When The Past And The Present Collide
For some, the past is not past. The past is something to hold on to; is something to be always brought forward. They don’t want, don’t like, change. The rest of us, we know that we must change in order to progress, to survive. In order for those who would remain in the past to have their way, they must be in charge. Thus it is that, presently, around the world, we have the forces for the past attempting, by one means or another, to either retain, gain, or regain control of governments.
These efforts to block change, to reverse changes, go back centuries; greatly affect the present, the ‘what is’ of today’s world. Seems twenty-four-seven, our TVs and computers provide real-time images from half-way around the world of men in medieval garb riding on and in late model pickups with large bed-mounted machine guns bent on taking over a country (Afghanistan, for example) and imposing a fundamentalist theocracy on its populace. Such images of such struggles of the past with the present have become quite familiar, especially over the past twenty years. In places like Afghanistan, Nigeria, …, Iraq, the struggle has often turned into armed conflict, has become war. As a consequence of the conflict between the past and progress, countries like Afghanistan, as an example, have been held back. All this is happening in the 21st century.
For forty years and more now, in the more modern democracies of the US and Europe, growing regressive right-wing groups opposed to change, to progress, have been making the effective addressment of serious social and economic issues difficult if not impossible. Other more modern countries of the West, too, have been caught up in this battle between the past and the present, the past and the future. Here in the US, some of our southern states have been moribund by this struggle for more than one hundred years.
In Africa, it seems that its nations can’t even begin to rise for tearing themselves apart from within. In nations too poor to afford schools, impoverished members of one tribe or ethnic group somehow get their hands on a large number of weapons, then proceed to kill members of another tribe or ethnic group; leaving both the poorer, the weaker. For generations, these tribal/ethnic struggles from the past have been brought forward like family heirlooms. For generation after generation, these battles are fought and refought.
In Latin America, history does repeat itself. Over and over, from Bolivar to the present day, we see progression then regression; forward, then back; hope, then despair. Too often the past prevails. Too often, in sum, the nations wind up worse off. In Latin America today, there are countries where drug warlords have more arms, more money, more power than the government; where drug cartels have control over the country and the government. This is so in great part because the people, the governments, either could not or would not make the necessary changes; would not or could not shake off the shackles of the past..
These are but some of the consequences of the past controlling the present. Consequences that account for an inordinate percent of today’s ‘what is’.
Who are these that oppose change and what is the impetus for this opposition?
The Afghan Taliban is a sexist, misogynistic lot who oppose any change that would give women equality; because females gaining equality might diminish male dominance. So, too, the Southern Baptists of Texas. Both do so in the name of religion. Too much of one religion can be a bad thing. The Taliban and the Southern Baptists, first cousins once removed on their fathers’ side, are separated by only a few degrees of religion.
This fear of diminishment often plays a big role in the opposition to change. Around the world, in every nation, there are those with something to lose who fear that they might lose part or all of this something if things change. This diverse and widely distributed lot claims an established right to wealth, social status, power, position, income, … . Collectively, they form the ‘establishment’.
In present-day Afghanistan, the Mullahs and Warlords make up a big part of the establishment. A change to modernity would mean the end of their livelihoods, their positions of power. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has been long been a part of the establishment in many cities and nations around the world. Today, in most of America’s ‘Red’ states, fundamentalist Christian sects are a major part of the establishment.
*Though blasphemous to say, all religions do evolve. Some do so more slowly than others. But, whether by increments or by reformation, in order to survive, change they must. Reformation is long overdue in Islam. Corruption within the church is as rampant as it was in the Catholic Church before Martin Luther; the power accorded the Mullahs today is as absolute as was accorded the priesthood of the Catholic Church before its reformation.
In western world countries and in wealthy Asian countries, the establishment is most often headed up by the very wealthy. Be it an industrialist in Wichita, a trader in Singapore, a drug lord in Mexico, or an arms merchant in southern France; they all have the fear that any change to governance, or to the current economic model might result in a diminishment of their wealth, their income, their social status.
Many a government, military, police department, …, is afflicted by corruption. Those corrupt, those who bribe those who are corrupt, …, all those who profit from corruption, also oppose any change that might threaten their enterprise. In the US, we have one of our two major parties that, in the main, serves the interests of wealthy special interests in return for campaign financing. The party is corrupt. They fear that if things change they might lose office. Those practicing the newer forms of corruption such as ransomware, too, fear change; are now, too, part of the establishment.
For preachers, warlords, politicians, mullahs, radical religious sects, …, the corrupt, the wealthy, for all those of the establishment; change is thought to be, probably is, a threat.
A threat to one’s livelihood can beget opposition to change. Opposition to change can beget racism. Low income workers may see workers of another race as threat to their already precarious livelihoods.
Racism, close relative of both xenophobia and bigotry, often companion to ignorance, may be inherent the species; can certainly be engendered. The covert racism long endemic a significant portion of the US population has become more overt of late; since 2015. Racism was but one of the hatreds that Donald Trump deliberately appealed to during 2015, 2016, and his presidency.
In the US and Europe, much of the opposition to change comes from those opposed to more a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society. This opposition to others that are somehow different has been increasing in reaction to the increased influx of migrants: migrants fleeing the effects of Climate Change; migrants displaced by the wars being fought because of climate change; migrants seeking to escape an ever-increasing economic disparity at home; migrants fleeing the hardship of wars being fought over religion, ….
In Afghanistan, in Africa, in The United States and Europe, all around the world, disunity among a nation’s citizenry makes change difficult.
Again, looking at Afghanistan: Afghans are not one people. In the main, Afghanistan’s population is made up of people common to other nations in that region of the world. There are ten ethnic groups in all with as many as 59 languages spoken. The two major groups are the Pashtuns and the Tajiks; both of which are of Persian origin. Today’s Afghanistan is much more a collage of tribes and cultures than it is a unified nation. These people can’t agree on anything, much less on change.
The Taliban(s), ISIS(s), …, the regressive forces of the world can only succeed in the vacuum of a weak central government. For a government, other authoritarian, to be strong it must have the support of the people, be representative of the people. The Afghan people and nation need to be unified, to be one. There was this brief flicker of hope for unification from ~1922~1973, but the Russian invasion snuffed it out. Since then, some honest, some not so honest, attempts have been made to assemble a functioning unified government.
These same things in re the need for a unified functioning government can be said for much of Africa, for much of Latin America.
The problem of weak government is by no means unique to under-developed nations. The state governments of some of our own United States are inept, have routinely failed to provide adequate, requisite, leadership, are non-representative. These states could rightfully be considered failed-states. Just as many, perhaps a majority, of the Latin American Countries could be considered to be, are, failed-nations.
In the US. a majority of the former Confederate States have never been big on the union thing. It’s more ‘my way or the highway’ for them. To them, change was a threat to their way of life, their economic model, their ‘culture’. Over the past forty to fifty years, several other states have joined this coalition of ‘Red’ states in opposition to change; further dividing the nation. Many of these same Red states are more like a theocracy than they are about providing effective governance for their citizens.
For decades now, Europe has thrived under the European Union (EU); thrived as never before. But, alas, some can’t stand change. Since 2016, the EU has been under assault from internal and external forces that want to see it abolished; or, at least weakened.
Religiosity is another significant impediment to change. Looking at America and Europe: In both, more than some of the resistance to change can also be attributed to the more fundamentalist religious sects. In America, sects such as Evangelical Christians and Conservative Catholics are powerful voting blocks. To these sects, to their pastors or priests, change might (probably would) mean disbelief which would probably mean smaller congregations, less political power, and less income. Evangelicals are a small but growing sect in Europe.
The Catholic Church in Latin America has, like a talisman or amulet, warded off change for centuries. In Africa today, religiosity impedes change by way of promoting and perpetuating disunity.
Ignorance underlies much of the opposition to change. Many of the areas with the greatest opposition to change are populated by an illiterate majority. Most of the troops in the now vanquished (vanished) Afghan Army were illiterate. So, too, most of the Taliban troops.
While most Americans are literate, many of those in our inner-cities and remote rural areas remain poorly educated. Evangelicalism thrives in undereducated rural areas of the US. Fundamentalism thrives and flourishes in illiteracy everywhere.
We are seeing these conflicts between the past and the present increase. This increase will undoubtedly be exacerbated by the increasing economic disparity we are seeing; by the accumulating effects of climate change, and by the acceleration of change itself.
What to do?
This resistance to change has come at a high price. It behooves us to find ways to reduce this resistance to change.
Or, does it? What if we did nothing? Would the results be different? What would Afghanistan look like today if Russia and the US hadn’t invaded?
The biggest lesson to take a way from Vietnam was that no nation (no matter how powerful) could occupy another nation. But we didn’t learn; at least some of us didn’t.
None so stupid as they who will not learn. The US invasions of Afghanistan (2001) and later Iraq (2003) were led by some of those of us who did not learn, who had taken the reins. They were abetted by the Neocons/Likudites, members of the media, all those members of Congress who did not learn a damned thing from Vietnam, a bloated military, and an overgrown media industry. The cost? An $8Trillion increase in the national debt.
There have been failed attempts (models for how not to do it?) by the bushel.
Quoting Professor Juan Cole:
“U.S. officials sent out to Afghanistan knew that it was a Washington Ponzi scheme. Billions were disappearing into the pockets of contractors and warlords,” he said. “Only the arms manufacturers were happy. The U.S. was massively bombing the country every year, the only reason that it was still able to be there. Nobody believed in the mission. There was no mission. There was a morass of corruption and incompetence.”
——— A recipe for failure.
If we be still and yet behooved to reduce opposition to change, to bridge these century-wide gaps, and know what doesn’t work; what should we be doing?
Seems establishing a well functioning, unified government would be a good start. What if an internationally supported group such as a highly functioning United Nations were to send in a team of experienced experts under close regulation to run the government of the failed state? In the beginning, such teams could be put together from members or former members of well-functioning government administrations. Long term, it might be better to have specialized training for such groups. The long-term objective is to train and develop competent administrators from within the population that are free from corruption. In the short term; the proverbial new broom to sweep out any and all of the inept and/or corrupt whilst keeping the good and necessary. It would cost a lot, but not nearly as much as is now being spent.
Somewhat counter intuitively, the solution for dealing with autocracies is the same as that for dealing with weak governments (see above). Again: A new broom sweeps clean. Install competent administrators; keep the good, sweep out, root out, the corruption.
Initially, there is sure to be tremendous opposition to such a plan; especially from the inept and/or corrupt despots and their would-be successors, and from those folks that simply don’t like change. But, given that the current approaches are not working; the urgent need for a solution begs us look at any and all rational options. In cases such as the recent world/US experience in Afghanistan (and Iraq), the US operation, itself, was corrupt. Enforceable international standards against such corruption are essential.
There needs to be an international ban on theocracies. Because: Those that aren’t already corrupt are well on their way to becoming so. They are really, really bad at governance. Anyone who would impose their particular religion on others would, given the chance, do even worse.
There may or not be a god (seems it’s our choice). We do know a lot, have learned that lot the hard way, about theocracies. No need to repeat. We were handed down the wisdom that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We aren’t really surprised to learn that the clergy operates like mafia dons in theocracies such as: Vatican City, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, Mauritania, and Afghanistan. Religion and good governance simply do not mix. Going forward, the constitutions of all nations shall prohibit any and all inclusion of religion in governance. The modern world needs to stand together against existing theocracies.
In these times of great social, economic, and political flux; what to do about the consequent resistance to change from the establishment?
In a democracy like ours, like others around the world, gaining and retaining inordinate political power is most often, most easily, affected by perverting the constitution and/or the courts. If a democracy is to survive, it must have a well-written, well thought out constitution and a legitimate supreme (highest) court. These two are the most important: Perversion of one or both is essential for those who wish to usurp democracy.
Democracy in America is in great danger because elements of the establishment have taken advantage of constitutional flaws to pervert the political system, then the Supreme Court. If democracies are to is survive current and future attacks; their constitutions must protect them against co-option by the establishment, by any and all minority interests.
What to do about racism? How do nations cope with multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, populations?
The days when all the people in America, France, England, Spain, … are alike, is over (never were). People cannot be multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and be the same. We either learn to live with our differences or we descend into the chaos of Sudan, Chad, Afghanistan, …. . People of one race cannot become another. Pretending that we are all the same does not, will not work. Somehow, we must learn to accept our differences
How does a country develop unity among disparate groups in its population?
In the 19th century, Japan (a feudal society with an enlightened monarchy) very deliberately and methodically chartered a course toward modernity. Its success was no doubt to some extent attributable to its having a potentially huge domestic market, a willing workforce; and the fact that Japan eagerly availed herself of a world of existing knowledge. China’s meteoric rise in the 20th century was no doubt attributable to many of the same factors. Plus, in the 20th century, China could see, did see, a way forward that included China becoming manufacturer to the world. Was there was a Japanese Taliban in the 19th century that rose up to preserve the past? If so, it is well they didn’t succeed. No evidence of such in China’s 20th century rise. Both offer a successful model for moving a society forward.
What about other possibilities for developing unity within a disparate population such as Afghanistan? From around 1920 until about 1973. monarchical governments seemed to make slow but steady progress toward unification of the many tribes, factions. Perhaps the Taliban can do so in a shorter time frame by employing more draconian measures (they may feel the need, the necessity, to seize the moment).
Education played an all important role in these advances made by Japan and China. In Afghanistan, the adult literacy rate has improved significantly over the past ten or so years (mostly because of the increase in female education); might be as high as 45 percent today. How will the Taliban deal with these advances? Will it try to erase them?
By whatever means, from whatever source, there are certain things that must be addressed: What to do about the tribal leaders, about the warlords? Do you bring them into government? Or, do you somehow neutralize them?
Western and eastern histories are replete with examples of this transition from tribal to the city-state to the nation-state. Hasn’t been that long since what is now France was a group of independent nation-states like Normandy, Bretagne, … Some of the UK and the Italian provinces still haven’t quite made up their minds.
Some of our former confederate, southern, states have never fully accepted the idea of a union of states. This problem has persisted because of the states’ rights implied in the US Constitution; won’t be rectified until this flaw in the Constitution is rectified. If a tribe, a province, a state, a nation-state is to be part of a larger unification, they have to cede certain powers to the central government of that union.
There’s a financially strapped city along the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur) with a very wealthy arms-merchant resident. The other residents of the city know full well where the man’s wealth comes from. They also know that the arms-merchant paid for their new waste treatment plant. Still, after centuries, they peddle death, these merchants of death. ‘They’ includes nations like the US, Russia, France, the UK, China, Iran, … . For years, Afghan’s economy has been based on war. They are not alone.
On the other hand—the present and future tend to ride roughshod over the past. No matter what the delaying tactics.