Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Addicted to Violence

Politics is the art of the possible. Without talking to opponents, one cannot find out what might be possible. Politicians who refuse to talk to opponents ensure that at least some of the potential solutions will not even be considered. Such behavior is, however, not necessarily the result of stupidity or sulking.

When political leaders refuse to talk to their opponents, the simplest explanation is the obvious one: they do not want a solution. They do not have a problem. They are satisfied with the status quo. A politician who proclaims loudly his or her desire for compromise provided that the opponent concede on the key issue in advance is simply talking to the gallery.

Politics is all about negotiating: that’s what they are hired to do. When they refuse to do their job, you are entitled to ask why they want failure. The answer may well be that they do not consider the absence of a solution a failure. "Solution" implies change. Regimes that refuse to talk to those who want to alter the system do so because they are benefiting from the status quo.
  • Chaos and low-level insurgency may well be a price a colonial regime will be quite willing to pay in return for being able to use that violence as the excuse for keeping the colonized people in subjugation. After all, the very point of colonization is to preventing the colony from going its own way.

  • The destruction of a conquered society may well be a price a conqueror will be quite willing to pay in return for gaining access to natural resources or military bases to be used in further adventures. Indeed, social chaos in the colony provides a nice cover for the establishment of military bases for totally unrelated purposes.

  • Low-intensity rural insurgency may be a price a rich urbanized elite will be quite willing to pay if in return it receives massive amounts of military aid from foreign patrons. The military will be likely to enhance its prestige and acquire far more sophisticated weapons than it needs to use against rural rebels.

The elites who reject negotiation and compromise, who promise to "stay the course," seldom end up on the front lines facing the insurgents whose "radicalism" they have provoked. Waste no time asking such politicians what they want. Rather, ask yourself how the violence in a remote rural jungle, or a colony, or a conquered land may be benefiting those elites. It is not the rebellious peasant whose land was stolen by a cattle baron who should be called an "extremist." It is not the rebellious teenager raised in a refugee camp hearing how his parents were ethnically cleansed from their homeland who should be called an extremist. It is not the rebellious militiaman fighting against foreign invaders who should be called an extremist. Is a man who defends his home and family an extremist? No, the extremist is the politician who refuses to talk to his enemy, instead insisting on a policy of preconditions and force.

No comments: