Thursday, July 24, 2008

Progress in Tyranny?

While it's easy to marvel at the dizzying new heights we reach, particularly in communications, energy and transportation technology, culture and especially decadence, it's well worth nothing that there are some aspects of human civilization in which progress is sorely lacking. The following is an extract from Bertrand Russell's analysis of Aristotle's Politics in The History of Western Philosophy, in which tyranny is discussed:

There is an interesting section on tyranny. A tyrant desires riches, whereas a king desires honour. The tyrant has guards who are mercenaries, whereas the king has guards who are citizens. Tyrants are mostly demagogues, who acquire power by promising to protect the people against the notables. In an ironically Machiavellian tone, Aristotle explains what a tyrant must do to retain power. He must prevent the rise of any person of exceptional merit, by execution or assassination if necessary. He must prohibit common meals, clubs, and any education likely to produce hostile sentiment. There must be no literary assemblies or discussions. He must prevent people from knowing each other well, and compel them to live in public at his gates. He should employ spies, like the female detectives at Syracuse. He must sow quarrels, and impoverish his subjects. He should keep them occupied in great works, as the king of Egypt did in getting the pyramids built. He should give power to women and slaves, to make them informers. He should make war, in order that his subjects may have something to do and be always in want of a leader.

It's quite depressing to go down the list, comparing it with the behaviour of modern day governments. I think pretty much every sentence in that paragraph could apply to the BN government, except maybe for the one about war. Malaysia doesn't really have the stomach for an all-out war, and if the National Service curriculum is anything to go by, Malaysia certainly doesn't have the ability, either. Which is perfectly all right, truth be told, seeing that in the 21st century, war is simply a Bad Idea.

Bertrand Russell was the epitome of the intellectual secular humanist, and a great fan of democracy built on the premise that all humans should be treated as equals. I really do wonder sometimes what he'd have thought of the coming Singularity. Or what he'd have to say about Malaysian politics.

I for one have pretty much given up on reading Malaysian newspapers. These days it's like reading a cheap tabloid, with stories about some guy accusing some other guy of buggery, gossip about who's talking to who, random spouting of meaningless platitudes, and columns of such mind-numbing inanity there's simply no point in constructive criticism and one is forced to come to the conclusion that a Malaysian newspaper is best used to light fires, straighten out uneven tables, wrap nasi lemak or even use as emergency toilet paper. Just don't read the wretched thing - it's worse than Pokemon fan fiction.

But back on the subject of tyranny, could we not compare the tyranny above to, say, the US? Seems to me that the Bush administration meets most of the criteria listed, except for the one on "great works". Looking back, has the US, as a nation, done anything positive of note under Bush? Things being the way they are now, Obama's got a lot of work to do, cleaning up Bush's mess, and the Republicans have a hell of a lot more work to do, winning back back their credibility. Democracy at work, indeed.

But for all it's failings, it would appear that democracy is still the way to go. The social experiment of communism is clearly a failure, though from it's ashes, we now bear witness to the rise of the most ridiculously powerful corporation in the history of Man, that is, China. Monarchy is good for nothing except to fill space in a gossip magazine and highlight to the common people the dangers of inbreeding*. Dictatorship is only as good as the dictator, and even the most capable and (somewhat) benevolent dictators have only one life to give before the reigns are inevitably taken over by some woefully inadequate schmuck, with an accompanying cadre of unscrupulous, avaricious slime.

So it's with a twinge of regret that I look back at Malaysia's March 8 elections, because back then, having completely lost faith in the system, I'd been resigned to planning my escape from Malaysia to search for greener pastures and so did not cast my vote. Not for a moment did I expect my vote to make a jot of difference, and so I found myself greatly surprised by the result. On the morning of the 9th, I found myself thinking that maybe, just maybe Malaysia can save itself from the socio-economic timebomb it set in motion.

It's now been over 4 months since that day. The bickering in Parliament has only intensified. The Mongolian Murder is yet to be resolved, with overwhelming amounts of evidence being ignored for the convenience of the very, very high ranking culprits. Crime is up, fuel prices are way up and corruption is through the roof, with the only difference between a policeman and a triad member is that the triad member dresses better.

It ain't much, but hey, it's home!

* With the notable exception of Queen Rania of Jordan, who is the hottest royal since Nefertiti. She can rule me any day of the week.

No comments: