Related: Democratic backfire
The West — America in particular — should abandon the democracy push and start popularizing the ideals on which democracies are built. At the moment nobody talks about these because not even some western intellectuals are ready to embrace them when named directly — Capitalism, and more broadly, Individualism.
If the West cannot convince itself that Individualism is the correct moral choice, then it certainly won’t have any luck doing so with non-western countries. The West continues to talk about “liberal democracy” which is just the method and not the ideology (see: Democratic backfire).
The West is losing the battle because nobody is defending its core values. On the other side, rationalizations for collectivism (e.g. socialism, communism) are common and its defenders are many. It’s no surprise that given a vague choice and a specific choice, non-western societies tend to go with the specific one.
Dismantle “cultural relativism”
The West needs to answer axiomatically, why individualism is proper and why collectivism is improper. In other words, why it is fundamentally wrong to subjugate an individual to any will other than his own. Answer this and you establish the UNVERSALITY OF INDIVIDUALISM — something that countries like China dispute, claiming “cultural relativism”.
The claim is that individualism is a product of western culture and that the “ways” of other cultures can be different. This is the argument that needs to be broken. Murder is a “way” that is wrong everywhere — no sensible society will say “in our culture murder is alright — everything is relative.” The same should be shown to apply to individual freedom.
Educate, and let the wheels turn
Educate non-western peoples about individualism and they’ll automatically choose capitalism as their ideology and automatically demand democracy as their methodology — all on their own. That’s much better than having to shove it down their throats by threatening their governments with embargos or enticing them with aid. Talk directly to the people, not to the politicians.
Democracy becomes mob rule when it is not rooted in an underlying moral political philosophy (which is usually set out in a country’s constitution). In other words, without a constitution committed to individualism, democracy is worse than nothing.
Democracy backfires in societies that don’t uphold individualism. The most recent example was in Palestine — the West wanted more democracy in Palestine. The Palestinians turned around and elected Hamas. When you look at the oxymoron of a democratically elected dictatorship, you have to ask whether democracy is indeed what we think it is. What is democracy in a country where the majority votes away the rights of the minority?
Democracy is not a political ideology — it is just a political modus operandi. To the question “How should we decided this?” democracy answers “By majority vote”. To the question “What is right and what is wrong?” democracy has no answer.
A democracy must be built on top of an existing political ideology, often reflected in the country’s constitution. The US constitution for example, outlines basic rights that are not open to vote. Basic rights are not open to vote because they cannot be decided. They already exist and they must be discovered. The political ideology on which most western democracies are based is capitalism, which is basically another word for economic individualism.
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.