Burma, one last rant
Well, the protests in Burma seem to have died down. It’s easy to get people to stop protesting…just start shooting people in the streets and voilà, order is restored. Apparently hundreds, if not thousands of people are dead. And thousands more may have been detained. The only positive sign is that cracks do appear to have formed in the ruling junta: There were reported cases where troops refused orders to fire on crowds, and at least one ranking government official has defected. A UN envoy is in town and I hope there is still the possibility that the junta will decide that the free ride is over, and they might as well cash in their chips now. I mean, how many suitcases full of money, diamonds, and rubies does one really need to retire comfortably in Dubai anyhow?
This sort of thing really upsets me, both for the actually reality of it all, people are indeed being horribly murdered by their own government. It also exposes the whole murderous hypocrisy behind the “organized government” concept to begin with. In the final analysis, most of the planet’s governments are just a cats paw for their nations rich and powerful. And if something threatens the rich and powerful’s control…this sort of thing happens all too often. The world’s governments make a lot of noise about freedom and democracy, but when it comes right down to it, they simply use it as as propaganda to justify their own ends. The Burmese junta is even claiming that all this foreign attention is threatening Burma’s march to democracy!
Should something be done? One can make a hell of a lot better case for liberating Burma by force than was made for Iraq or Afghanistan. The government of Burma would quickly dissolve if the country was invaded, they are basically thugs with no ideological base or following. The Burmese people could do the rest. I’m not seriously suggesting it of course, but the fact that no world leaders are shows that foreign policy is really based on practical concerns, not “spreading democracy” or “spreading the faith” or any of the other ideologies governments use to motivate their population and stay in power. Governments exist primarily to protect the rich and powerful and make sure they stay at the top of the heap. Anyone who thinks otherwise will need some powerful arguments to convince me.
Which is not to say that efforts haven’t been made since at least the time of the Roman Senate and Greece’s experiments in democracy to set up government institutions that would dilute the power any one individual or clique could wield. All the way up through the Magna Carta to the American Constitution and Bill of Rights. But the innate tendency is for the rich to use the government to insure their wealth and survival, and as a general rule individuals make better decisions than committees. These two tendencies working together are the reason most governments are as they are.
Let me elaborate a bit since that was a big leap there. Good solid research shows us that in most times and places individuals will make better leadership decisions than a group. There’s a reason why ships and businesses aren’t run by committees, it doesn’t work very well. A government is nothing more than a really big business, and the exact same logic applies. This almost certainly explains why autocracy is the preferred method of government virtually throughout the entire history of humanity…because for the most part it’s the best way to make your leadership decisions. An indifferent captain is better than a committee any day of the week, if committees made better decisions we would have committeships, not dictatorships.
Of course the trick then is to select a proper captain, and have mechanisms in place for cases where the captain was clearly off his feed so to speak. And alas, that’s a lot trickier than it sounds. There was a time during the 100 years war where the king of France thought he was made of glass, and that if he moved he would break. He spent his time huddled quietly in a corner trying not to move. He did a poor job running the country as a result. Nowadays it usually doesn’t get quite that bad, but it’s come close. Wilson claiming he was “a bit lame” when indeed half his body was paralysed and his mental faculties were clearly badly damaged. Instead of being dragged out of the White House (which would have been easy, him being half paralysed) he went off to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles, one of the worst treaties ever thrown into play on the world stage. There were people at the time who said it would be the cause of another world war. They were right.
So back to Burma, what can be done about situations where a group of thugs has given up all pretence of ruling for the benefit of the country and are just lining their pockets and shooting anyone who dares object? Beats me. Even deciding when such has occurred can be tricky, at one end we have a number of countries that have governments that are fairly reasonable about civil rights, where people can live their lives in pursuit of wealth and happiness in a reasonably free way. On the other end of the scale we have Zimbabwe and Burma and North Korea. Between them we have a whole gamut of government types combined with different cultures. Where does one draw the line and say “this government is legitimate” and “this one isn’t.” Governments, politicians, and the like are of course only to happy to make these decisions for us, in reality it’s not cut and dried at all.
And in any event, history tells us that efforts to fix foreign lands through intervention have a very poor track record. In fact the more stable and democratic a government is, the more likely it’s been around for a long time without major foreign meddling. Most of the world’s communist and right wing dictatorships of just a few generations ago have evolved into more or less democratic societies. Painful as it is to watch, I think for the most part the best we can do is hope the Burmese sort it out themselves. Making sure the junta has every incentive and opportunity to flee is the west’s best course of action, intervening almost always makes things worse.
Which of course segues neatly into the man who knows all to well the folly of an interventionist foreign policy…Ron Paul! Coming soon to a blog near you…why liberals should support Ron Paul for president. I can think of at least one Doug’s Darkworld commenter whose brain probably exploded when they read that, it will be fun.
(The above image of a Japanese journalist being gunned down in the streets of Burma is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, it is central to illustrating the post, and it is an historically important image.)