Why did we fail to export democracy to the world ?

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The story of exporting democracy is like having the Spotify app stuck on repeat. The same songs keep coming back over and over. Sadly, they are not songs that most people would enjoy, but songs made by the likes of Yoko Ono. The solution to the Spotify problem is easy, but how do we stop making the same mistakes in our democracy-exporting efforts?

First, let me introduce a terminus technicus. If you attend some of the wild parties attended by philosophy students, you might hear the term ‘intrinsic value’. Those are values that are good in and of themselves as opposed to ‘instrumental values’ that are good, because they facilitate something good. For instance, some might claim that happiness is an intrinsic value, but justice is instrumental since it only leads to more happiness. Others might just justice over happiness.

Now, what am I babbling about? Whenever we, as the western civilizations, approach a new country or a region in the world, we bring our values with us and implementation of these values is supposed to take care of whatever mess is in place at the moment of our arrival. We tend to think that if places as China were just a tiny bit more democratic, its citizens would be much better off. Surely, that sounds like a reasonable statement. Why have we then failed at creating true and functioning democracies around the world?

Perhaps you live under the delusion that we have created such countries, but let me dispel that mirage. We have managed to create regimes that seem stable like South Korea or Japan, however, they are far from the democratic ideal. In both those countries the powers lie within a very powerful elite class that is radically conservative. Electoral power is concentrated in specific regions, party strongholds, and due the low demographic growth and low net migration into these countries, it creates a situation of absolute conservation of conservatives at the top. That hardly sounds like a true and functioning democracy.

At the heart of the problem are the values that we see as pillars of Euro-American type of democracy. Among the things that we consider indispensable to modern liberal democracy are the freedom of expression, justice and equal opportunity. Undoubtedly, these are values worth worshipping, but our mistake is in the fact that we think that these values are intrinsic and therefore universal. By that I mean the fact that whenever we gallop into somebody else’s country we expect that these values will be immediately understood and endorsed. It is beyond our imagination that some might not see justice, for example, as an intrinsic value. At that point we self-righteously declare them wrong and impose that what we consider the best.

These values, albeit indispensable to liberal democracy, are hardly intrinsic. They are simply just instrumental. We know that having a fair justice system and freedom of expression ultimately leads to a better society, but our failure to export democracy is rooted precisely in the failure to comprehend that what we understand as universal logic is not universal at all. In most of Asia, the most important value stemming from history is the happiness of the people as a whole. Hence the heavy focus on the well-being of the community. If you assume that as your first intrinsic value, can you also hold up freedom of expression and justice in equal measure? I think not. It is simply because sometimes it so happens that a stable society is a happy society and stability is best achieved by a strong figure at the center, so the logic goes in Asia. Under such circumstances, freedom of expression is simply redundant and may even seem harmful.

We often ponder what did we do wrong in the Middle East. We tried our best to improve the conditions of the people there, but nearly two decades on, all we have on our hands is enough blood to fill up the lake Como and a string of endless wars. We used the same strategy in the Middle East as we did in Asia decades prior and it is heading towards the same results. Let’s not forget what western ideology based regimes did in Asia. Massacres and famines in the communist-inspired countries and military dictatorships in most of the rest. In the future, we can expect more of the same in the Middle East, but much worse, because this time we are not only conflating values of the society, but also of religions. Until we recognize that our beliefs and values are not universal and that people have the right to organize their own country according to their own values, without being moralized, there will be no peace.

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The Myth of Virtuous Transparency

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In today’s day and age, it is increasingly common to share all that we do with all who know us. It is customary to post pictures of our holidays, vent our anger over bad service or simply to brag about one’s food on social media. People simply love to share even when others can’t take it anymore, because why, God, why do I need to see the millionth picture of your fancy lasagna. This culture of instant and constant sharing of everything and anything has brought a number of problems. For example, you can no longer brag about your day off while pretending you are sick at work, since your boss may see it now. Sure, some have tried it anyway, but in general one can look forward to a more permanent time off shortly afterwards. The far more important negative aspect of our sharing culture is the demand or the perceived right of citizens to an absolute transparency from the government.

This transparency myth is hardly righteous or possible in practice. Surely we can agree that clandestine operations of the secret service cannot be made public as long as we actually mean to catch terrorists. Therefore, there is at least one area of governmental business where total transparency is undesirable. Moreover, let’s not forget that the world economy is not some kind of a machine which functions regardless of what is happening and nor it acts as one unit governed by one reason and of one mind. The sum of markets is made up by millions of individuals, all of whom act according to their own interests and emotional reactions. Information is as good as gold in this business and maybe even better, because it can actually make you gold. From 2006 to 2009 the majestic HSBC bank was laundering money for the drug cartels and people associated with funding Taliban and yet the UK regulators allegedly begged the US authorities not to indict the bank, because it would be a huge risk for the world economy. Full transparency, then, can lead to disastrous results regardless of whether it is morally right or wrong.

Most recently, it has been the debate around Brexit that has brought the issue of transparency back to light. It has been asserted that the EU has chosen to follow a more transparent path in pursuing the Brexit negotiations, while Theresa May refused to provide a ‘running commentary’. The want to know is surely understandable, however, it is not rational or necessary. It is no secret that Britain can and should expect an economic downturn of some sorts immediately after exiting the EU, but we must keep in mind that more than anything else the value of the pound and the state of the economy depend on the trust of investors. The government may reach an exquisite deal, but without the public trusting it, it may result in a disaster anyway. The EU is more comfortable with sharing, because it has little to lose and a lot to gain. It is bound by the principle of not allowing a non-member to have the upper hand in trading with the continent, which would make the membership unprofitable. It is fundamental to the preservation of the union that the EU does not lose at negotiations. However we look at it, there are only two possible outcomes. It will be either a win-win or win-lose where Britain will be the losing side.

Personally, I would prefer Britain to win, but it is crucial to see that Britain cannot and will not defeat the union. The basis for the negotiations is damage control rather than anything else. We must negotiate the least damaging way to leave the EU in order to free ourselves up to focus on the rest of the world. The deeper hole we dig for ourselves before we actually leave, the harder it will be and the longer it will take to climb back up to sustainable growth. The impact of Brexit on the economy will be bad. The question is how bad. In this situation, every leaked memo, every disgruntled comment and every cheap political jab makes us worse off, because it piles upon the uncertainty of investors and undermines the faith in what Britain can do. Nothing like Brexit has ever been achieved, so that faith in Britain’s abilities is something we cannot afford to sacrifice on the altar of full transparency.

Breaking with the status quo on Jerusalem

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It is beyond doubt that the decision on Jerusalem constitutes a solid installment of the currently hottest show on the planet. The wannabe majestic Trump saga is filling great multitudes of screens everywhere and at all times. We watch it. We read it. We muse about it. Perhaps the reason why we cannot resist it is that it all seems so real and present. Every day feels like it is the new low. With every word the world turns a bit more backwards and with every tweet we seem to be one misspelled word closer to a total annihilation of our great species. In the midst of all that madness, I cannot but scratch my head in utter stupefaction. Is it all really as horrendous as our feverish nightmares make it seem?

The perceived reality of the nuclear button that has been pounded into our heads by an incessant stream of movies, where the American president overcomes all adversities and fulfills his salvific purpose with a stern look in his face, is surely scary. Just as there is no actual button except the one that calls in a guy with a diet Coke (surely a must-have item), there is no real diplomatic progression towards peace in the Middle East. The peace is dead and no matter how badly the United States want to play the saviour, there will be no resurrection, unless things change dramatically.

American peace effort in the Middle East has always been a lopsided sham. How can you claim the position of an arbiter, if you are not so secretly propping up one of the parties at the table? From the day of its foundation, modern Israel has been taking matters in its own hands, without any regard for anybody else and, fulfilling its moral duty, the United States of America has politely nodded along. However, rest assured that it is not my intention to diminish the importance of the historic Oslo Accords from 1993 or paint Israel in dark colours. The Oslo Accords were the pinnacle of what a foreign arbiter with a serious bias to one of the two negotiating parties can possibly achieve.

Nevertheless, moving past Oslo, Israel quickly defaulted on key parts of the Accords and the beacon of hope, the famed shining city on the hill has done nothing. That is not to say that the Palestinians are free from blame, because there is truly no one the Middle East who could claim that their hands are perfectly clean. However, it remains a simple fact that the territory that should long have been in Palestinian hands, as it had been agreed, is still fully or at least partially controlled by Israel. It is also a fact that not only Israel has not stopped building further settlements in the West Bank, but more are being built as we speak.

The problem of Jerusalem is unsolvable. It is a holy city of three major world religions and all peoples living there have unbreakable bonds to the place as well as irreparable enmities between one another. If you have been racking your brains trying to figure out how to solve Jerusalem, you should stop. The only way to solve Jerusalem is for all parties to give up. I am sure that it sounds outrageous, but it is as simple as that. The only sustainable future for Jerusalem is a neutral enclave claimed by none and occupied by no one. Sadly, looking at the historical records of all involved parties, I think it is safe to assume that such proposal has absolutely no chance to survive.

The quintessentially Trumpian decision to meddle in the matter is surely a grave mistake, but it is certainly not a step back, because there is nowhere we could step back to. Jerusalem was never “on the table” and all that is being jeopardized by this move is, in fact, only the recurring role of the United States proudly starring as the wise arbiter and saviour. Neither it is a step forward, because all we have been doing since 1993 is walking in the circle of maintaining the status quo. Just as this move by the Trump administration plays nicely as part of the Trump epic, it is also a fitting sequel to the magnificent farce that we call the peace process.

Hedonism and the Experience Machine

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You may or may not have encountered the philosophy of Hedonism and the major counter-argument against it. I will dare to venture my own summary, in case that you have never heard of either, followed by a humble challenge to the experience machine theory.

In a nutshell, Hedonism is based on the view that the only thing that is intrinsically valuable is happiness (= pleasure) and unhappiness (= pain) is the only intrinsically bad thing. On the other side of the argument stands the theory of the experience machine brought about by Robert Nozick. Imagine a machine that is capable of providing us with the most pleasurable experiences for the duration of two years without any memory of being outside of the machine. After the two years one would get out of the tank and select new experiences. This experiment was designed to demonstrate that the artificial experiences are not as desirable as actually doing the things that are experienced. In support of the this experiment Nozick forwards three basic reasons for why we might not want to hop in the tank and plug in right away. Firstly, we would not want to plug in, because we want to actually do things, not just experience them. Secondly, we should not plug in, because we want to be a certain way, i.e. we want to be a “self”, not just an indeterminate blob. Thirdly, we ought not to plug in, because the machine limits us to a man-made reality and we want a contact to a deeper reality. Thus, we desire to live ourselves and in contact with reality.

The experience machine does not disapprove Hedonism. My effort will now aim at presenting two ways Hedonism can throw a wrench in the experience machine. Hedonism never forgets to emphasize that living a good life is experiencing the greatest pleasure/happiness in the skin of the one who lives it. The conclusion that the life in an experience machine is inferior to real life is based on an experience of an outsider who has the perspective necessary for making such judgment. Being in the skin of the one who experiences, we would have no such external framework since, as the scenario itself points out, we would have no memories. Our entire sense of identity and personality is established through memories. Without memories we are no one. The research in psychology has yet to conclusively prove an existence of any innate personality and even if it does manage to prove it, the ingrained basic personality traits would not be enough to allow us to cast judgment on the nature of our being and our satisfaction or dissatisfaction with it. If the person in the machine has no memory of the time outside the machine then this person cannot judge the difference between experiencing and doing or between this state of “self” or another. The only way the person could recognize that what is being experienced is not the reality is somewhat emotionally through the lack of some sense of deeper reality as Nozick puts it. This would, however, require an objective reality of the divine that pulls us towards itself in order to feel the lack of it in ourselves. Unless we wish to affirm the objective reality of a divine subject, we cannot accept the argument. To sum up, the arguments of human need for doing and having a “self” and connecting to some deeper reality are unsound due to the simple fact that the person in the tank would be lacking the memories needed to make such judgments. To that person, the experience is perfectly real since that is all that there is and all that there has ever been.

The second argument by which we could counterattack the experience machine is the same argument that was used against the false happiness challenge to Hedonism. It has been stated that if we have two women leading equally happy lives believing that their husbands are faithful to them, but only one of them is right in here belief, the other one is experiencing false happiness. The critics of Hedonism would suggest that the happiness of this falsely happy women is lesser than the happiness of the rightly happy woman. This, however, is again an argument from the position of knowledge and an outside perspective. It is surely logical to assume that something we have no idea about cannot make us unhappy. In fact, both women are experiencing equal amount of happiness, regardless of the objective truth. Therefore, even if we are to accept that the happiness provided by the experience machine is lesser in some respect, the argument itself poses no threat to the essence of Hedonism. Since the person in the tank is, in fact, in the tank and lacking all memories of the previous life, the person is experiencing the same false happiness as the falsely happy woman in the previous scenario. Objectively, their situation is inferior, but the path to a good life, according to Hedonism, is not governed by an objective reality, but a subjective experience.

Nozick’s theory is surely magnificent, but it is suffering from misunderstanding the real nature of Hedonism. The truth is that Hedonism does not have the answer for universal happiness, perfect justice or anything beyond the frontiers of our egos. However, its default position is surely nothing if not pragmatic. Leading a good life is a matter of our subjective realities, not a universal morality. Is that a perfectly acceptable moral argument? Probably not, but again, that is what it is all about.

 

On Answering the Female Question

The decision on whether to write this article or not has not been easy. Why would one want jump in hot water headfirst, is what I have been asking myself for some time now. In the light of the recent scandals in the United States and conversations with my friends here in Aberdeen, I think there are things that need to be said, for better or worse.

There are many issues swirling around the female gender and its relationship with other genders. From such a simple thing as equal pay to much more complex topics as abortion. We like to think that we believe in equality among genders, races and all sexual orientations, but not in one place on the planet are women treated equally with men. There are places that have come pretty close, but no country has yet achieved full equality even on the simplest of these issues as equal pay. I am not going to point fingers at those whose fault it is, but we can all agree that our world is far from equal.

To put it bluntly, I am absolutely convinced that men have no say in what a woman should or should not do with her body or, in fact, what any other gender should or should not do. If we ever want to even hope to create the equal world of our dreams, it must be accepted as a simple fact that a person’s body is under full sovereignty of the person alone. Let’s apply this concept to the issue of abortion. I have had friends tell me that getting an abortion is not just the woman’s decision, but the man should have say in the matter as well. Well, I have been thinking on this for a while, but I still cannot wrap my head around the enormous arrogance of claiming that right. You might want to say that man’s genetic material is an important part of what is being put together here, but to that I can only say that at the moment of intercourse, men are simply handing that over and from that point on, it is a matter for the woman. Just as if you got a kidney transplant, you would consider the kidney to be yours and you would not let the donor make decisions about your body.

The rights of the potential fetus are another difficult aspect of this debate. Some may see it as fully fledged life and others do not, but the question is: who gets to decide its fate? Although it might not be the right question to ask. Who will be responsible for the well-being of the fetus for the months following conception? Who will be there to suffer through all that birth entails? Who bears all the risks to one’s health that go hand in hand with pregnancy? Who will be the most important person in the child’s life for months, if not years, after birth? The person who fits the above-mentioned criteria is the person who should have a say in what a woman should or should not do with her body.

I do see the irony of me saying this, as I am a man myself, but as a man I do not want to have others tell me what I should do with my body, whom I should love and how I should live my life. Should we not then afford women the same liberties that we give to ourselves? Quite simply, women’s issues belong to women to deal with. If we cannot understand that simple fact, we will never live in an equal world.

 

Should history be rewritten in line with modern day views of human rights?

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All of history is an interpretation of chronology. Only the most simple of all chronologic charts provide us with an objective account of what happened. Any attempt at explanation of those facts is essentially changing them and that is part of our human nature in a way that accepting cold facts is not. Sometimes history is rewritten with evil intent and the other times it was simply necessary. History should not be rewritten, but it is simply impossible not to do so. In order to retain the stature of the great men of old, we give them a face-lift and forget about the details. People like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are the marble columns supporting our ideals and without their image; the house would crumble.

From the very dawn of time of the western civilization, we have not shied away from manipulating history for our purposes. The glorious verses of Homer and Hesiod were considered factual for quite some time and did the fictitious Aeschylus not complain that his opponent Euripides debauched the hearts of men by writing lousy characters in “The Frogs” by Aristophanes? The Poets wrote history precisely to serve reasons that they considered noble and they were not alone. In “The Republic”, Plato paints a picture of an ideal city where so-called bad stories displaying the vices of gods should be left out in order to build a perfect character in the city’s guardians. Those men laid the foundation of our civilization and it could be said that other civilizations might not have developed in the same way, but sadly there is enough evidence to say that they did.

Several millennia ago in China, it was a stroke of genius and a fatal self-inflicted wound when the Zhou dynasty usurped the mandate to rule from their predecessors and rewrote all of history in their image. They won the battle, but lost the war, because just a few hundred years later they were the ones to be written out of history. The power stemming from being in control of history, however, demonstrates itself even in less advanced societies. The Aboriginal tribes of Australia live with a profound connection with their land. They possess no literature of the kind we know and yet they live surrounded by the stories of their past, written in the landscape of their land and soul. We have been told very little about their past, because in their world such knowledge is reserved for the oldest and wisest and we are nothing but infants in their eyes. What they tell us is not what they tell themselves. In a way, they are writing their history for us the way they wish us to see it.

All regimes, cultures and peoples write, change and reshape their history. They have various reasons for doing so. Some were doing it to influence the actions of the men of the future. Others did it to justify their right to rule. We do it to hide the uncomfortable truth. Some of the great men were despicable slave-owners who never relinquished their vice, nevertheless, our house of virtue will not stand without their support, therefore we chose not to look too closely. How is that different from the Nazi book burnings, Soviet purges or even the work of the inquisition? Morality aside, it is not different at all. We should never rewrite our history, but we do it regardless.

A New Reality in the Land of Milk and Honey

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The status quo is dead and long live the new reality. The Czech republic has gone through elections again and it is now time to assess the result. I did expect an apocalypse either way, but as elections go, I ended up being surprised anyway. If central European politics is not your strong suit (I cannot blame you, really), I should probably catch you up on what has happened thus far.

The Czech republic has undergone nearly five years under an equally unholy and incompetent alliance between the Social-democrats and the Populists led by Andrej Babiš, the food tycoon and a millionaire who served as the finance minister until recently. The embarrassing results of the socialist-populist rule are probably best illustrated by the election performance of the Social-democrats. They have gone from nearly 20.45% and control over the position of the Prime Minister in the government in the previous elections to barely 7.27%. In addition, in the months leading up to the elections, Mr. Babiš, the leader and the embodiment of populism, has been under attack for a myriad of highly suspicious corruption affairs.

In this congenial, back-stabbing atmosphere, the Czech voters went to cast their votes and gave nearly 29.64% to the Populists. That is not surprising, but fortunately it is just short of the number needed for creating a stable, one-party government. The Populists will need to build a coalition, but unfortunately for them, their leader is widely despised among the other parties. I think it is quite telling when even the far right and the anarchist parties refuse to collaborate. Each of which have received 10.64% and 7.76% respectively (which is shocking in itself).

Mr. Babiš has very few options left, but his world is not entirely bleak. The crybaby he is, his best choice would be to complain about the unfairness of the other boys and girls at the playground until new elections may be declared. As my kind words may betray, I am in fact a member of the conservative ODS party that has had a surprisingly good result as well. In the past we made some mistakes and we rightfully lost the mandate, but after years of reflection and restructuring the Czech voters have finally decided that it is time for us to come back.

I would not imagine in my wildest dreams that the Conservative party would receive 11.32% and thus become the second strongest party in the parliament. As Mr. Babiš has professed, he would just love to join forces with the Conservatives and rule in a happy coalition, but such an abhorrent alliance is definitely out of the question from our point of view.

The path is clear. Mr. Babiš will not be able to compose a government in the 30 days allocated to him by the president. If that is the case, then the next in line for a shot at creating a government is the Conservative party, as the party with the second strongest result. It will be difficult, because a coalition with the far-right or the Communists is out of the question. That would leave a some kind of a broad coalition between the Conservatives, Anarchists, Christian-democrats and a few other small right-leaning parties.

The Populists have won this battle, but they may yet lose the war. The right should do its best to ostracize them out of ruling for the good of the nation. As the universal hatred of Mr. Babiš among all parties suggests, all actors are painfully aware of what horror would his rule be. That might just make the impossible possible and facilitate a broad and stable coalition. The future of the country is at stake. Mr. Babiš, you say you want a “better country”. Well, we want it too, but it is a country without you.