How ideologies get moulded over time to best purpose

By Anil Gujadhur —

Political ideologies were seen as the way forward to a more just and fair society. Religious ideologies were seen as the means for individuals to refine themselves so as to be at peace with themselves and be a force for good in society. It seems so much vested interest has intruded upon them with the passage of time that they’ve become immensely distorted and remotely distant from the quests they were supposed to achieve.

We see almost regularly how some people holding extremist views are randomly killing others who they perceive as different from themselves. This kind of assault is happening in different parts of the world, East and West. It became so common these past years, till today, that people are set thinking whether it can be contained any time soon. It is the way of destruction.

It is suggested that those senseless killings are meant to convey a message. Not only that “we”, the killers, are different from “you” the victims, and “you” therefore deserve to perish without necessarily engaging directly against “us”. It is also meant to convey the message that “our” way of thinking will get over “yours”. Simply said, short of conformism, the aggressors will kill or disrupt all who don’t fall in line with the chosen ideology.

Where there used to be differences of opinion, the custom was to discuss it out sitting across a table, in the best of circumstances. The debate was expected to – and did indeed – lead to a reconciliation of views as the way forward. A consensus would emerge about the way to go forward, with both sides accepting to pour some water in their wine.

Reminiscences

But forcing one’s opinions and beliefs on others has been here since quite some time. Seeking to polarise public opinion around a specific central pole of beliefs isn’t anything new. Vested interests have shown that they would go to any length to depict in the best light what they stand for and to cast as deep down as possible those they see opposed to their interests and pursuits.

In my teens, we used to go to movie theatres which screened typically three “western” films. The Allied Forces had won World War II. It was a period when efforts were made to show the victors in the best of lights, the beginnings of what has come to be known as global Pax Americana.

The movies we were given to watch showed the army of the now defeated Nazis in the worst of lights. The German army was designated as SS. It stood in the Hollywood movies for all that was reprehensible. It was shown for cruelty, crime and atrocities inflicted on opposing armies and civilians, nothing good. It stood for all that was bad even after it had been routed by the western Allies many years ago.

I didn’t realise at the time that a message was subtly being filtered into our minds that those who fought to defeat the Nazis were the “good” ones. Moreover, those in the Allied Forces who undid the most uncanny plots/inventions “hatched up” by the German army were hailed as “heroes”. On the other hand, Nazi officers killed in battle were portrayed as the anti-heroes, worthy only of contempt.

Beyond this, there were strong oppositions in the post-war period between those who supported capitalism and those others who were in favour of communism. The typical propaganda was that capitalists were the worst exploiters of the “proletariat” whereas the counter-propaganda was that communism was all that negated freedom of the individual. A formula called socialism, a mix of market economy along with the controlling heights in the hands of the government, was seen as reconciling the differences.  It befell on China later to show that both ideologies can be made to work for common progress.

Whither now?

Lately, there have been serious disruptions in the international political order that had earlier seemed to coalesce views towards an open global market. Indeed, globalisation involving different degrees of private/public sector involvement in decision-making raised many countries from out of the deep poverty they had encountered over several decades.

With so many taken out of absolute poverty in several countries under this open approach, the hope was that the new-found ideology, globalisation, was here to stay. Not so sure. Contradictions against it have now emerged, e.g., Brexit, Donald Trump.

Had Mauritius not broken from its narrow economic model by taking advantage of international trade openings in goods and services, thanks to globalisation, there was little hope that we would even have come up to the level of a middle-income economy today. As it is normal, we are challenged seriously with the emerging trends towards protectionism in some key countries of the world. Our job is to overcome it so as not to be pulled back into a regressive  economic condition.

It is clear that, for economies like ours to prosper, we have to tie up with other economies. Here, there is scope for ideology as well. We can engage successfully with others if we remain tolerant of differences. This calls for intelligent reconciliation of differences, not confrontation. No pure ideology, it appears, is here to stay.

Consider the Brexit negotiations under way now. Ms May, the British PM, thought that she would carry more weight in the “negotiations”, i.e., get the best deal for Britain (“a no-deal is better than a bad deal”, she used to say during the last electoral campaign), provided voters gave her an even stronger majority in Parliament. Did she reconcile what she would have sought from the EU with what the EU would be willing to concede? No. The results of June 8th elections showed that she would now be forced to “negotiate” from an even weaker stance in Parliament.

Learning the lesson from situations such as these, we should not always go for the kill. We should seek to deal amicably with outside partners. Such has been our trade relationship with the UK and the US and Europe since long that we have steered clear of unnecessary clash and confrontation. It has been the main vector of our development so far.

For this, we should put true good governance to our side. It has unfortunately been avoiding us for some time now. Without the required gravitas and meaning-business on our part, we will find it extremely difficult to strike deals with sustaining outside partners, for, unlike extremists, we don’t have the means to walk away after committing the crime.

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