The Absurdity of Ideological Radicalism

Source: youthlinemedia,org – EPA/NOAH BERGER

As I continue to age, I have learned something very important about politics. A lot of our ridiculous, unwavering, uncompromising political positions come out of ignorance and being completely out of touch.

This is something that has made me appreciate people evolving politically over the years and that is why changing parties is not such a cardinal sin in my eyes.

I cannot possibly even come close to talking down to anyone reading these lines as I have held many of these extreme positions in the past myself, and possibly I am also holding quite a few at this point in time. It is easy to dismiss your rival political position as ignorant and condemn your opponents as unintelligent and immoral, but as we go closer, the many shades of gray reveal themselves out of the black and white.

My absolute ignorance of the legalized trophy hunting economics helped me realize how a distant observer fails to see its contribution. Even though I still morally oppose hunting wildlife. However, a trip to Gilgit-Baltistan and speaking to the WWF officials who facilitate legal trophy hunting in the area would shed light on how the local communities benefit from it. And how the activity helps preserve certain species, contrary to the impression of the knee-jerk activist. You just can’t ignore the facts.

I have only recently become more appreciative of military interventionism of the United States, despite obvious disasters such as the Vietnam War and the 2003 Iraq War. And even bypassing the United Nations Security Council in some cases because in humanitarian disasters such as Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, and Mosul, when engaging with bureaucracy and particularly the Chinese and Russian votes at the Security Council could cost lives. At the same time, I can tell what a disaster being a blind hawk with neighbors such as India and Afghanistan can prove to be in an underdeveloped region constantly under the threat of a nuclear accident and in desperate need of free trade. And this by no means implies that cutting defense budgets would be any wiser.

I have learned over the years through the wisdom of my friends and by trying to stand in the shoes of struggling families, despite having a similar background, that safety nets matter. I have learned that you don’t exactly run a government like a business and oftentimes debt and stimulus are a necessity for economic sustenance. It cannot be emphasized how vital quality public education with critical reasoning is and how necessary an effective healthcare system is to the people. However, it is also important to recognize how the private sector can add value to both these spheres of social economy, especially medical research.

Flying routes that nobody else would fly has offered me an insight that perhaps having a national flag carrier is not a bad idea after all. But I do not have any doubts about private professionals managing it in a much more efficient manner. And that it is important to raise the alarm when far right partisans make efforts to either privatize or liquidate necessary government services such as public libraries and prisons. At the same time realizing that privatization of certain corporations unrelated to the government would be a better idea, as in the case of power supply companies and other for-profit corporations. I have also come to appreciate how arts and media education require close financial and promotional patronage from the government to thrive. Believe me, artists earn it.

It is important to weigh the facts of the world before becoming a Marxist revolutionary or a Libertarian anarcho-capitalist troll supporting the gold standard. Before completely condemning capitalism and the current global financial system as pure evil, we must consider the global prosperity and the technological advancement this economic model has brought about. It has made the rich richer alright but has significantly improved freedom of access and quality of life for more people than ever before. At the same time, we must never drop our watch of the shady practices in the business and industrial world and make all the strict measures and regulations to protect the environment, the consumer and the workforce rights.

The fact of the matter is that we live in a world that is far more complex than any ideology could possibly encompass. There is little use in investing ourselves in radical ideas and extremes so much that our idealism and passion turn into venomous cynicism and defeatism. College students are particularly prone to nonsense in their earlier years of high passion and idealism. While time corrects your course over the years, a consideration of more pragmatic options over what makes you feel good could always lead to a balanced and more productive worldview. And above all, cements your faith in democracy.

We need to see through ideological radicalism for its absurdity. This might help us build more bridges between people while getting things done.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

To Fidel Castro: Or The Disillusionment of Revolution

Source: USA Today/gannett-cdn.com

Source: USA Today/gannett-cdn.com

The legendary Cuban revolutionary, perhaps not so much as Che himself, Fidel Castro has finally passed at 90. Well, rest in peace. But as for all the mixed and divisive reactions are emerging, there really is no reason to be fighting over a dead man, even though the fight is really about the ideology that he represented. Communism.

I do not see why you cannot pay a tribute to a world leader just because you happen to be opposed to the world-view they represented. Fidel Castro should be no exception, as he is hardly the devil some people paint him to be. The Cuban diaspora in Miami reacted by celebrating, though even on the death of Osama Ben Laden, I did not see a reason to celebrate death. On the other hand, the Cuban people are in mourning too. A lot of former comrades have been paying towering tributes. Good for them.

However, on the other hand, I am not surprised that the worshipping adulations of the figure have drawn ire of the people aware of his decades-long tyranny in Cuba. I guess Justin Trudeau of Canada was treated a little harshly in his praise of the deceased leader. All he did was called Fidel Castro a remarkable leader. But then again, so were Hitler and Stalin. Of course, not equating Castro with the World War II tyrants. He was a more modern, probably more moderate tyrant in comparison with much softer, wallless gulags.

I thought President Obama’s reaction was probably the most balanced and appropriate, who heroically established relations with Cuba and lifted the embargo partially. This, in my opinion, would remain to be the greatest foreign policy legacy of the Obama years. Truly of historic proportions. Because when the criticism of the Cuban regime’s trade protectionism and closed markets are brought up, the cruel United States embargo should not go unmentioned.

What did the free world really do to invite Cuba to the free markets? Discourage it with embargos? Adopt policies that it is supposed to fight?

But enough of that as I am going to offer what I feel about him, beyond the abstract moral complexities of human rights. I find Fidel Castro inspirational in his emergence, his achievements, and his defiance. I strongly believe that he led his country down a dark alley. I believe he was more practical than the volatile and restless revolutionary Che Guevara, a facilitator of the Cuban revolution, for which I have always suspected Castro not to be a true believer in the cause of revolution and just saw it as an instrument of power.

In contrast, Che was a true revolutionary. One who had to move on and find new battlefields against the right wing imperialists. Not saying that Castro was not one. Of course, one who had to find revolutions to be a revolutionary. Castro just settled for a regime.

Fighting one superpower with puppets by being a puppet of another superpower.

What my friends on the left wing do not get about the socialist utopia created by Castro’s revolution is that it may deliver equality. It may even deliver a very good social medical system. But it deprives the citizens of freedom of action, expression, access, association, and movement in so many ways. Without freedom, isn’t social justice rendered redundant?

Source: youtube cap

Source: youtube cap

I was always impressed with the figure of the defiant Fidel Castro, but only because he was defiant. Even to the most illiterate mind in socialist propaganda, Castro’s visuals in Brian DePalma’s and Oliver Stone’s Scarface were awe-inspiring. Hey, someone who stood up to the gringos. I know many people who idolize him purely because he was anti-American, which is the perfectly wrong reason for admiring him. To others, that amount to fighting capitalism.

For that reason perhaps I should have also been impressed by Osama Ben Laden or Mullah Omer. But there is something about the David of Cuba versus the Goliath of America that you had to have a soft corner for the little guy. Besides, he was not exactly crashing planes into the World Trade Center towers.

Source: Universal Pictures

But even in my mild admiration of the dictator, a more dominant feeling was the disillusionment with revolution. I had one very clear idea about revolution. It was his revolution, the Iranian revolution of the Khoemini, and Lenin’s great Bolshevik revolution itself, that forever warned me of the ills and the dangers of this word. That getting rid of one despot could possibly lead to another, if you are flirting with the wrong, extreme ideas. Ideas such as hanging people in public squares. Ideas such as swift justice.

That a Shah would be replaced by a Khoemini. That a Batista would be replaced by a Castro. And I made up my mind of rejecting this notion whenever it presented itself as a resolution to problems. I particularly became conscious of how casually this very dangerous word behind a very dangerous idea was used. How we were better off without the valor and moral highhandedness of our revolutionary friends, shaming us to come on the streets. We are probably better off fighting the neo-liberal injustices that limit us in our own way. Without compromising our individuality and whatever private space we had.

The idea of revolution is romantic because human individuality and creativity thrive on rebellion as opposed to conformity. No one ever produced a great work of art for daring to be the same like everyone else. So there was no coincidence that El Comandante and his utopia appealed to so many great artists on the left wing, such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and so many more of my left wing friends, whose friendship I greatly value.

The only problem I have with their idea of utopia is that it forsakes the very treasure to which the . Of course, it is about social justice, equality, and brotherhood. But it is also about much more than that. It is about your individual freedom. Just like the idea of abolishing private property. What is left of any freedom if you are not able to secure your property?

So perhaps others might be upset with the dark, cynical, mechanical human condition that the right wing capitalist liberals and conservatives offer. Fighting the ills of the capitalism. And building a near-perfect social medicine system. Or did he? But saying that Cuba is a utopia away from ills of capitalism would nothing but gross exaggeration, it’s the aftertaste of the bitterness of the fall of the Soviet Union, the bastion of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Everyone has a different interpretation of revolution. Sometimes it is the means to the end of an apparently totalitarian but perceivably just social system. To others, it is a constant struggle to push the limits of the morality of a society. To others, it simply is a lifestyle that challenges them to test their own limits and to constantly seek new

Just like a socialist friend could accuse me of misunderstanding the concept of political revolution, at least that of Fidel Castro’s, I could counter the argument with their misunderstanding of what the word capitalism stands for. If capitalism is considered a holistic system of government, then sadly no such thing exists.

Just like the right wing liberals have turned the term of socialism as a pariah, so have the left wing progressives to the term capitalism. Assuming that a humane society cannot be sustained in the brutal financial rat-race of a capitalist economy. Well, we already have plenty of social programs in countries with a stock, futures, and commodity exchange markets. Just like those ignoring social democracies always assume that socialism always means Stalin’s Soviet Union. But arguing that it gradually takes the society to a darker place is a debate for another time.

It is important to understand that while the rivalry of ideology continues, they do not necessarily have to be at war. An economically liberal United States can still work with a communist Cuba. Then again, who could hate Cuba with such divine cigars? Which were celebrated, instead of discarded, by Castro, to his credit. Just like communist China has started to embrace free trade, albeit in its own twisted ways. But it is progress nevertheless and would make the world a better place.

This is why reaching out to Cuba is by far the greatest foreign policy legacy of the term of President Barack Obama and let’s hope for an even brighter future. You could draw inspiration from Fidel Castro, while still not forgetting that far greater ideals lie 90 miles across the shores, for which countless Cubans risked their lives.

You could draw inspiration from Fidel Castro, while still not forgetting that far greater ideals lie 300 miles from its shores, across the sea, for which countless Cubans risked their lives. Let’s even call it the greed of money or a better future. Others were simply looking for.

Freedom.

I thought that is all revolutions come down to.

If you are not selling that, who is going to fight for your revolution?

Where is the Ideological Defense of Privatization?

Source: channel24.pk

Source: channel24.pk

In Pakistan, the intellectual superiority of the center left is almost taken for granted. The legacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is considered a holy cow without which the idea of democracy could not have existed in the country and without which the middle class could not have possibly existed. Of course, in order to achieve these much necessary goals, it was necessary to nationalize some industries and to initiate others a la Soviet Union. Ah, what a wonderful place Soviet Pakistan would have been, oozing with social justice and equal opportunity misery.

Why blame the center left political workers for their passionate ideological beliefs from high school years? It is misguided criticism. These are merely political positions after all. Our civil and military bureaucratic philosopher-kings are great believers and pushers of these opioid myths themselves. The only difference is that unlike the well meaning socialist political workers who seriously want to change the world for the better, they want and extort welfare for their own ruling class. This has been the story of the Pakistani welfare state for six odd decades.

In the tradition of the allure of the distant social welfare state, which happens to be as elusive as the Jannat-ul-Firdaus itself, the people of Pakistan continue to be hooked on myths about the role of the government in their lives. It’s more like a theory of everything in terms of solutions. Somehow these stories always help enable the establishment and expansion of bureaucratic agencies, even at the cost of avoidable billions on the debit side of all sorts of financial statements. However, only a diabolical neo-liberal without a conscience could dare question these excesses and stand by wasteful luxury urban mass transit projects at the same time.

Many of us would have thought so, but members of PML-N are certainly not made of any such material. Supposed to be center right fiscal conservatives, because you have to label the other side with something, they are nothing of the kind. Pretty much like their opposition. They probably far outspend any other liberal or center left parties who have ever had the chance to present a fiscal budget. They also pretty much don’t care about the national debt. They are happy to add on external debt as much as possible, not that anything is wrong with that, probably because they can actually get hold of the money from international donors for a change.

What the heartless part of this very heartless political party does get right about governance, and let’s not even get into the economy, is their alleged commitment to Privatization. An evil word that brings out the Che Guevara in every sophomoric philosopher in Pakistan. Releasing schools of red herring, pun intended, about the slippery slope of crony capitalist takeover and rants about selling off the law enforcement. How dare you speak of selling our mother’s jewelry to crony capitalist burglars? Especially if they happen to be Arab or Jewish.

In a country with army generals and civil bureaucrats constantly aspiring and conspiring to become business tycoons, who can blame them for being so cynically skeptical? It’s simply common sense. This is why it is indeed important to appreciate their opposition to privatization to national liabilities such as the PIA and the Steel Mills. This is why I am such a fan of the bicameral legislature. For political parties such as the PPP, it is the last thread of relevance that they are hanging by.

Nevertheless, substantial ideological opposition to the intellectually bankrupt center left political parties is almost absent in Pakistan. The slightly-right-to-the-center-of-left PML-N has managed to win repeatedly in Punjab on the basis of perceived performance, but they would hardly stand up to them because most of them don’t even believe in privatization themselves. Primarily disciplined by the autocratic Sharif brothers, most of them would be jumping up and down the Constitution Avenue if the opposition party were proposing similar terms when set loose.

It would be such a relief that instead of defending their pathetic departmental record as a solution, (you have to pander to the voters) they would try explaining that the government simply does not have business running some corporations. Also, nationalizing industries is not how you prevent crony capitalist monopolies, it is how you ensure them. This bit of ideological purity could have been ignored if the corporations in question were not such living pictures of the failure of government administration. Even most apologists for nationalization agree on remedial action and the impossibility, if not the irresponsibility, of their sustenance.

This brings us to the question of our public unions who make a living out of blackmailing the hard earned money of the taxpayer. Institutions which are ensured and protected by the corrupt idea of nationalized corporations. There is a reason why the deadwood freaks out at the very mention of private sector because they know they would run out of financiers of their incompetence. They would also miss patron politicians like Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari reinstating employees laid off decades back, with benefits. Political hiring and political firing. Sounds like a plan for eternity.

Of course, the forever held hostage taxpayer is obviously not able to offer much resistance to the similar excesses by the military state capitalism complex, and is bound to hope for some change promised by the “right wing” majority federal government. Probably because they seem to be the only ones agreeing to do something about it. However, the good folks at the PIA and their regressive center left allies are at it again resisting the privatization of their corporation on life support, as is their democratic right.

This is where the PML-N government needs to ignore the much misguided popular opinion in Pakistan and stand up to the public unions. No harm in threatening to fire them, instead of firing at their chests, and actually acting on it unless they get their act together and return to work on reasonable terms. Otherwise, the taxpayer does not owe them any obligations to support their per-hour loss that runs in hundreds and thousands of US dollars. Otherwise, someone would prescribe disinfectants for this parasite-infested body sooner or later.

It is time to grow a spine, kill public unions, completely privatize PIA and stop taking every word from the center left as gospel.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

My Pakistani Person of the Year 2013: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Source: geo.tv

Source: geo.tv

For reasons right and wrong, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is my Pakistani Person of the Year for 2013.

He has taken office after a massive victory in the May 2013 elections in which people, of the Punjab at least, have clearly voted for economy ahead of any other issue. And his party PML-N had heavily relied on promises of economic prosperity in its election campaign too. Since government is the sole provider of many utilities, it was just a change of subscription from the same source.

While his party, like every other party in Pakistan, believes in big government and big spending and has to offer its fair share of idiotic socialistic election stunts, it still happens to be the best hope for greater economic liberalization in Pakistan.

Perhaps, another hope is its conservative sister PML-Q, which may or may not vote to support many economic reforms out of political rivalry, while PPP and PTI could oppose based on their ideology. It is a shame that both parties have parted ways on anything but issues, and it is mostly Nawaz Sharif’s fault.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, he has inherited a financial wreck from the PPP led coalition government, which doubled the total debt in its term ending in 2012-13. So it is hardly a surprise that the PML-N government is desperate to finance the state any way it can and adding on further debt.

However, Pakistanis have grown sick of excuses and passing on the blame to the predecessor. The PML-N government will have to make tough decisions and it partially seems headed that way as well, at least in terms of reducing the size of the government. But it could damage the economy to some extent in its own right by irresponsible spending.

At the same time, Nawaz Sharif is far from perfect. He has a reputation of a democratically elected dictator, whose second term legacy is still crippling democracy in Pakistan. His party tolerates Islamic fundamentalism, though there is no other way to win an election in Punjab, and he almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen.

I can never forgive his 14th amendment and never will. But if you still look at him with hopeful eyes, it tells you of how bad things are. Perhaps he is the wrong choice, but I am not liberal, or idiotic, enough to think someone else would be a better choice at this point. I didn’t vote for his party, but would have voted for him had the Prime Ministerial ballot been there.

There is this fool’s hope of keeping your fingers crossed that he has learned something from the second term mistakes. And so far, he has not managed to offend my sensitivities.

Given the usual election cycles in Pakistan, most people are likely to vote for a more populist and pro-socialist government in 2018 in any case. While PML-N can compensate its loss of reputation with its trademark wasteful infrastructural and welfare stunts, even though it could either carry out those schemes or control inflation effectively without widening the deficit, it should at least do the needful about the economy on the larger scale in the mean time. Regardless of the cost.

If PML-N is able to privatize major departments currently administered or influenced by the government, especially PIA  and the Steel Mills, and partially at least, it would leave government with a productive legacy.

I would rather have much lesser government control in the oil and power market as well, though this is harder to achieve. The privatization is the easiest measure and would go a long way in the improvement of the economy and standard of living of Pakistanis.

But he has just rejected a recommendation of OGRA to increase oil prices. I don’t even mind the continuous subsidies if either the size of the government is drastically reduced or the income tax revenue is drastically increased. Failing to make one of the two unpopular decisions would mean continuing the same old disaster.

You cannot have big government without a lot of taxes and cannot expect government to look after every single aspect of the economy without paying taxes. Pakistani people do not seem to understand this.

Most Pakistanis are under the impression that a “good government” can solve all their problems. To them, a “good government” should be like a messiah that would come to their rescue. Can you blame them?

But this is why there is an excess supply of messiahs in Pakistani politics.

This is why you have MPs walking out of the legislature all the time, including PML-N, whenever oil and power prices are increased, so that the government can further subsidize these commodities.

This is why you have parties restoring laid off employees in ancient history with pay and benefits in retrospect at the taxpayer’s expense and call it a fulfilled promise.

And this is precisely why Nawaz Sharif is the best man to lead the country at the moment, until we can find someone better and less messianic. At the moment, only he is really able to bring about the changes that the Pakistani economy actually requires. He could fail, but his direction does not look too bad.

We can put off whatever political correctness we are missing right now to a later year.

My Pakistani person of the year for 2012 was Malala Yousafzai.

Happy New Year.

Sheepthink: Presenting Problems as Solutions

Source: godtreasure.net

One of the most fundamental aspects of politics that you can observe is that it works mostly by the manipulation of human emotion.

And why not. With its practitioners being the guardians, as well as traders, of morality and justice, it becomes all about addressing the grievances of the wronged, given the incessant tendency of the human kind to be drawn to conflict and violence.

The imperfect state of affairs and the injustice and inequality caused by the abuse of power and authority all over the world in one way or another only fuel the tensions among people who feel they have been deprived and cheated.

Therefore, since there are always people who are deprived and even oppressed in some way, there will always be platforms that would offer help, genuinely or not. And often those platforms would ultimately resort to the same ills they have been claiming to liberate people from, should they have their way.

Such is the terrible cycle of politics, call it a deliberate system or a natural random occurrence.

However, in a bid to change the society for the better, greater control of the government is often proposed as a remedy to the prevalent inequality and injustice. Yes, what but the government is the solution to every wrong on earth?

Government control is absolutely necessary when it comes to providing security and protecting fundamental rights, consumer rights and the environment from abuse and malpractice. But more often than not, invitation to greater regulation results in taking a yard when an inch is offered. Arguably the same is true for certain private entities, but it remains to be the very occupation of the government.

Often the solution which is supposed to liberate people from the clutches of evil capitalistic oppressors are the very vehicles of the corruption ensuing this misery.

So is completely abolishing either private enterprise or government regulation the solution?

In the meantime, people would continue to be exploited by political emotional blackmail in one way or another. I would not mind as long as they would at least understand the value of their individual liberty, which they are gladly willing to give away in exchange of an imaginary utopian orgasm.

Establishing social justice by infringing on people’s right is nothing but sheepthink.

Maybe the only solution is just not dropping your guard.