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The politics of adhocism

17 November, 2006

By Muhammad Ahsan Yatu


In 1377 England needed finances to meet expenses of war with France .  A tax of one shilling was levied on all, irrespective of the rich and the poor.  Richard II was the king whose age was 10 years at that time. The poor, the labourers and the peasants, became furious and marched to the Capital under the leadership of a tile fixer. The King accepted their demands, but another group of rebels attacked the venue and killed the advisors of the King.

The King took refuge in London Tower, where another meeting was arranged. During the hot debate a deadly scuffle between the rebel leader Wat Tyler and the Mayor of London caused the death of the former. The mob became enraged but the king bravely calmed them down. The victorious rebels retuned to their homes with their demands accepted. Within weeks the Parliament overruled the King's agreement. The rebel leaders were chased and caught, and two of them were assassinated.

The political relationships in England six hundred years ago comprised a teenage but wise and brave king, a people conscious of their rights and ready to fight for them, and a parliament of the earls and the barons that was extortionist. All of them were part of a crude and cruel political dynamism that revolved around economy. Today in a systemised, stable, civilised and a labour led England the debate that dominates governance is still on economy. In the other countries of Europe political dynamism has the same meaning.

Story has been no different in America. In the recent elections the Democrats won because the people were not ready to finance a continuing war in Iraq that would cost them 3 million dollars per week. The democrats are the leftist face of America. Their victory also means that the middle and lower classes will be taxed lightly and the rich will be taxed heavily. In the west including America the economy, its growth and its sharing will remain the basic issue of state and society as long as surplus prosperity is achieved.

Will this debate ever start in Pakistan? To find the answer let us go back into the era of the teenage King. The reason that compelled the King to behave wisely and bravely is understandable, for he wanted to govern smoothly. That the parliamentarians stuck to unjustified taxation makes sense; they did not want to lose their wealth. However, what made the poor, the peasants and the labourer aware of their rights is a puzzle, and the bigger puzzle is that they also fought for their rights in medieval and feudal England. Six hundred years ago there were not even traces of modern thoughts and knowledge around. The industrial revolution did not exist even as a dream. And Roseau, Voltaire and Marx had not born. The probable answer to the puzzle of the poor is that there was split in the ruling elite. The King was on the side of the people. He knew how to govern and the people had faith in him.

The different behaviour of the western ruling elites and hence of the people could have origin in the political debates of the ancient Greece. Again, why was it Greece only and not India, China and Arabia? It could be out of necessity. Agreed, but what about the necessity not coming into play for the other nations that were living under similar conditions? A straight reason for the great contradiction could be difference in genes. Though some socio-biologists have discovered one or two such extraordinary genes in the Europeans, the equally successful story of the Japanese, Chinese and even, to some extent, of Indians does not support the genetic base for bifurcation. Yet, these three nations have not evolved any economic or political system of their own. Whether it is a mixture of Marxism and market economy, democracy and socialism, and democracy and liberal economy, it came from the west.

As a matter of fact the change, the progressive order, in human relationships is as big a mystery as origin of universe and origin of life.   Why did the progressive order evolve? Whether it is genes specific or effect of social mutations or outcome of contradictions from within or a blend of all three has not been explained fully as yet. The ancient Greek philosophers and the western social scientists of past couple of centuries have constructed their logic taking goodness and aggression in human nature (genes) as base— keeping goodness in front. They have also extended and refined their arguments by blending the base with the environmental compulsions. They have also given their arguments an organisational and workable identity. But, even their relevant and befitting arguments create more questions, and they are by and large west centric; they explain various phases of development in the west and not the beginning that was common to entire mankind. Notwithstanding the unavailability of a perfect explanation to the beginning of evolution of mankind's social order the fact remains that the western states and societies are progressing, intellectually as well as physically; and quantitatively as well as qualitatively.

Speaking frankly as far as our state and society is concerned we do not need to go into the basics. Our task should have been to initiate the change keeping before us political models of the west. Why did not we do so?   Perhaps we did not have a wise king. Perhaps our ruling elites — the generals, the bureaucrats and the rich — were one and the same. There was no clash of interests among them.   All of them were rulers.  No matter their rule was smooth or turbulent, they assumed as long as they remained united, they would remain safe.   .

It is difficult for any logic and particularly Marxian logic to explain the behaviour of the elites that are not bound by any discipline—procedures and processes— other than the rhetoric and self-enrichment. They are purely passing their days on daily basis either through external help or through internal extortion? What are the bases of this ad hoc-ism, held so dearly by the elite? The base line for any analysis to this end could be that we are a creation of circumstances that were external to us, and we are prisoners of circumstance that we inherited at the beginning, that were imposed on us, and that we acquired through our own misdoings: The cumulative effect of the circumstances became a bar to emergence of economic classes. Hence we have neither political right nor political left.

So, if economy is not a subject in our debates there is nothing surprising about it. We will continue to live with the debates like the ones on Hassba, Hudood, Jihad and the Jews. In a nutshell emergence of economic classes dependence on recession of poverty of intellect. In a society like ours the behaviour of 'capitalists', 'the socialists', the 'secularists', and the 'enlightened moderates' would be the same or similar. All of them were/are standing in line to promote one way or the other the religious politics and the religious extremism. The English were lucky for their political chemistry was free of such ingredients even six centuries ago.  They were also lucky in one more way; their leaders did not coin such complex phrases as "liberal extremists" and "enlightened moderation."

End.

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