11 February, 2016

how do societies regress so quickly? liberal>conservative>religious>theocratic>tyranny>failed

this is the former egyptian president gammal abdel nasser (one of the five, alongwith jawaharlal nehru, sukarno,  kwame nkrumah, and josip broz tito, who founded the non-aligned movement) speaking sometime in 1958, where he recounts an incident when the muslim brotherhood leader came to him asking him to make the hijab mandatory. the audience laughs as someone shouts, "let him wear it!"

in 2012, the muslim brotherhood came to power via its candidate mohammed morsi, who was ousted in a coup by the current president general sisi, who has been slowly turning benign towards the brotherhood recently, while ISIS is at its door. similarly, in turkey, the current president recep tayyip erdogan is a head-scarf enthusiast, as he is of more religion in public life (we should remember that the founder of modern turkey, mustafa kemal ataturk, was vehemently opposed to the idea...and perhaps that is why turkey is (or at least was, till recent times) one of the most vibrant, most liberal, most economically advanced, and most progressive muslim-majority states. similarly, the stories of afghanistan, pakistan, nigeria, and many more societies can be taken up as examples of how, from mostly liberal, mostly educated, mostly economically well-off, mostly forward-thinking nations can reach such depths of regressive, narrow, obscurantist thinking, policies, and public life so quickly

how did we come this far? well, the answers are quite simple, but it is tragic that we have slipped so quickly so much…indian rightists, hindus, muslims, christians, sikhs, jains, buddhists (including the “neo” variety), communists (yes, they are not strictly “rightists”, but are as dogmatic)…please take note…this is what happens when the people allow folks like you to dictate terms

as for why this has happened, here’s the simple answer (i am not the first person to say this. this has been well-studied and documented by many people far smarter and well-informed than i):

  • good and bad economic times happen, typically cyclically, in the world

  • the cycles sometimes last really long in a particular region, and are further exacerbated by good/bad leadership or simply good/bad luck

  • where bad cycles prolong, people start getting desperate and the desire to pin blame (and find a quick solution) is very strong

  • usually, in times of adversity, an appeal to the past (usually some good times in history..with “good” being relative, and usually in very niche areas, mostly concerning happiness through frugality) is very tempting. let me put it this way: in boom times, companies that focus on the topline (increasing sales and revenues) grow and the stakeholders (employees, investors, customers, etc.) are “happier”, while during a recession, the companies that focus on the bottomline (reduction of costs) are where the “happiness quotient” seems to be higher. it is the same with society. during a down cycle, frugality, giving up of desire, focusing inwards, spirituality, doing with less, keeping things simple, etc. are very appealing

  • such appeals come from people who have steadfastly clung on to the past despite changing times, and would have done so regardless of the economic climate. but in an adverse economy, they seem to be happier than the majority

  • such people are, by definition, dogmatic, and hold on to their “faith” inspite of evidence (and the world’s moral zeitgeist moving ahead and beyond their ideas) to the contrary

  • soon, the ranks of their followers swell with the disillusioned, dispirited majority looking for quick answers, which the establishment has not been able to provide

  • the answers these folks (the faith leaders) have are simple: go back to the good old times…in words, action, and thought. regress to the time when things were simpler, and people (apparently) happier. look inwards. condemn modernity. reject liberal thought. be as your ancestors used to be, who were indeed “happier”….not because they were happy despite their ignorance, but because they were happy because of their deep and profound knowledge, a knowledge that has been lost to today’s generation…because of some external factor totally beyond the present society’s control (colonialism, aggressive “others”, "foreign" invasion, modern science, “western” philosophy, “incorrect” faith etc.)

  • when people practice this regression, initially it does indeed bring them the happiness that was promised. it is but obvious. bottomline focus surely works in the short-term. “going back to the basics” is advised in almost every situation where things have gotten very complicated, be it a relationship or a sport or a business…because it does work immediately

  • however, soon, the tragedy of real life is back. the economic situation has not changed. only the mind was fooled into being “happy” temporarily. people are back looking for solutions…and they usually go to the same kind of people who gave them the initial euphoric feeling

  • the answer this time is: you aren’t doing enough. go further back. it is like a drug high. soon, the body becomes accustomed to it, and the mind seeks a newer, sharper, higher high…and the drug peddler offers a more potent version of the drug…in effect, telling you that the answer to a mind-body no longer happy with a drug is not less, but more drugs!

  • soon, it is a vicious cycle: the regression does nothing to lighten the burden of the recession, nor anything positive to bring back the boom. if the cycle has lasted this long, it becomes worse, since no one is doing anything to hasten its end

  • and then, the answer to that is: even more regression…and people start blaming other people for not regressing enough, or not regressing rightly, and there is a sense of fear for being seen as not regressed enough…and people start trying to outdo the others…and leaders who claim to outdo the earlier leaders in regressing start rising to the fore…result: even more regression, and the economic cycle prolongs the bad times already aggravated by the lack of collective action

  • this becomes even worse (if it can) when this regressed (and regressing) society sees other societies that are doing well, either because of better leaders, or better luck, or just because they did not regress far enough to slip into a prolonged cycle…and you have the birth of the enemy, the satan, the evil people…we all know what happens then

you see where this is going? whether it is egypt or the USA, india or pakistan, iran or saudi arabia, israel or france…we are all caught up in this cycle of regression…essentially a race to the bottom

now, combine this with modern technology in communications, weapons, and travel…and you have a mix potent enough, and toxic enough, to poison the world for a long, long time

can the world be saved? of course…can our generation do it? you tell me