Wednesday, February 22, 2006

democracy overrated?

recent election victories of hamas in palestinian controlled areas in palestine and shia coalition in iraq and the resulting complications have made some people question the united states' drive to spread democracy in the world and in the middle east in particular.

there is no doubt about the benefits of democracy to the people who are able to participate in one. what i am discussing is whether having democracies to deal with as opposed to other forms of government is really beneficial to other countries and to world in general.

i have no idea where and when the ideas, that democracies do not make war on each other, that they usually respect international laws, and that they are more reasonable and stable, than countries governed by other forms of government came in to being. it is true that during latter half of 20th century democracies in fact acted in a very creditable reasonable manner to achieve a more or less stable world order. however that was imo a fluke.

history of united states, britain, france, and netherlands show that democracies are capable of unprovoked aggression just like any fascist dictator. one can argue that when these countries acted like that they were not really democracies, but that argument can be made against any democracy. in my book a government that reflect the wishes of a large group of people and which has functioning institutions that aim to ascertain those wishes, is a democracy. so a government that deprives slaves and women of the vote can still be a democracy if it reflects the majority opinion of free men. even a sufficiently broad based oligarchy will pass this test. besides if we examine closely almost all democracies can also be classified as broad based oligarchies.

anyway as i said history shows that democracies can in fact be highly unstable, highly aggressive, and prone to extremes, perhaps even more than the other forms of government. this was so from the first. athens, as anyone who has read ancient greek history knows was very aggressive in accumulating power and wealth, much more than oligarchical sparta. same was true of rome. roman republic was almost always at war, always expanding, but after it was converted into a disguised dictatorship by augustus it more or less stopped expanding. in fact augustus expressly instructed his successors not to expand the empire, an advice all dictators ignore at their own peril. democracies become stable only if they have a very large property owning middle class satisfied with the status quo, but even then there are no guarantees that they will not be aggressive towards other countries.

this is partly due to a very real advantage that democracies have; they almost always win wars, when fighting against other forms of government, especially when the stakes are high. this too was clear from the first. so called father of history herodotus understood this fact when he wrote his history of the persian invasion of greece in early 5th century b.c. it was because they were democracies that several poor disunited city states with relatively minuscule populations in a rather barren peninsular was able to defeat a huge army drawing on the strength of the greatest empire of the time. that is why rome was able to keep on fighting even as hannibal kept on destroying roman armies (in the process killing about quarter of the roman citizens) at the start of the second punic war. same happened in 16th century netherlands, american civil war, first world war, and in second world war. if you are going to fight a democracy you better come prepared for the very long haul and probable defeat.

this is so because people in a democracy identify with the state, to them a loss to the state is a loss to them personally. patently this not the case with other forms of government, though some try to create same sort of thing using nationalism or some ideology or religion. however all those efforts have failed in the long run or when the going got tough. fascists and communists certainly failed.

given the above facts it was really surprising that u.s. wanted to spread democracy in a region where the americans are unpopular. while i do not buy the theory that getting rid of a dictator and spreading democracy was their primary motivation that was part of it. (for the record i personally think u.s. did the right thing in the long run by invading iraq; having a war criminal in control of iraq with potential ability to blackmail the world was way worse than even anarchy.) surprising factor was that instead of installing a puppet regime (whether nominally democratic or plain dictatorial is beside the point) and getting out quickly, they actually wanted to establish a real democracy. they went through the same process in palestine. instead of helping fatah to stay in power by whatever means necessary, as they have in fact done before, they forced the palestinian authority to have a real free and fair election.

result of all this muddled thinking and reliance on unfounded assumptions about democracy by u.s. administration was the establishment of anti american democratic governments. once they are established it would be next to impossible to wish them away. i don't think that the present effort to use aid as a lever to mold those two governments into required shape will work in either case. given the facts u.s and its allies including israel would do better to be more flexible, or risk a huge embarrassment or worse, in the long run.

Friday, February 17, 2006

a cause, a cause, my kingdom for a cause

or is it a horse? a fox, a whale, a forest, a bunker-holed pussy, a buffalo, a country, a race, a laborer, a prisoner, a king, an emperor, a fuehrer, a prophet, a god?

it never ceases to amaze me (a selfish, myopic, capitalist, libertarian, pig) how some people lose themselves in some cause or other. i, pretty comfortable with myself and with close to zero traces of guilt, try my best to live my life the way i want, while generally letting others live the way they want as long as they don't try to interfere with my and other people's freedom to live so.

on the other hand, these causeniks will so 'unselfishly' renounce so much of what i would call little creature comforts of life and put themselves in harms way. instead of enjoying the spectacle of police or whoever, beating up, tear gassing, and drenching people, while sitting comfortably at home as i do, these people will actually go and endure all that humiliation. some of course will go further than that, they will beat up, kill, bomb, fly airplanes into buildings, and commit suicide too.

all because of a cause 'greater than themselves', that will supposedly and probably (who knows?) improve the wellbeing of somebody or something, even if that somebody or something not heard, never desired, and even possibly actively opposed, that cause. it is not as if these causeniks will gain anything material personally now or in future. posterity will only remember founders or leaders of movements or causes not the cannon-fodder. btw here i am not talking about the leaders, who after all are selfishly expressing their personal will when founding or leading a cause, but about the 'unselfish' followers only.

i like other cynical bastards used to measure people, actions, and ideas, by price than by value, by clarity and sharp edges than by dimness and bleariness, by foundation than by decoration, by vigorous application than by enervated refinement, probably do not get them or their motivation. i actually think they are in fact running away from themselves, their miserable lives, and their petty insecurities when they bury themselves inside a cause (how ghastly to think so, no?). according to me they crave the security that a cause with its followers and opponents, rituals (ranging according to cause, from brown shirts to polished boots to periods of fasting to vegetarianism), and unquestionable beliefs provide. they invariably delude themselves into thinking that this is not so, and that they are acting rationally for the good of others.

i also think that once these people get past a certain age and get a paying nine-to-five job, a half decent fuck, a pretty house (similar to others in the neighborhood), a vehicle, and a kid or two, they will forget all about the cause, except as rather exaggerated anecdote material when they had a glass or two and an occasional check when they can spare the cash. imo that is as it should be.

as i said i may be wrong and may be doing them 'an injustice' by belittling their causes and beliefs when fancy takes me, but that's just me. as a thoroughly selfish person, who believe that nothing is greater than self, i cannot and will not spare any such 'unselfishness' to thrive or let it interfere with my freedom to potentially do anything i wish, even by word.

to do so will simply be dishonest. dishonesty to oneself is the greatest and probably only crime in my book.

apologies to shades of shakespeare and richard the third. richard actually died heroically, defending his crown from a pretender with a flimsy claim; leading what was probably the last such charge of the heavily armored medieval knights after most of his army had deserted him. elisabeth the first, that pretender's granddaughter, was in throne when shakespeare wrote the play.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

prophet toon

luckily, sri lankan muslims had the sense not to go overboard due to the cartoon controversy that seems to dominate international news.

those who have no clue about the whole dispute, which has already cost several lives, see the wikipedia article. it includes background and detailed descriptions of the cartoons.

here is the original danish article and image.
here is a reusable low resolution image of the cartoons from wikipedia.

i would have published good copies of the cartoons here(in spite of being personally offended by images), if there were no copyright issues.

why? because imo nobody has a right to curtail freedom of expression.

if you do not like what is being expressed by someone else, by all means give expression to your own dissatisfaction. hold protests, burn papers, and dummies, and use whatever other methods that suits you, but take care you do not kill, harm, or damage, other people or their property. if you do, you are a criminal and an idiot. it is unfortunate that lot of people are proving themselves to be such.

this kind of pathetic hysteria however is not limited muslims. followers of all religions fall victim to this malady. christians, jews, hindus, buddhists, and marxists, all have given enough evidence to show them to be irrational madmen one time or other. how can we forget jhu protests against some american film or other (i have even forgotten name of the film). well we now know how intelligent jhu monks are, and who their real fellow-travelers are.

it is curious and indicative that most media in english speaking countries (us and uk especially), chickened out and either did not publish or published only blurred images. however we already know what to think of american 'liberal' media (including cnn) and their very biased coverage of all news. after all they think toothless jokes at the expense of easy targets as in jon stewart's daily show deserving of awards.

european media especially print media were courageous and correct to reprint the cartoons. now, if they can get enough courage to defy legal or implied bans on poking fun at jewish holocaust sometime in the future, as a result of this, all the better. let me make it clear, i will find that personally offensive, but people have a right to do that, and i completely support that right whether it is legal or not. reportedly a tehran newspaper is starting a holocaust cartoon competition imo that is way better than burning embassies.

governments everywhere were predictably late to give even conditional support to freedom of expression. well what do you expect, they are governments, by nature opposed to all freedoms.

it would be interesting to know what sri lankan bloggers think of the issue. would they support unconditional freedom of expression? or if not, why?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

independence day

this is a repost
due to some error i have no access to previous independence day post even though it appears/appeared in the main page, nor can/could anybody comment on it . my previous attempts at editing and deleting it to correct the error did not work and my previous clarification post did not appear in the blog though it probably was on the feed until i deleted it
sorry for whole mess.

this is a full repost of the independence day post. i hope it will appear once blogger or myself somehow clear the previous one out of it's prolonged existence.

today the main independence day ceremony is being held at the galle face green. buffalo's empty rote learned rhetoric is going on as i write.

however, i have to agree that the galle face is better suited for such ceremonies than the rather cramped independence square. (though they could have chosen to hold the rehearsals at night instead of creating traffic chaos in colombo during daytime last week)

i am personally glad that buffalo and co. are going to keep and probably increase the prominence given to the military in the last few ceremonies. our armed forces deserve that. they compare well with the best armies in the world, even though they do not have a comparable budget or state of the art technology. what our forces have is the real world battle experience and the knowledge that they have more or less contained the world's most ruthless and advanced (in terms of tactics used) terrorist force. most other armies with access to better resources, have failed to do that against lessor enemies.

in fact we should honor our forces more than we do at present. most people tend take a condescending attitude towards the soldiers even when they speak well of them. our officer corps are very professional. forces in general have become increasingly professional and should not be dismissed as unemployed rural youth taking the only employment available. that is definitely not the case. we do have a desertion problem (on the other hand we do not have draft) but that does not mean we have a right to judge those who remain loyal. it is about time society jettison such prejudices and give our forces their due place as the most honored profession.

giving military more prominence in the independence day help underline the fact this is a secular ceremony in a mature democracy.

one problem with sri lanka is that the state is very much identified with buddhism. i am not just referring to the special place that buddhism is accorded in the constitution. all our public ceremonies are accompanied by buddhist religious rites. all public officials feel they have to pay homage to the tooth relic and mahanaykes after even the smallest change (for better or worse) in their position. almost all government departments these days have statues of lord buddha prominently displayed, while national flag is hardly to be seen. it is as if sri lanka did not become a theocracy like iran only because of buddhist clergy's internal disorganization (mostly due to caste divisions) and general cupidity of the high ranked monks.

one result is that all non buddhists feel alienated. they do not feel they can or have any worthwhile role to play in such a buddhist state.

fortunately that is only appearance not reality. it is like the so called national dress that only politicians wear these days. it is after all a fact that most buddhists are not at all religious. in my experience majority do not visit a temple even once a month. if we want to remain a united country sri lanka has to be more secular in appearance too. so it's about time our politicians give more emphasize to the secular reality of the country.

for a start we can have more secular holidays.

independence day, along with mayday are the only secular holidays we have, with april new year counting as half a one. that is a pity. if we can get rid of the superfluous ten or so poya holidays, we should increase the number of secular holidays by one or two. how about republic day (may 26, buffalo referred to it today i think), a war hero's day, or a special holiday on d s senanayake's birthday?

anyway do fly the flag, today at least.