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Friday, September 11, 2015

Revolution and Tyranny

Episode 4: A New Hope

"They are led by the Hero, who motivates them through a bunch of empty concepts. Like Freedom. Or Justice. Or Peace. Or the People, the rakyat. Or Love, or Hope, or Good.

This word 'Freedom' stirs up lots of warm fuzzy feelings. And by definition, anyone who opposes freedom must be evil. But these are empty words. Of course freedom is better than tyranny. No one ever goes out there and says he's fighting for tyranny. Of course you're fighting for the People. Why would you fight for the Elite?

The Japanese said they were liberating us from the British...

Freedom is an abstract. If nothing specific is added, you instinctively fill in the blank with whatever freedom means to you. Have you noticed that in Star Wars, the Rebel Alliance never actually says what they are fighting for, beyond these empty abstractions?...

When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out, and the opening crawl said: 'Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute' and people said 'Oh, that's so unrealistic. That's so boring. Who starts a war over a tax dispute?'

Well, actually that's how the American and French Revolutions both started... But no sooner did one group of men assume power than they promptly began oppressing everyone who disagreed with them. In America, the notion that All Men Are Created Equal was not extended to women, to Native Americans or to the enslaved. Indeed it had been the British Army which had been keeping the American colonies and the Native Americans apart apart, but the colonials wanted that land... In France, the ideals of the Revolution gave way to the Counter Revolution via the Reign of Terror...

In 1799, Napoleon returned to France to a hero's welcome and overthrew the ineffective, violent, hated dictatorship known as the Directory. And then seized power and had himself declared as Emperor...

The first wave of revolution around the world shows us that decolonisation inevitably leads to new oppression. How does this happen? We come back to the problem of what happens after the ragtag band of rebels wins. They want to hold on to power and get rid of their enemies: real or perceived. Freedom and democracy work both ways after all. What's to stop another ragtag band of rebels from overthrowing you?

So you need something to justify your continued hold on power. You need group solidarity. You need to convince people that you and you alone somehow have the right to rule.

Now, in the past, this was done by being the best or strongest or most powerful... or you had the Divine Right to Rule. For example the Chinese Empire... in the modern world, that doesn't work. This idea cannot be rooted in power or divine right, because people will rebel. It has to be somehow rooted with the people.

What do you do?

And so by the time we reach the second wave of decolonisation, the world was wiser. The answer was to localise anti-imperial pro-freedom ideology into racial, geographical and cultural context.

This is nationalism.

Indeed, the greatest love affair of the 20th century was between the people of the world and the concept of nationalism...

Nation states have become mini colonial empires. Our nationalism has resulted in new colonialism and imperialism within the borders of own countries. The Malay states of Southern Thailand, Sabah and Sarawak, Mindanao, Aceh, Timor-Leste, Papua, Requin (sp?). These are all also victims of new internal imperialism. Initially, Southeast Asian government supported insurrectionist movements in each other's countries.

But after the fall of Sukarno and the end of Konfrontasi, the governments got together and said, you know what? We're all elites. We're all in this together. Let's agree to stop undermining each other.

And hence ASEAN was founded in 1967, with its chief mission: to protect each other's borders against those pesky people who want to have rights of their own...

Someone is bound to disagree. Someone is bound to lose out. How you handle that disagreement is all important. If you try to silence those who disagree. If you dismiss them. If you ignore them. If you suppress them. If you arrest them. If you kill them. Then you are the new imperialist.

The only solution we have ever come up for all this, is democracy. The function of democracy is to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. And it is a terrible answer, it's far from the perfect answer. It has to be renewed everyday. It has to be constantly watched over. It has to be constantly refreshed to understand the problems - all these new problems that develop every day but: it's, it's all we have. It's difficult. It's tiring. But the day we stop fighting for more freedom, the day you stop being a rebel, is the day you start becoming the Empire. That is why the price of freedom is eternal vigilance"
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