Monday, December 01, 2008


Most man-made conflicts of the modern era pose a basic question. Should social wealth be owned and managed by particular groups, with everybody else assigned to an ancillary role, or should this responsibility be shared?

The first model offers unparalleled freedom and reward for whatever group or alliance of groups -- read: whatever class -- exercises this authority. Under various "communist" systems this has been executive officials in government; under the so-called "free-enterprise" or "democratic" regimes it is the domain of investors and managers within corporate institutions; while most of what is described as "socialist" involves a kind of middle ground between the two, with government controlling some industries and the private sector others.

All of these models claim to be "representative" in the sense that the governing class derives its authority, somehow, from the population it governs; and, moreover, that it governs in the best interests of all. For instance, in constitutional republics -- of which the above examples include -- there is a piece of paper which lays out the rights of the people and the responsibilities of the rulers, and this paper -- in addition to future bits of paper doodled by legislators -- will form the basis of that nation's "legal system," which can be summed up as an elaborate attempt to conceal power disparities by filtering them through a supposedly neutral institution known as "the judiciary." It is one example, along with elections and other devices, of how legitimacy is explained.

All of this can be very impressive in form, and yet it brings along with it many horrible dimensions, best observed when the people in charge fail to deliver a basic means of survival to the population. The ensuing desperation plays itself out in many different ways, with violent outbursts -- such as terror attacks on financial centers, or civil war -- coloring the most extreme -- you might say, "poverty-stricken" -- examples. Where people have food, and some means of stability -- as in the wealthier nations -- they may simply riot or partake in crime; where they are sufficiently affluent and educated, they may petition their government more politely, or seek to enter its ranks.

India is a hugely unequal society with a big domestic terror problem, whether linked to the most recent attacks or not. And like many modern societies, it is organized in a way which makes poverty for many the basis of incredible wealth for a few. Thus, that wealth becomes a big target, in various ways, by the many. It can continue to be the monopoly prize of competing groups, or it can be diffused to address basic needs. One guarantees more terror attacks; the other guarantees resistance from privileged groups who would rather bomb the world and all its inhabitants in a "war on terror" before ever relinquishing an inch of their privilege. We should never confuse their interests with our own.

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