“France wasn’t built in a day…” *
This is an obvious fact that everyone can grasp; yet I’m really surprised by the pessimism of even the educated people who say “Nepal is doomed”.
Why? I ask them. Most reply that we are being ruled by thugs and are not really a democracy but rather a plutocracy. We’d rather have a strong autocrat like Lee-Kwan Yew or maybe even Gyanendra himself, they say, and we haven’t experienced progress of any kind.
Then I reflect upon the country’s history. How long has it been that we’ve become a republic? 10 years? And how long since we’ve had our first, elected, constitutional government? Not even a year?
Not even a year of stable governance and we already want a strongman. Is that rash or just immensely short-sighted? And is there a guarantee that a strong authoritarian leader that we may get – will out of serendipity become a benevolent one like Lee Kwan Yew? We could very well get our own version of Gaddafi or Saddam. Don’t tell me if you’ll miss democracy then.
Of course there is corruption, of course there are instances of nepotism and of course the laws aren’t perfect and neither is the constitution. Progress isn’t utopian. Struggle will always ensue in the path of progress. Stability, development, good education, quality of life – all these will take time. We may have immensely corrupt politicians today, but with time and a newer generation the person in that position will become less corrupt, the next one thereafter may not be at all. No matter how much those in power tend to ignore problems at present, they cannot stay that way forever because demand or outrage will ensue, values will change and people will want progress so much that there will be little room left for wrongdoing. But for that we should constantly be voicing our concerns or demands – never being complacent nor unjustly pessimistic.
Here’s what Noam Chomsky has to say about realistic optimism. “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there’s no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope.”
Imagine if we do not have democracy – we will have no right left to even voice about change, let alone take responsibility to see it happen. If not for democracy, the vicious cycle of illegitimate plutocrats or autocrats would have kept strengthening to the point that we may never would’ve been able to resist them. Power cannot be trusted to a concentrated few. Even if it seems imperfect to start with, it is always better used when divided. All the struggles, all the lives lost – all for nothing. So we need to throw away the poisonous cultural and political pessimism that we brew in our minds because we read too much headlines and use too much twitter – but not facts, statistics or critical thought. So to even opine that the country would be better ruled by undemocratic forces instead – is morally irresponsible!
Steven Pinker summarizes in Enlightenment now: “A liberal democracy is a precious achievement. Until the messiah comes, it will always have problems, but it’s better to solve those problems than to start a conflagration and hope that something better arises from the ashes and bones. By failing to take note of the gifts of modernity, [unjust] social critics poison voters against responsible custodians and incremental reformers who can consolidate the tremendous progress we have enjoyed and strengthen the conditions that will bring us more.”
Think about it Nepal……
* [I used France instead of Rome (unlike the original adage ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’), in the opening quotation, because I think the former represents democratic and humanistic ideals better than Rome would. I’m not, however, considering some of the notable heinous foreign policies of the aforementioned state for the sake of brevity. Some may also point out that France was also ruled by strongmen such as Napoleon; I’d like to highlight that we have been as well – on two occasions after 1951 – but nonetheless in both nations the call for democracy was too great to suppress.]