Friday, August 22, 2008

Syrian existentialism

Imagine a natural disaster has struck a country. This disaster is subsequently blamed on the scientists by the public and the mob quickly exiles, imprisons or hangs any of these that it could find. Subsequently, the government decides to ban the education of science and all texts are torn or burnt. Many years later, a more enlightened set of rulers decides to reinstate the education of science and gather all the remaining scraps of text on the subject. These are all lumped together and presented to people as 'science' and learning, for them to discuss and investigate. What we get is people who are presented with scientific truths but with no way of ascertaining it's accuracy. They are oblivious to true scientific method and are ignorant about how to move forward. In addition, they think they are talking about science but in reality it bears no relation to true science. So these people are faced with something they can no longer comprehend and are only scraping an awareness of it in the dark. They are blind and lost. If you substitute science for morality and the setting becomes the Syria we know today, we find that the example still holds. In Syria today, no one premise about morality or justice can be agreed upon by all, meaning any discussion about morality, and in fact any pretense about morality, is completely useless.

In a society where you are unable to rationally discuss what morality is because the two sides have completely different premises, the recourse becomes either bullying or enticing the other into accepting your view, verbally, or by pleading to their emotions. If you don't like something you protest and express indignation, that is enough, for you can never win an argument nor can you lose one. This emotivism, where you appeal to peoples emotions rather than try to convince them rationally to do what is right, is the poor substitute to morality that so many of the Syrian middle and upper classes have internalised. The liberal idea of an "individual" with rights from the government becomes portrayed as the challenge to the stagnant and incompetent authorities. In a society such as Syria's, the interpretation of the good is now down to each and every individual to articulate which means we will constantly be at odds with one another. From the French occupation to the 'Correctional' movement, Syria's overall conception of the good has been slowly removed from the public sphere and confined to the private, to the individual, and this has been driven largely by the secularised 'elites' who have imposed foreign political realities on an Arab and largely Muslim people. Since nobody can agree on anything, people become viewed as a means to your own end, which you now articulate as 'the good'. Society becomes one big competition where everybody is out to get you and you must look after your own interests whilst politics becomes nothing more than another form of Civil War.

As such, morality is now nothing more than whatever suits your own interests and in fact society commends you on 'adaptability' as a child should you find it prudent to lie or steal. In such a society, those who are able to succeed the most, by that societies standards, become those who are able to rule and they in turn find this state of affairs to be most suitable for them, since it would not be in their interest for a country to have a unified vision of the good. Society and it's philosophy spill over into the realm of politics and the peoples emotivism is expressed politically as Liberalism. There are now many educated Syrians who think it is a badge of honour to call their political views "Liberal" and even economically, many people are accepting Syria's gradual liberalisation as the only way forward for prosperity and for helping to achieve what they think is the good. Already, large portions of Syria's population are condemned to misery and poverty whilst others find it possible to purchase jeans for $900 and have a 250SP coffee in a trendy Costa Coffee whilst surfing the net on their laptops. This economic system helps to bring out the worst in what is already rotten about political liberalism and is helping the rich get richer. For a society which thinks it's goods can only be obtained by the material, the government is only too happy to oblige and eventually, issues such as Palestine or Iraq are sacrificed on the sacred altar of Syria's 'interests'. The public cheer on with joy.

In all this mess, we hear people lamenting the death of a sense of nationalism and pride in Syria, which begs the question how at all possible this is in such an environment? If Syrians can no longer articulate and agree upon what makes a life "good" and what constitutes morality, how can they possibly agree on the way forward with regards to helping in the liberation of Iraq or Palestine? Yet we are presented with, and expected to believe, a jingoistic, sham nationalism for a state which now, thanks to the increasing liberalisation of the economy and society, is run by businessmen and seems to have more in common with a corporation than a national government.The state now requires you to sign in triplicate on any of the necessary forms and also die for it on occasion. This is the situation we find ourselves in today, not just in Syria, but across the world, a postmodern fantasy land where morality has been killed. We now give "the good" pejorative titles which make it unappealing whilst the immoral, the wicked and the ugly are presented to us as admirable and sought after. In acquiring these we become 'daring' in the face of society or entrepreneurial when we put profits ahead of principle. The philosophy of liberalism and the penetration of capitalism into our country offers Syrians only one thing, a life with no purpose where the strong devour the weak.

The main theme for this post is based on a thought experiment and book by a philosopher called Alisdair MacIntyre. I came across MacIntyre's 'After Virtue' book online and by complete coincidence and after reading this comprehensive article about the man's political philosophy I just had to purchase it. I won't go into very much detail as you can read it yourself, but I became particularly excited when I started to compare what this man was saying with what I see happening in Syria. We know there is something wrong happening there, as is the case with much of the world (Hint: It got a lot worse after 1991) but for somebody to put their finger on the pulse so accurately is rare. Learning is done not only by the constant accumulation of new information but by the evaluation and reorganisation of existing information into something meaningful and insightful. I saw much which was familiar in what he said but it is the way he presented it in a coherent account which intrigued me and drove me to write this post.

1 comment:

qunfuz said...

look at this for a coincidence. I've just posted something on a great writer called Alasdair McIntosh.