For the last few weeks I’ve been watching by curiously at the moral outrage expressed by Western society over Indonesia’s new laws – including regulations about consensual intimacy between adults, blasphemy laws, impacts to local LGBTQ+ communities, and others.
So many of you messaged me directly about these laws. What do I think? Where do I stand? As an advocate for open relating and intimacy who is presently in Bali, how can I accept this? Am I moving immediately?
Our tendency towards immediate outrage is like a flash in the pan. Incredible energy is released quickly, and it dissipates just as fast. Such energy is not helpful for long-term transformation or movements that will actually spark the results you’re after. Nor is this type of reaction well informed. It is hysteria, driven by media, and you are behaving exactly as they expect you to when you flash-in-the-pan freak out and then fall silent three days later.
We’ve watched a LOT of political shifting and manhandling occur over the last few years. Much of which has been in our own (Western) countries. We’ve experienced incredible outrage, posturing, and censorship. We’ve learned that the media always has an agenda – and yet, here we are falling into the same trap that we’ve been slammed with many times in the past. When will we learn?
I’ve been silent on this topic because I know enough to know that I quite simply do not know enough.
I do not know the customs of the Indonesian culture. I do not know the values of their political system. And while I can say at first look that this law does not align with my preferred morals and values; who am I to say that just because I don’t like something, it is inherently wrong?
Here is what I DO know:
Much of mass media these days is designed to distract and lead us.
The Western media exploded with outrage almost immediately; all using the exact same quotes from the exact same people, and the exact same background story to back it up. To me, this seems suspicious. For what is surely a multi-dimensional bill with many different layers, background information, historical perspectives, and voices to be discussed – why would nearly all media focus on the exact same point? Any time the mass media is all moving in the same direction, at the same time, across countries – you have to wonder why. Why now? Why this country? What else is happening that they are trying to distract us from? What is this shiny and alluring bauble of human rights activism trying to pull our attention from? What else happened in the world, while we were distracted by our outrage? What did we miss?
Find the Why.
Any time a law is enacted, I like to look for the underlying “why”. Always we are given a media appropriate why – in this case a move away from the Dutch colonial law and a move into their own, independently chosen values (which on it’s own would normally be celebrated in Western society, I might add). That’s a great why from a publicity perspective. But what is the REAL why?
It might be easy to jump to the dark side here: limiting women’s rights, controlling women’s bodies, removal of reproductive rights, further controlling of the expat and foreign community, you name it. And hey, some of this may be accurate, there’s no way to know. AND it’s the easy answer. It’s the answer that follows our own biases around women’s rights and Indonesian culture. And for most of us, it’s uninformed – we do not live in Indonesia proper (Bali is a whole different world), we do not have Indonesian friends, and we’re not aware of the daily struggles, customs, etc of the Indonesian lifestyle and culture. We’re trying to apply our way of thinking into an environment where that style of thinking applies about as well as shoving a sphere through a square hole. The frame we put around the facts is inherently bias-driven. Until we’re willing to open our perspective to consider additional data points from cultures that are different than ours, we will always have a limited an uninformed view.
Bali dating culture isn’t so healthy.
Today I came across what I can call the dark side of Bali dating culture. In fact, it was this very experience that told me today was the day to share my thoughts on this topic.
I came across a beautiful young Indonesian woman shaking from head to toe. She had a small suitcase with her, having clearly been crying for hours. Her entire body contained bruises, including a deep scratch on her head and the beginnings of a black eye. It didn’t take long to discern what had occurred. “We’ve been dating for months” she sobbed as she waited for a taxi. I didn’t mention that her supposed boyfriend – an expat – had been seen with many different local women over the past few weeks.
And here is the challenge we can see with dating in Bali. There is a culture here, not much talked about, of men desiring to date local women. In the best of cases, which is what I’m usually seeing, this is chivalrous in nature. Perhaps a little “white knight” for my taste, but good intentions nonetheless. And yet – we live in a world of duality. Where there is chivalry there is arrogance. With the white knight there must also be the dark knight. And the expat-local relationship introduces a level of power dynamic that is perilously easy to turn dark.
Is it perhaps possible that one of the purposes of this law is to minimize these types of interactions? Is it perhaps possible that the enactment of this law and it’s application to foreigners is meant to protect the young women of this country, instead of repress them?
When we look at laws from other countries we must be willing to adopt a new view of reality. We simply cannot apply our own morals and values to a country we’ve possibly never even been to, and expect them to stand up. This is colonial thinking at it’s worst! The very thing Indonesia is trying to evolve away from with these laws.
Do not misunderstand me – I am not saying that this law is all roses. I am not saying I support it. Nor am I saying I am against it.
I am saying that as a foreigner with my own biases and moral judgements based on my own upbringing in a Western society – it’s impossible for me to determine what is best for another country’s people – especially when that culture is so very different from my own.
I recognize there are forces at play much larger than what I have access to. I recognize there are a variety of perspectives. I recognize that my view is not necessarily the “right” view just because it’s MINE.
And this is the bigger challenge that Westerners need to take a good, hard look at. Our misplaced outrage; our cancel culture – quite frankly, it’s bullshit. It’s not doing us locally any good, and it certainly isn’t going to do any good when we project it onto the world around us.
Want to be an advocate for change? Great. Come here. Get informed. Talk to people. Feel the culture. Support local advocacy groups who live with the nuances of Indonesian life. Understand what the real issues are, so that you can support the community properly. Not from the convenience of flash-in-the-pan armchair outrage, but from real heartfelt desire to support the community in the way that they actually WANT and NEED to be supported; not in the way that YOU, as a Western colonialist, think is right.
Sincerely always yours,
This article is written to bring awareness to our Western tendency to project our views on the world around us without taking the time or effort required to understand the situation in a greater light. As such the focus was on the main topic of concern expressed by Westerners – the criminalization of non-marital relating. Yet there is much more to consider! If you have read this far I encourage you to continue your research into this Bill, and if so moved, to support the local advocacy groups that feel aligned to you.
Here are some additional and important areas of this bill that haven’t received as much publicity as they warrant:
- Introducing a “snitching” culture; especially within families (how very 1984)
- Disproportionately affecting LGBTQ+ communities (especially when family members do not approve of the lifestyle)
- Anti-blasphemy laws that essentially make protesting and free-speech illegal
- Backwards movement in the discussions around sexual education, conception, sexual assault, and freedom of religion and belief