how personal user data is valuable, which should make it as taxable as other sources of value. So far, the best case for this new tax I can found is this WorldBank blog by Davida Connon and Simeon Djankov.

For me, the most interesting idea is to treat Tech Giant as a public utility. As outlined by Dipayan Ghosh here in HBR, Big Tech might be a natural monopoly. The key to regulating them is not breaking them up but limiting what they can do as a private company since they are delivering a public utility. This means a harsher limitation to them as a company would be possible. Or you know, you can just ban the human futures market altogether.

This warps up the first edition of Matter Loading. If you notice, the news about Ruth Bader Ginsburg is missing in this edition. I plan to write about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the supreme court nomination in this edition but there is a lot to be explained and the latest discourse surrounding the empty Supreme Court has progressed a lot. Therefore, I think it is wiser to just put everything in the next edition.

Thank you for reading and see you next Wednesday.

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Charlie Sanjaya

Charlie Sanjaya

News junkie, competitive debater, just another dude trying to be sane in late stage capitalism. Bukan pakar, cuma kebetulan kecanduan baca.

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