A political party whose platform consists of economics is far better than a party whose platform consists of “values”. In other words, of the two types of major parties found in most countries, the “money-party” is generally a safer bet than the “ideals” party. On the surface, the voter may feel that he should decide on the basis of who shows more concern for the things he value (be it national sovereignty, culture, religion, honesty etc.), rather than the one that promises more practical things. But the converse is true. Of all people, we should not look to politicians for values. For the Machiavellian mind, values are no more than devices. And as devices go, values can be far more potent than greed. The greatest atrocities in history have not been committed on the basis of practical necessities, but on the basis of values: on the basis of warped conceptions of what is right and wrong. The Holocaust, both World Wars, the Crusades, the Jihad, the Cold War–none of these were fought/carried out of material greed (though people like Adolph Hitler do occasionally appeal to economic reasons to catapult to power). I prefer the greedy politician over the ideological/charismatic one any day: material greed is a predictable element. Hunger for power is not. At humanity’s present stage of development, we cannot expect any more of a government other than operations and administration. Certainly not moral leadership. The only reason the Judiciary (which deals with right-and-wrong) is a part of government is that it MUST. Privatized dispute arbitration is still in the far future.
The guardian-angel complex, as I call it, is a more pronounced version of the holier-than-thou complex. Many activists suffer from it — animal rights activists, anti-abortionists, environmentalists and recently in Sri Lanka, some of the self-proclaimed defenders of Sinhalese-Buddhism.
You can easily make the distinction between a legitimate activist and those suffering from the guardian-angel complex. The “guardian angel” is often more concerned with fighting the enemies than protecting the charge.
Animal rights activists are a good example. Whenever groups like ALF attack laboratories and “liberate” test animals, what is conspicuously absent from their well laid plans is the welfare of their liberated animals. They often break in, set fire to property, break open cages, spray paint walls and leave the animals to perish in an unfamiliar environment. Hardly the act of a guardian angel. Most “guardian angels” are so obsessed with playing a defender of something, that it’s often of little consequence what they’re a defender of.
This is also true of certain types of defenders of religion — following scripture is of little importance to them. What is more important is the exposure of “threats” and “conspiracies” against their religion and reprimanding those (other than themselves) who fail to follow their particular interpretation of scripture. When such types rear their heads in society, it is the job of legitimate activists to caution the public against them.
Individualism is not to be confused with selfishness or the general usage of the word “egotism”.
a) The difference between individualism and SELFISHNESS is that individualism recognizes that other people are individuals too, just like oneself. Selfishness on the other hand is not such a consciously held conviction. In fact, selfishness is the absence of any conviction with regard to how you relate to other people. *
b) The difference between individualism and ALTRUISM is that altruism considers that OTHERS are individuals, but somehow, strangely, oneself is not. To paraphrase, “If I’m here to help others, what on Earth are others here for?”
c) The difference between individualism and COLLECTIVISM is that individualism holds that every individual is just as important as every other individual, whereas collectivism holds that the group is more important than any individual who makes up that group. Or more generally, where M > N, the wishes of M individuals are more important than the wishes of N individuals.
* i.e. individualism is a philosophical position; selfishness is just a bad habit.
Kemalism (Re: The Kemalist Option, my first real post) is a recurring theme on this blog: that a country cannot effectively modernize without westernizing. Not westernizing in terms of dress, speech and other customs, but westernizing in terms of ideals and thinking. Western development is not just a result of technology or exploitation of the east (the favorite excuse of third world nationalists) — it is a result of the ideals on which western societies are built on.
I don’t regard “westernization” as taboo. I’ve no misgivings whatsoever about throwing out what we call our “heritage” when we are faced with the option of adopting something better. We should discard the “What is ours is what is best” attitude and adopt a “What is best before what is ours” attitude.
I am an advocate of radical social and political reforms for Sri Lanka. This blog will shock most Sri Lankans. Expect nothing less. I will make no apologies for the things I say here. I may play devil’s advocate and defend ideas that I don’t personally endorse, but I will not mention which are which.
Reformation vs. Metamorphosis
The social/economic/political problems this country is facing cannot be solved by any single administration because solving them will take longer than the maximum term any administration can serve. It cannot be done in six or even twelve years. At minimum, it will take one generation — approximately 25 years.
Political and economic reforms by themselves will not solve the problem. The core of our problem is social. The political and economic systems that we’ve allowed ourselves to get trapped into are a symptom of this core problem, not its cause. Ours is a problem of ideology — the way we think. Until that is changed in a drastic and radical way, we cannot hope to sustain any sort of political or economic reform even if we manage to actually implement them. What we need is not reformation, but a complete, gradual metamorphosis.
Reformation: Personal and Systemic
A society is reformed through two converging movements of reformation: one, personal reformation and two, systemic reformation. Neither can achieve any lasting success without the other. A brilliant social/economic/political system will fail in the hands of scoundrels. Even the most virtuous person will be eventually broken by an improper system.
There are different degrees or levels in each type of reformation. For example, it’s easier for you to change the way you brush your teeth each morning than to change your deepest beliefs about good and evil. Similarly, it’s easier to change the way a license application form is processed at a government office than to change the constitution or develop a new one based on new moral principles. Between these two extremes (under both types of reformation) we get a whole spectrum of reforms of varying degrees of difficulty.
I believe that we should start at the lower levels of each of the two ‘avenues’ of reformation. That is the realistic and practical thing to do. Dramatic changes will be quickly reversed if either the people or the ‘system’ is not ready for them. Lasting changes depend on firm foundations, not on coups or revolutions. When revolutions DO work, it’s because they’re the culmination of years of foundation-laying.
The biggest challenge in making reforms is to not choose the wrong ones. No reform at all is better than a bad reform.
Comments: Please send comments, thoughts and ideas to greenhornet.lk AT gmail.com. I may choose to either ignore them, answer them, post them on the blog in part or in whole, expand on them or refute them, depending on how relevant I think they are to my objectives.