Monday, May 9, 2011

Syria Needs a Revolution.


So many of the regime apologists in Syria have stumbled on the phrase “evolution and not revolution” and have used it to great effect in scoring points against the critics of the Baath establishment. What is most unfortunate is the almost unanimous refrain that they get from those with whom they are debating, “of course evolution would be the better solution”.

The above, sadly, does not reflect positively on either group since the two words represent completely different ideologies and since no one should be allowed to pretend that both means will reach the same end.They will not. If that was the case then there will never ever be any rationale for revolutions in any field and in any area of knowledge anywhere in the world.

Given a certain vision of reality and a set of beliefs in how the world works practitioners; high priests; proceed to use these ideas in an effort to spread that particular vision or model. Obviously any vision or model can be marginally improved upon, within its broader self imposed constraints of its zeitgeist.

Thomas Kuhn, in his highly influential “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” described the epistemological vision that is dominant ,at any point in time, as being a paradigm. It is to be noted that what is crucially important for this discussion is that as an accepted paradigm is being articulated by its believers it will always run into anomalies and paradoxes. The natural reaction of the practitioners is to reject the anomalies as false hoods and to go on with business as usual.

In all fields, these anomalies grow until it becomes impossible to dismiss them as being non essential. It is then that the youth; those that do not have a vested interest in the status quo; will rise and yell the emperor has no clothes. Once that happens then that specific field would have undergone a paradigm shift, a radical change in thinking, a revolution. It is also noteworthy not to lose track of the fact that different paradigms are “incommensurable” since each is based on a totally different vision of reality.

What the, much abbreviated, description of the above implies is that once the potential imbedded within a certain understanding of the dynamics required by a certain vision are exhausted then the only possible way to move forward is to reject the past paradigm and adopt a totally different one. This method of explaining the accumulation of knowledge is not linear. It is based on quantum leaps, on discontinuities and on having the courage to adopt a new way of thinking. This is not an evolutionary process but is actually an understanding that we move forward only through revolutions since sooner or later any accepted paradigm, set of values or system of beliefs will fail to explain the inevitable anomalies that arise.

Copernicus and Galileo provided an understanding, a vision if you will that is not related at all to that of Ptolemy. They posited that the earth revolves around the sun instead of the idea that our planet was the center around which everything revolved. That revolution changed the way that we understand our place in the universe and it was not an evolutionary movement. It was based on a total rejection of all what came before it.

The same process is true when one views social, political and economic evolutions. Feudalism does not evolve into capitalism just as much as capitalism will not evolve into ecological societies. Dictatorships and authoritarian rule will never evolve into democratic structures based on the idea of human rights and personal liberty. These ideas are diametrically opposite and to pretend that one can evolve into that which is its antithesis is groundless. The only way to shift from one phase to the other is to have a revolution. It must also be emphasized that a revolution does not mean violence to individuals but it must mean rejection of old established ideas and values that serve only the interests of the high priests. Revolutions will not cease until we get to the end of history.

The current regional applications of the above simply mean that no dictatorship will ever evolve into a democracy since that means evolving into its negation, into what it is not. Another relevant example of the above is the impossibility of transforming Lebanon into a modern democratic state without getting rid of all its traditional tribal leaders. Revolution means an abrupt change that anchors a system on principles and ideas that would never be acceptable under the current paradigm. You cannot evolve a system into a revolution since they simply represent the antithesis of each other and since a revolution is called for only once the current dominant paradigm has totally failed. It has both in Syria and in Lebanon regionally, and so has the obsession with economic growth globally.

3 comments:

George said...

Syria does not need a Revolution
I cannot agree more with the theoretical contents of Mr. Karam’s article.
If we accept the analogical approach of “The same process is true when one views social, political and economic evolutions...” then the conclusion of “Syria does need a Revolution” is correct.
The logical principle of “When you reach a Dead End, change your Starting Point” is definitely correct when it deals with abstracts. Copernicus and Galileo have reached dead ends that made them conclude that the “Hypothesis” on the basis of which they were trying to understand the Universe was wrong.
Generalising this principle to social, political and economic evolutions seems wrong to me for the simple and good reason that, unlike abstracts, human beings think, feel & act in many unpredictable ways.
Obviously, when applying this analogy to history, Mr. Karam concluded that “Dictatorships and authoritarian rule will never evolve into democratic structures...” forgetting that the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark... Are monarchies that achieved the highest levels of freedom, democracy and prosperity.
On the other hand, most political & social revolutions went through long phases of dictatorships before reaching democracy. A typical example is the French Revolution that wouldn’t have ended anywhere without Napoleon! Even with the latter conquering Rome and jailing Pius VI in 1798, it took France until 09 December 1905 to adopt secularism.
During its 9000 years’ history, Syria went through less than 9 years of a Sectarian Democracy while the balance was spent under all kinds of totalitarian regimes. So, are we expecting it to become the Sweden of the Middle East overnight?
Syria had its major coup d’état of March 1963. It was called a Revolution because it was instigated by a secular, intellectual & socialist party and because its popularity was based on and enhanced by the impoverished & helpless rural & industrial working classes. At that time, Syria had 7 million inhabitants out of whom around 60% were illiterate. Today it has around 21 million with less than 15% illiterate and around 4 million internet users. Meanwhile, Syria remains one of the less indebted countries in the World. In relative terms, I do not know of many countries that have achieved such records.
Obviously, this progress makes practices that were acceptable in 1963 totally obsolete today. The state that has made this amazing evolution possible in 48 years was unable to progress proportionally with its own achievements. But isn’t this the fate of all revolutions? Were Napoleon I & Napoleon III clement with their political opponents? Aren’t they the fruit of La Bastille revolution? This is simply the “Evolution” that must follow every radical “Revolution”.
The perfectly legitimate original Syrian uprising was swiftly hijacked by factions that are using them to achieve an obscurantist counter-revolution that aims at demolishing the economy of Syria and what’s left of its human resources.
Who’s running Syria Revolution on Facebook, http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=9705? Do I need to elaborate on why Syria does not need a Revolution and why the huge silent majority did not go to the streets?
Syria needs today a new definition of the “Syrian Identity & Citizenship” based on Patriotism rather than Nationalism, on Secularism rather than on Sectarianism and on “Syrianism” rather than on Arabism. We need to go forward and to become a liberal, democratic & modern nation. I do not see how the current so-called revolutionary slogans such as "The Christian to Beirut and the Alaouite to Tabout (Coffin)" could achieve the aspirations of the Syrian silent majority.
We could debate this topic indefinitely. There are a lot of arguments for and against the current Syrian uprising. None of these discussions would change the fact that if the current bad situation lasts for a couple of more months, Syria and all its neighbours would go through another “Safar Barlik” soon.
George Spiropoulos

ghassan karam said...

George,
Let me start by thanking you for taking the time and responding to this post.
Unfortunately, you have not convinced me:-) becasue I suspect that we might be using similar words but talking about slightly different things.
Whether it was the UK or whether it was the Soviet union, whether it was the french or whether it was the Italians the change from one kind of a structure to another that is diametrically opposite to it requires a revolution. Mind you, a revolution does not need be bloody. It simply means that one is ready to adopt a completely different vision of reality. I have never posited that Syria post Bashar will be a vibrant democracy. I have no illusions that Egypt is to become a vibrant democracy either. That is a lengthy process but yet a process that has to start.
The government model that the Syrian Baath believes in is that of one party, no personal freedoms , sham elections... Such a vision cannot accomodate what is needed for a democratic regime. Maybe you are happy with totalitarianism, In that case you are free to condone it but what I am objecting to is the idea that one is for democracy but at the same time is for dictatorship.

BTW, I have no clue how you can look at any of the global metrics, that are widely available for all to see, and conclude that Syria has a glorious record of progress. Syriais, unfortunately, practically at the bottom of the barrel in each and every major category. (@0% internet users is nothing to be proud of :-))

mike250 said...

some of what George has said is very important, especially the part about secularism (which at best is a necessary condition for a free society and what is in fact required is a complete rational philosophy with positions in fields other than metaphysics. Not to mention that today's secularism is thoroughly irrational given its Humean and Kantian influences) nationalism, a misguided and disintegrated set of ideas with no philosophy, and Syrianism (or Arabism) which I think are redundant terms (personally Americanism is a curious concept that has no foreign counterpart).

The French revolution is a great example of how having the wrong moral philosophy can lead to a failed outcome. The “liberty, equality, and fraternity” of the French Revolution that threw off the aristocracy – a revolution colored by egalitarian collectivism – gave way to the Reign of Terror, a dictator, and two decades of war. If you look at *what* the French Revolutionaries considered to be the Rights of Man, you will not be so surprised by the way they ended up.

what you need is in fact a moral revolution, first and foremost. You see politics is morality applied in a social context. You have to start from the very bottom and ask yourself: what is man?, what are values? and why does man need them?, who is the proper recipient of those values? (himself, society, the environment, god etc..) you need a proper (i.e rational i.e confirms with reality and logic) moral philosophy to guide the country. politics will largely fall into place once the epistemological and ethical roots are established. If these roots are wrong to begin with, then the results will be on display for everyone to see, and

 

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