Long she may reign over us

My name is Pravin and I am a recovering ” republican. I used  to believe that only democracy could  produce good  leaders. But this quality is not unique to elected leaders. According to Hegel, a good leader recognises their limit and capacity of people to be responsible. Indeed if the west is anything to go by, people are still denied their responsibility through economic factors. At same time, people in a dictatorship can recognise their power, as in Arab Spring. A good leader therefore is made by something other than his  course to power.

Vive La Revolution, Vive Hegel

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post about what Hegel might say about the  Arab Spring. In light of the events of the last 12 months all over the world, I have decided to revisit it.

At the time (February 2011), I commented that we Brits need some kind of mass violent protest and riot against the authorities and a wholesale change of system. Well, in August 2011, we sort of got our riot, in the only logical way that a riot in a capitalist liberal democracy (as opposed to a dictatorship) could take place. Then a month later, we got a protest for a wholesale change of the system, through the Occupy movement.  (And, of course as I predicted, I was hiding behind the sofa for the first and ‘doing my bit’ on Twitter for the second.) Protests and electoral upsets have been continuing throughout Europe, most recently with Francoise Hollande’s presidential victory in France, the rise of non-mainstream parties such as Syriza and Golden Dawn in Greece and the return of the indignados and Occupy movements in Spain and globally respectively, not too mention months of fighting in Syria and Bahrain. What is interesting is that the  authorities in each country were opposed to the protest movements and have sought to maintain the status quo and carry on with their policies, whether austerity in Europe or repression in the Middle East.

In Hegel’s 1827 essay, The Magistrates should be elected by the People, he wrote about the need for a popular uprising in his home state of Wurttemburg (Germany).  It was a time when there is a clear groundswell of opinion and feeling that the traditional political edifice of the day could no longer be sustained.  He says that “a vision of better, juster times has come to life in the souls of men [and women], and a longing and yearning for a purer and freer destiny has moved all hearts and alienated them from the present reality.” It does almost feels as if Hegel were writing in the present. The longer that change and the “satisfaction of hopes” is put off, the more intense will become the “urge to remedy a genuine need, and any delay will make that longing eat more deeply into men’s hearts, for it is not just a fortuitous attack of light heartedness which will soon pass away.”

But it’s not just that the current “political climate” is universally and profoundly seen as unsustainable. There is also a universal anxiety that it may “collapse and injure everyone in its fall”. In Europe, this could be the collapse of the euro or the default of Greece. It’s almost as if the fear is so overwhelming, so powerful, that “it will be left to chance to decide what shall be overthrown and what shall be preserved, what shall stand and what shall fail”. Hegel argues that whatever “cannot be sustained” should be abandoned and the “dispassionate eye” of justice is the only yardstick to examine what make something unsustainable.

He says that it is “blind…to believe that institutions, constitutions and laws which no longer accord with men’s customs, needs and opinions” can be justified and sustained. Any attempt to “restore confidence” in these elements in which people no longer trust or have faith is likely to lead to a “much more terrible outburst in which vengeance will ally itself to the need for reform and the ever deceived, ever oppressed mass will mete out punishment to dishonesty”. Of course, Hegel is writing towards the end of the French Revolution which saw a change in the French political system from an absolute monarchy to a republic. One can only wonder whether we are going through a similar period. One must wonder whether attempts to regain public trust of politician, of the financial services sector and of government’s economic management in Europe and gradual reforms in Middle East will be counterproductive and that what is required is a renunciation of power, manifested by a transfer of power from the centre to the masses. “To do nothing when the ground shakes beneath our feet but wait blindly and cheerfully for the collapse of the old building which is full of cracks and rotten to its foundations, and to let oneself be crushed by the falling timbers, is as contrary to prudence as it is to honour.”

Those who are driven by the fear that something must change – those saying it is the only option – will weakly “try to hold onto everything they possess”, like a “spendthrift who is obliged to cut his expenditure  but cannot dispose with any article he has hitherto required and has now been advised to do without”, like cars, foreign holidays and centralised power. On the contrary, they “should not be afraid to scrutinise every detail…the victim of injustice must demand the removal of whatever injustice they discover, and the unjust possessor must freely give up what he possess.”

Whether Europe or the Middle East, the protest is ultimately from the people who have no jobs, less money, less subjectivity against an elite trying to hold on to what they have and trying to increase economic growth. Perhaps this should be the strongest indication that perhaps there needs to be a paradigm shift away from the status quo and demand for economic growth. A Hegelian Hegel paradigm, there is an understanding that there is always a risk of breakdown in the relationship or dialectic between entities and it is that fear of breakdown that ensures the dialectic (or mutual conversation) continues.  It’s only when an entity tries to satisfy itself only and seeks to dominate the other, without mutual recognition, that breakdown occurs.

Poem: A Revolutionary Year

My New Year’s gift to you

The Revolutionary Year

Moroccan protest
Protests in Morocco as part of Arab Spring

 

This year, a revolution happened.

A revolution.

360 degrees.

Full circle.

We’re back where we started.

It only took a circumference to get here.

360 degrees in a revolution.

365 days in a year.

Every day, the clocks turned,

From midnight to midnight.

Every day, the wheels turned,

Getting us from A to B.

Every day, a little different from the last.

Every year, the world turned, spherical,

From Greenwich meridian to Greenwich meridian,

Around the sun, around the centre of the Milky Way.

Every year, a little different from the last.

The revolution started a long time ago,

And will keep going long after we’ve left.

This year, a revolution happened.

This year was a revolution.

Just like it always is.

Revolution is life.

(C) 2011 Pravin Jeya

Not A PhD Thesis Review of 2011 – Part 1

It’s that time of year when the media is full of reviews of the year, looking back at what made the news in 2011. It certainly cannot be disputed that 2011 was definitely a very interesting year. So, in the current zeitgeist, I have decided to offer my own review, the first part of which is a run down of my ten most popular blog posts.

The Arab Spring makes an appearance at number 10, with Revolting Arabs good for the environment, commenting on government ministerial suggestions that the protests in the Middle East could help to tackle climate change.

One of the things I have enjoyed about this year is procrastinating on YouTube. Bizarrely, at number 9, is a post on my favourite and most inspirational YouTube video, of a Coca Cola ad to the theme tune of “Whatever” by Oasis showing how for all the bad in the world, there is much to be hopeful for.

At number 8, ‘Just because it’s traditional, doesn’t mean you have to follow it‘, a post on irrationality of ritual, with specific reference to the Tamil coming of age ceremony for girls. In essence I argued that maybe some of the traditional ideas about women and sex in Asian culture was a factor in a large number of Asian men being arrested and prosecuted for grooming and abusing white girls.

At number 7 is a compilation post featuring a number of sites of interest to single people on Valentine’s Day.

I have been influenced quite a bit by conversations with people on Twitter and the post at number 6, From Tweet to Thesis, was, if you like, a crowdsourcing for feedback on a conference that brought together academia and Twitter. While the feedback was positive, I have gone down a different route by starting a blog for own personal research project into the origins of phd topics from a tweet in the imagination.

At number 5, my redefinition of ‘ecoterrorism’, based on a summary of my reading of German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk and in particular his essay ‘Airquakes’ on how an attack against the environment hurts us.

And so, what were my top four most popular blog posts?

One of the most popular keyword searches was ‘real life incest’, which perhaps gives an indication as to the sort of people who visit my blog. As a result, at number four, is ‘From adoption to incest‘, triggered by a chat show episode on real life incest, which made wonder about the legitimacy of adoption as a child protection measure.

At number 3, I was surprised to see a lot of people interested in Chinese Walls.  It was not about China but about the fear of a conflict of interests resulting from proposed NHS reforms.

At number 2, Bin Laden proved to be very popular this year, with a lot of people interested in my blog post on his death at the hands of US special forces. I question whether it was such a good idea to kill him instead of putting him on trial.

Which brings me to my most popular blog post? Maybe it was the ‘Royal Wedding’ effect but I found that a link to the Royal Family is always a good way to drive traffic to your site. At number 1, I wrote about the title of the Duchy of Cambridge and why this might not have been the best wedding present for the Queen to give to William and Kate.

The second part of my Review of 2011, focusing on what I saw as the most important moments of the year, will be posted tomorrow.

From paternalism to parental society

Two days ago, I wrote about how the Tea Party’s resistance might be a good thing for America. Not necessarily because of the policies they espouse (that’s not what this post is about). The Tea Party in the US and the anti-cuts coalition in the UK are in fact two sides of the same coin, that coin being the rising up of society through mass grassroots movements to remind government where they come from and what their purpose is.

As I wrote before, the state has traditionally been seen as paternalistic, with responsibility forlooking after a childlike society. This view still resonates today, with current political philosophies such as libertarian paternalism. A father is still a father, no matter how easy going he is. In the feminist critique, however, the alignment of the state with one particular gender has created opposition. Most obviously, this has been between the sexes, but,  where the feminine has come to represent the uncivilised or irrational, this also means between races, socioeconomic groups and between man and the environment. These ‘others’ of the white male have always been subject to oppression. It is this inherent gender polarity, says Jessica Benjamin in The Bonds of Love, that is the problem.

By eliminating gender polarity, the question becomes no longer who is the mother or who is the father but who is the parent. But we are not talking about an ungendered parent, but one who is bisexual or bi-gendered – that is, one who has attributes that have traditionally been identified as male and attributes traditionally identified as female. The important thing is that it is the parent who begets the child. So, if the state is the parent, say, who does the state beget. Does the state create society?

Benjamin argues from her psychoanalytic feminist perspective that the child identifies with the father in order to differentiate itself from the mother. Before this, from the child’s point of view, the father essentially doesn’t exist. In other words, the child created the father  then gave up power to him. This is the obvious flaw with the notion of a paternal state.

Yes, the environment (Mother Nature, say) can be said to have ‘given  birth to’ human beings in an evolutionary sense – according to how God designed the system, obviously – but it is the forming of societies that led to the creation of the state to govern societal relations. So, in reality, society is the parent of the state, with the responsibility to make sure that state behaves well (whatever that means).

The problem in many Western liberal democracies has been apathy in society. Voter turnout has often been quite low and this has allowed to the state to get away with proverbial murder, whether it be the Iraq war, the undermining of civil liberties, massive over spending and borrowing, large scale public sector cuts and lax regulation of the financial services industry, to name a few. But what the Tea Party movement, the anti-cuts coalition, the ‘Stop the War’ protests in 2003, the larger than usual turnout in the UK General Election followed by the forming of coalition , show is the importance of a powerful society, standing up for what it believes to be right and keeping government accountable. This is the parent’s job in relation to the child. When the parent can’t be bothered , children think they can do anything they want or they live in a fantasy world.

The state is the eternal child.

This doesn’t mean that the state doesn’t lack any power at all. As any child knows, parents can be out of touch with the times, so children do need to ‘educate’ parents as well. But obviously a child cannot respond to the parent in the same way that the parent responds to the child. But what’s important is that there is a dialogue or dialectical relationship between the parent and the child, the society and the state, where anti-thesis and thesis come together to form a synthesis, but even if they don’t, both understand the other better.

But even more important is that parents cannot be like children and children cannot be like parents. The Tea Party caucus can be the parent as part of society, but it cannot play that role if it is in government. There is a reason why the government is made up of ministers and secretaries, they have to take the more deferential or submissive role of a child. But this redefinition of the state/society relationship also means that we must abandon the idea of Montesquieu‘s three branches of government. Really, the legislature and the judiciary should rightly be seen as the highest levels of society, since their role is to keep the executive in check and acting in accordance with societal values.

Perhaps the parental society is the true Big Society – big, because it’s about not being a child anymore, it’s about growing up and taking its responsibilities seriously. It has nothing to do with a retrenchment of the state in terms of services provided. No, a small state is one that acts with the humility of a child towards the society that created it and gave it life.

Additional thought

Perhaps the current democracy movements in the Middle East are also an example of the dialectic between paternalism to parentalism. In which case NATO’s intervention in Libya must be like the reality tv show Supernanny, who comes in to help the despairing parent. So, it’s still questionable then.

Are we fighting ourselves?

So it turns out that Osama Bin Laden’s final video was to the people of the Middle East, encouraging them to rise up against their corrupt leaders and take control. It is not clear when this video was shot but he is reported to have said:

I think that the winds of change will blow over the entire Muslim world, with permission from Allah…So, what are you waiting for? Save yourselves and your children, because the opportunity is here.”

There is of course the important question as to whether Bin Laden went, was killed, at the right time, having served his purpose in God’s grand design. But, as most people will no doubt recognise, it seems that both Al quaeda and the West that they are fighting have a similar value – that of the self-determination of the Muslim people. The conflict would appear to  be over how that value is best implemented.

It just so happens that I am reading Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers”. By a complete coincidence – or is it – I have got to the bit where Appiah argues that this precise point:

The fact that both Palestians and Israelis – in particular, that both observant Muslims and observant Jews – have a special relation of Jerusalem, to the Temple Mount, has been a reliable source of trouble. The problem isn’t that they disagree about the importance of Jerusalem: the problem is exactly that they both care for it deeply and, in part, for the same reason. Mohammed, in the first years of Islam, urged his followers to turn toward Jerusalem in prayer because he had learned the story of Jerusalem from the Jews among whom he lived in Mecca. Nor…it is an accident that the West’s fiercest adversaries amoung other societies tend to come from among the most Westernised of the group…We all know now the foot soldiers of Al Quaeda who committed  the mass murders of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were not bedouins from the desert; nor unlettered fellahin.”

Appiah goes to describe the wider pattern of independence movements – how it was the Western-educated bourgeoise who built the independence movement in his own Ghana, how India’s independence was led by an Indian-born South African, British trained lawyer (Ghandi), an Indian who wore Savile Row suits and sent his daughter to an English boarding school (Nehru) and another ‘Indian’ who joined Lincoln’s Inn and became a barrister at the age of 19 (Jinna). Even Colonol Gaddafi’s own sons and President Al-Assad of Syria are Western-educated.

Appiah cites Caliban, the original inhabitant of the island commandeered by Prospero in Shakespeare’s Tempest:

You taught me language and my profit on’t

Is, I know how to curse.

Osama Bin Laden, therefore, is arguably in the mould of every other ‘freedom fighter’ in that he shares some common values (not all of them) with his enemy. Though he was raised a devout Wahhabi Muslim, he attended a top secular school, he studied economics and business administration and he possible gained a degree in civil engineering or public administration. He also had an interest in reading, in particular Field Marshal Montgomery and Charles De Gaulle, and football, in which his favourite position was centre forward and he supported Arsenal FC.

The irony is that the more we in the West is interested in spreading our values, whether it be democracy, freedom or McDonalds, the more likely that they will sow the seeds for more conflict against us. So perhaps we should see Al Quaeda has a compliment, rather than a threat, to our own way of life.

References

Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2006). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. Penguin Books, London. pp78-80