THE U-TURN SPIRIT
Some friends have suggested that we need a clear path and a focus on issues this time and proposed that I make a little introduction as a regular contributor.
Also bowing the my good friend SY, here is what I thought any good friend would want to know:
- I was born to a mother and a father in Eritrea.
- I grew up and went to school in Sudan and did a bachelor’s degree in Economics at the University of Khartoum – graduated in 1994.
- I went back to Eritrea same year and worked – the last one being at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
- I did the 9th round of the national service and was sent back to finish my service at the MFA.
- In 2001 I went along with the students who were sent to South Africa for an MA in Economics at the University of the Western Cape but had to leave (to Canada) before finishing and graduating.
- I tried to go back to school and managed to do an MA in Human Security & Peacebuilding from the Royal Roads University in Canada.
- Politically I used to be a member of the General Union of Eritrean Students (very few may still remember very little about it) until its dissolution in mid eighties and was a member of the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students until I left Eritrea in 2001 – two of the most amazing mass organizations that I am very proud to have been associated with.
- You may also add that I spent at least a week as an active member of almost every Eritrean opposition organization in existence
Back to topic!
I have been reading the comments and discussion to the previous article: SY summarized the previous debates very well (I have nothing to add) – Emma set the tone for the next period and for all I would have to say in a single sentence that (paraphrased) “what matters isn’t in whether we would have this regime or the other but in good administration and governance of whatever we have” – Semere and NITRIC framed the spirit of how we should proceed (paraphrased) “concentrate on solutions and good assumption of one another.” SG practically stayed out of it but (being his nom de guerre) I should be able to read his mind: “kab meEgergerti teTenqequ”. The others that I have not mentioned including Hayat, Haile, Ghezae and others have also raised tough questions, whose answers I cannot claim to know and hope would be answered through our debates based on the assumption of good in everything Eritrean.
Brother Semere Tesfai seemed to have a bit of the bashing (please give him more) for all the crazy things he had said in some of his articles and here I will try to find him an excuse (diHri Hiji gn teQoTeb).
I think what we all do when we take time to write our ideas and make arguments is like painting (not that I know anything about painting). Mind you – WE ALL (from tanika-moulded PFDJ to Gangman-style opposition) HAVE THE SAME THING IN MIND: AN ERITREA THAT WE CAN BE PROUD TO CALL HOME. Simple because we have no choice (as no other human being does as far as I can imagine), we discuss the same thing in three dimensions. Change the name “dimension” if you chose or add others if you will: (a) we describe what a perfect prototype Eritrea is the way we conceive it; (b) we describe what the actual Eritrea on the ground is or looks like; (c) we propose ways of bridging the gap between the two.
Imagine someone, say you, making the simplest argument in just one sentence and decide to propose that: “Skalu Menqerios is a woman” (you could pick any other name or even use a pronoun – it is just an example). Then we will assume that your projection of the other two dimensions is implicit in your statement:
(a) You told us what you saw and decided it was a woman.
(b) The prototype of “woman” looks like what you see (i.e. if you ever wish for a woman, what you see is what you will get), and you know no other prototypes (since you have not said anything more).
(c) By not adding any qualifiers to your sentence, you are saying there is no difference between what that woman is and what a woman is supposed to be. Of course, by using the article “a” you are also telling us that, “she is not alone” and that “there could be millions of them out there” (and you say fear-mongering?).
If you add any qualifiers to the sentence, such as “Skalu Menqerios is a beautiful woman”, then you are making assumptions about the difference between the prototype woman and the actual woman and implying possibilities of bridging the gap between the two.
No one can write any argument in less than (at least) those three dimensions without either explicitly writing or implying some assumption about the other dimensions (go ahead and try to write a one-dimensional argument). Give the article to any reader and voila, you will see the three dimensions either “teKhodimom” or “tegadimom”. These projections are present in anything that anyone can ever say in the context of debating. I think what makes debating endless fun is this enormous capacity of simple words to hide extensive internalized knowledge and experience (and therefore meaning), that would allow every Tom & Jerry (Gadi’s Idea – yelokhulan) to make very plausible scenarios about how you might have managed to know, prototype and compare that, “Skalu Menqerios is a woman” (aymeslekan?).
In doing so – as far as I can imagine – each of us along with T&J (individuals and groups alike) have only two (not less and not more) ways of making an argument. The two choices of technique are:
1. USE DARK TO SHOW LIGHT:
True to the tradition of our “opposition”, we all use dark to show light. In an integrated picture, we almost exclusively concentrate on showing the bad in our opponents in the hope that people will see the good in us (i.e. as a means to an end). Of course, there are those for whom showing the bad in others is an end in itself (the subject of the paragraphs below). In our obsession to prove that the PFDJ regime is wrong (and hence leading people to believe that we are right), the overwhelming tendency is to attribute to the regime everything that shows up in the bad news media. I think what brother Semere Tesfai, myself and the majority of our great writers did was exactly the same. Deep in our arguments all the demonization of the other was seeded to cultivate in readers the capacity to choose the proposed solution by warning them that the alternative was far worse.
To make these arguments convincingly you need a few fixed non-negotiable (obviously irrational) assumptions like those that we have come to accept as true. For example, the proposition that “THERE IS ONLY ONE KILLER IN ERITREA AND IT IS NOT GOD”, used to explain away everything and leave unanswered only “why the PFDJ decided to kill X?” If it happens that some government official, for instance, has died of natural cause, we get confused and run out of words, as was the case with the great Wuchu (may he rest in peace).
Foundational propositions, such as, “THERE IS A ROOT CAUSE TO EVERY DISASTER” are used to attribute every catastrophe to the PFDJ. I know making statements like this in light of so many sad incidents might sound insensitive, but I believe it is the most sensitive thing to do. The intention is to reach a common understanding in ways that contribute real value to efforts dealing with real horrors. We will come to the complexity of humanitarian challenges in our diaspora in separate articles later on. For the sake of the point that I would try to make, let us think of a simple scenario.
Some crazy person treats his wife like a slave and maintains a “slave camp” in his backyard. On a daily basis, she wakes up to “doolla” and sleeps to “shamooT”. He starves her to death and gambles with the neighbors. He promises a lot and delivers nothing but disasters and horrors. Is she not justified to run away for her life? Well she does! Things do not work out. Sadly, on her way to a safe place, a drunk driver hits her and she passes away. If you were a lawyer, or a person with some decency and honesty, and would genuinely like to help by making sure that somebody accounts for her death, and pedestrians who survived get some help, what would you do? Would you go after the drunk driver and traffic police and the bystanders who did not help, or would you go after the abusive husband because he was the root cause of all this?
Let us think of a different root cause, where the husband was actually a sweetheart who insists on one “kutsha” next the one he had just stolen from the neighbor’s wife. She wakes up to a kiss and goes to bed in a hug or does the chicken dance in the dream gardens in the backyard. Early one Valentine morning she decides to pick him a red flower. Sadly, on her way to the flower shop, a drunk driver hits her and she passes away. If you were the same philanthropist, would the root cause still matter? To be honest – if you were the root-cause philanthropist – all you cared about was to use the poor woman’s cause to incriminate the abusive husband on something that had nothing to do with the horrible accident and the immediate victim. Do not get me wrong – there is no cause nobler than going after abusive husbands – but why fish in dirty waters?
I mean no disrespect spoiling my New-Born state with sinful acts (and my deepest apologies to brother Woldeyesus Amar and the rest of the EPDP for any misrepresentations and offensiveness in my previous articles), but this video (start at 5:20 to 10:00 mark) shows one organization (by no means the only), that has internalized and taken for granted so many of these irrational propositions to be true, and hence acceptable without question, stating without reservation or shame pure meanness as primary foreign policy objectives: (a) depriving the PFDJ of popular support at home and abroad; (b) depriving the PFDJ of any benefits flowing from other countries. I know many of you agree with them and are surprised about the extent of my U-Turn, but please continue to read as I try to show what I believe to be the source of what I see as policy inconsistencies.
2. USE LIGHT TO SHOW DARK:
The PFDJ (you may say, “along with all regimes that have an interest in overlooking the horrors they have caused”) follows this technique in making the case for the Eritrea that we all dream about. Watch Eritrean Television and PFDJ media for a few days and you are on a U-Turn: if not fully convinced, at least seriously entertaining the FACT that it might not be as bad as you had always thought. Apart from digging holes or carrying rocks in the government’s propaganda section, you will see unbelievably good people, like Adey Abeba (I guess), who funds and I believe runs programs for blind and deaf kids year after year – just for the heck of it and irrespective of the “root causes”. You will see kids, who obviously have no idea what a root cause is, reaching out to the best of their imagination to answer simple questions; women smiling just for learning to write “weridooni”; and lots of people tired but proud building dirt roads connecting nowhere to nowhere. If you tune in at the right time, you may see some snow in Asmara for a change.
Would you make a U-Turn – and a U-Turn from what? I did a U-Turn on the method and not the substance of the struggle for change in Eritrea. There is no need to make a U-Turn on substance. In fact, the PFDJ (and everything under its mandate inside and outside the country) is the only Eritrean entity that is actually directly involved in a struggle for change in Eritrea: we change the regime and they change the people. We may not agree on whether their change is different from our change but it is change nonetheless. Even if you manage to argue that the actual outcome of their change is horrible, you would not be able to disagree with the principle that they think, just like we do, that they aim towards a better Eritrea not a worse one.
To make a U-Turn on the method of struggle for change, we need one core assumption: THAT ALL PEOPLE PURSUE THEIR GOALS TO THE BEST OF THEIR INTENTIONS. This assumption might seem unfounded as it seems to assume away all evil intentions from the politics of our relationship to others. It is actually at the core of the conception of “Utility” in social sciences. Rational individuals (read chapter one) in economics are selfish agents who maximize their own utility with the core and only purpose of satisfying their own needs not with the mean purpose of hurting others. In no way does economics or any social science that I can think of, as far as I know, presume pointless meanness in human beings. Meanness may be a by-product of economic behavior that probably arises as a problem at the level of the distribution of benefits, but even in those cases, I believe, it should be seen as a strategy that can be justified by rational humans rather than an end in itself. The condition of “maximization” as a characteristic of rational agents is only another way of stating that economic agents pursue utility exclusively for the good contained in it and they do so to a point that leaves no doubt of under-exploited rationality.
Help me if it does not make sense, but I suppose meanness, as an end in itself cannot be assumed even in the worst of criminals. Things that can stand trial in a court of law and the court of public opinion in any decent society are those that are capable of rational thinking, and causes that are worthy of the administration of justice. The reason that there are court proceedings with a focus on establishing evidence of deed or intention is because we have to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that there are rational, reasonable and believable calculations involved in committing an offense or breach of the law. People on whom such rationality cannot be assumed implying that the meanness involved in the crime was pursued as an end in itself, are referred for psychiatric assessment and society does not care if they get away with their crimes no matter how horrible they might be.
You may be wondering why I would be making such an obvious statement – but to your surprise and mine – there are actually people who have tried very hard to prove the insanity and pure sadistic meanness on the very person they are suing for horrible crimes. No smart lawyer with the least common sense would do that if he/she cares one bit about the cause of his/her victims. It is a loosing strategy because it contravenes the basic sense of justice in any society. No self respecting community can tolerate any form of coercion whether carried out at the level of personal initiative in contexts of voluntary transaction or administered as legal punishment representing collective will or employed for PR purposes to promote specific interests of political groups, taking place against people that society considers irrational by nature or incapable of rational reason.
Do not take this as an obsession with newfound wisdom, but this links to the concepts promoted in the previous article. As the example where the assumption of meanness cannot exist without also assuming limitations on the capacity of the person or thing concerned to make rational judgment implied, these assumptions apply at the level of intentions (i.e. means) not on ends. In a community where the logic of incrimination drove backwards from ends to means and intention, i.e. where the intention could be implied from the extent of damage done, every crime would have to be accounted for, including those committed by individuals who would be well deserved to plead “not guilty” on the basis of insanity.
Such a society does not exist and if it does or did exist, it must be on its way to extinction because such is the beauty of God’s creation of men that if not acted upon by external forces, always strives for the best in the human spirit. Hence the consequence of what you do is irrelevant in the precautionary devises (such as the law) of a just society, as such devises should be designed to control excesses and deviations in the presumed intentions of individuals and groups in that society. Where the presumed profiles of members of that society exhaust all the factors that predict the acts and behaviors of rationality, it can be safely assumed that any consequences that do not match our expectations of that society were caused by forces beyond the control of a just society. This is true because irrational members (those whose profiles do not fit the definitions of rationality), who may also cause deviations in the expected outcomes, are not worthy of trial and are therefore natural disturbances that any perfectly designed humanly system should expect and accept (in Arabic you may call them “Museeba”).
It is this natural constitution of men’s behavior that the greatest philosophers blended as the “invisible hand” that regulates society and produces order, respect and dignity in the hypothetical society of men presumed equal in their capacity to pursue the improvement of the state of their utility to the maximum. It is true that societies have found the invisible hand of natural order crippled by considerations of differentials in men’s capabilities to maximize giving rise to suboptimal social order where the distribution of opportunities, liberties and protection cannot be justified by the assumption of rationality in men. It is also true that restrictions to the rational character of men can be justified on the grounds of guaranteeing the incidence of the just society at the level of outcomes where actual justice is experienced. You may add to this the utilitarian rule of thumb, (underlying the conception of voting democracies – elaborated in SG’s comments to the previous article) that the closest that any humanly system of social order can come is by assuming sufficiency where the good in society can be maximized to fit the constraint of “the greatest good for the greatest number”.
Under no condition may we, however, assume away the objective existence of the good society of well-intentioned rational men because this natural law is inherent in all forms of relationships regulating interest-driven interactions among men. Where any form of sustained patterns of interpersonal relationship is observed, some variation of that natural constitution of men must be assumed. Where such a society of men is constituted through a long history of cooperation and competition in horrible wars and bloody negotiations, as is the case with the PFDJ, it is safe to assume that a more complex social contract regulated by some form of constitution balanced with many sticks and a few carrots does exist. It may not be a written and explicitly codified constitution, but a constitution nevertheless, and a much more sustainable one by virtue of its proximity to the natural order of rationality.
Claims surrounding the “unimplemented” Eritrean constitution, therefore, should be rephrased for its proponents to evade absurdity and ridicule – as the proposition that “Eritrea does not have a constitution” is one that only an ignorant and bigot or a rationally deceitful politician can promote with a straight face. What the “constitution crowd” is demanding isn’t “Eritrea should implement THE constitution” but “THIS Constitution”. That probably is why such demands are always qualified by reference to the year of ratification (1997).
To be honest with you again – you should be glad it ended up where it belongs (this time for a different reason than what you probably guessed I have in mind). Now that we have seen and heard the assumption of pure evil in anything that has to do with the history and achievements of the Eritrean struggle and the unimaginable reconstruction efforts of a people sweating tears and blood in the hope of a better day, we should know what was wrong with the constitution. Here too, I mean no offense and what I say should be understood within the limits of rationality and good intention described in this article.
I have never met Professor Berekhet Habteslassie in person, but I did talk to him over the phone a couple of times during the hay days of the EDP, where I used to be a member and I know he is among the very few people of his education and age that managed to maintain a tireless presence in Eritrean politics. To be more direct, he is one of those many Eritreans that make up the profile of the prototype Eritrean upon whom the assumption of purity of intention should be presumed without question. I might have said things that sounded mean and irrational about him and about many other good people in some of my previous articles – but as I have mentioned above – it is my hope that all those crazy things would be reinterpreted within the heat of making arguments in the context of means to ends. I hope he accepts this as a gesture of goodwill and an invitation for input and guidance in a civilized debate (and on the right side this time).
Am I trying to find an excuse to refer you to this interview with Professor Berekhet? Well I have to find a way of provoking him to say something – anything is good enough: as part of the argument above, I thought, an implicit elitist agenda presuming (actual or potential) evil in the men and women that the constitution was designed to control is clear beyond doubt. In other words, the designers of the constitution were well aware that their task was to set up a constitution that would usher an era of radical transformation from a Big Brother dictatorship to a democratic one. They were also aware or had reason to believe, that political pressures surrounding the PFDJ and the President motivated the push towards a democratic constitution. In some meeting with the President, the commission members (I guess) were pleasantly surprised that they did not have to explain the gravity of what a constitution would mean to his presumed monopoly of power.
In light of the concepts of rational invisible-hand justice proposed above, it would be, more plausible than not, to take the preceding two statements as pure and unfounded assumptions (i.e. the “Big Brother regime” assumption and the assumption that it would be irrational for “the Big Brother” to promote a constitution). The reason is that, “the Big Brother” of the armed struggle was himself premised on similar circumstantially situated presumptions – not on the possibility of the unintended byproduct of rational interaction with the circumstances of the armed struggle. It is partly this built-in bias and presumption of evil and selfishness in people who had exhausted any imaginable limits of selflessness toward trading their own dreams for those of others that made the spirit embodied in the constitution contrary to the predominant spirit of goodwill and optimism at the time. At the grassroots orientation of the spirit of the constitution too, the presumption of the Hobbsian characters that if unchecked, would unleash unlimited potential to cannibalize and devour one another is clear beyond doubt.
I believe it is this inability (of the designers of the Eritrean constitution) to presume that humans in general, and Eritreans who have gone through so much in their history, are inherently decent rationally maximizing individuals that restricted their (of the designers) ability to predict many of the phenomena that invalidated the applicability of their provisions in later years. It is the same flaw in our thinking that continues to restrict our ability to interact positively with the behaviors, ideas and politics of developments on the ground and the tears and smiles of ordinary people in Eritrea today. My guess is that, if some good in the Eritrean spirit inherent in the rational explanation of their objectives, activities and interactions had been assumed as given, the potential for groups of individuals with a natural (not necessarily mean spirited) tendency to exploit every opportunity in constitutionally regulated loopholes such as the land proclamation would have been predicted.
Similarly, as long as we insist on presuming unexplainable evil in the PFDJ government or any other government that follows, subsequent struggles for change in Eritrea will necessarily be trapped in zero sum solutions where one side must lose for the other to win. Let us make a U-Turn and assume goodwill in whatever the PFDJ government and the diaspora opposition is doing or has ever done, so that we would be able to rationalize the policies and activities of the government and opposition and explain differences in terms of tangible things whose solutions may be negotiated. It is only such a U-Turn or some form of it that can guarantee the emergence of naturally acceptable and rationally believable alternatives – either, because of our good intentioned proactive initiatives of negotiated change – or in spite of our stubborn inflexibility to change. Deep down, we should believe, that such a U-Turn is inevitable because such is the destiny of a proud hardworking decent nation that would never settle for less.