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The nature vs nurture debate

Ch’ng Chin Yeow explores if our affiliation with a particular political ideology or policies is a reflection of our personal nature or the way we were nurtured

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Our view on political ideologies determines our view on many policies such as those related to immigration, religion, multiculturalism, social security and universal healthcare.

Jojo Rabbit, a satirical comedy shown on Fox Movies recently, touches on this issue and provides the basis for a light-hearted discussion. It is an excellent movie based on Hitler’s Nazi regime, with top-class acting and dialogue, winning many accolades and awards.

A 10-year-old ardent child soldier in the Junior Hitler Youth, Jojo has been indoctrinated to hate the Jews. Despite his mother Rosie being in the Free Germany from Hitler political movement, he never wavers from his loyalty to Hitler and his anti-Jew attitude. In the movie, Jojo has an imaginary friend, a best friend, in the image of Hitler in his conscience, called Adolf. 

One day, Jojo finds out that his mother is sheltering a teenage Jewish girl, Elsa, in the attic. (Many other Germans also risk their lives sheltering Jewish people in their attics in Hitler’s Germany.) This is a treasonous crime in Nazi Germany punishable by death.

Jojo, fearing for his life and his mother’s too if the Nazi authorities find out, decides to go on espionage for the Nazis through his access to Elsa. He starts regular interactions and interviews with Elsa to find out more about how ‘evil’ the Jewish people are, as he had been indoctrinated with such prejudice.

Jojo is subtly portrayed, with great screenplay, as naturally kind-hearted despite his great hatred for the Jews. This was portrayed in a couple of instances.

He is picked, precisely because of his outwardly gentle character, to break the neck of a rabbit at a camp – which he, of course, he cannot bring himself do.

Jojo is also portrayed as having written fictitious childish letters to Elsa, supposedly from Nathan, Elsa’s boyfriend. Elsa actually tells Jojo outright, to his annoyance, that he is not a Nazi but merely interested in the Nazi uniform. 

Jojo’s friendship with Elsa grows because of these interactions. As he discovers that Elsa is not evil as he been indoctrinated to believe through Nazi propaganda, he starts having conflicts with Adolf, his imaginary friend in his conscience.

Jojo’s mother is hanged to death in the square when she is found out to be anti-Nazi, and life becomes difficult for Jojo. He blames Elsa for his misfortune, but she is able to console him on his loss.

Jojo finally kicks Adolf out of his life when he realises that the Nazi propaganda is false and detrimental to his own life. His own mum has been killed by the Nazis and he realises the brainwashing that Jews are evil is untrue.

The movies answers the question of whether one’s attitude towards political affiliation is determined by nature or nurturing by suggesting it is actually a combination of both. Nature normally determines how a person views issues as a first impression. Nurturing works on us when we are exposed to reinforcing or discouraging factors. 

The movie shows propaganda to be effective in brainwashing the masses, especially with no countervailing view. But Jojo’s mother could see through the evil and danger posed by Hitler’s Nazi regime. So, nature and nurture were both at play at the same time.


Politicians around the world use negative propaganda in its many forms for their own ends. In Malaysia, we see politicians using propaganda for their for their own benefit by dividing our multicultural society and blaming other races to appeal to their own base. Their propaganda, repeated often enough, can nurture their supporters into believing these fake narratives as ‘facts’. 

For example, the DAP has been painted as an anti-Malay, anti-Muslim party even though it has many Malay representatives (though having more of them would be even better). Zaid Ibrahim, the former de facto law minister who is in the DAP, has openly invited Malays to inundate his party with Malay members if they fear the DAP. 

The best way to counter negative propaganda is by using counter arguments based on fact. It can nurture a correct positive outlook.


Many Malaysians, including political and other activists, are by nature, sympathetic to the plight of all our different communities. There are Malay Malaysians who call out the Malays and there are Chinese Malaysians who call out the Chinese when people of the same ethnicity are unfair or unkind to those of other ethnic backgrounds. These are the true colour blind Malaysians.

In our multicultural society, mutual support for one another is powerful. Otherwise, if the Indian Malaysian community were to cry foul because they have been victimised, others may label them as sore losers. This is not the case when others are standing up in solidarity with them to fight such injustice together. In solidarity, their voices are amplified.

The Orang Asli and the Orang Asal, including the Penan, without the support of the other races, are too small a group to fight for their own grievances. Unity in diversity is strength; let no one, especially the politicians, divide us for their selfish agendas.

Glitz and glamour

Jojo’s love of the Nazi’s uniform is equivalent to people craving for the glitz and glamour of being part of the winning team. This partly explains why there are many ‘frogs’ (defectors) in Malaysian politics. Consider too the potential financial benefits to be gained as well as the contracts, perks and benefits, never mind that the public despises their shameful behaviour.

So the active participation of all stakeholders in fighting for transparency, with counter-views and freedom of the press, is utterly important. Counter-views flowing back and forth stimulate ideas and thoughts and educate the people. 

Nurture or nature, the only solution is for all stakeholders to demand transparency.

Ch’ng Chin Yeow has an interest in many issues and subjects, including history, mineralogy and human behaviour. Based in Penang, he truly likes to be a busybody

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