While on the subject of world news, something new is brewing in the East, too, and I want to use it as an example of the power of illusion.
Yesterday I talked about France and their spiral of violence. They just keep doing the same thing, both sides, and it draws them deeper and deeper into violence, with bigger and bigger sacrifices by all and a lesser and lesser chance of ever finding peace. Europe is now as unsolvable as Middle East.
Meanwhile, South East Asia just saw a dawn of new era of democracy – I’m speaking about Myanmar. A week ago they had their first meaningful elections in a quarter of a century and the opposition achieved a monumental victory. It’s the second election since the country began transitioning to democracy a few years ago but it’s the first time the popular opposition party, National League for Democracy, took part as well. Their iconic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, can’t take the president’s post herself because she was married to a foreigner and has children with foreign passports but it’s a huge victory for her and her party anyway.
Last time NLD run in elections twenty five years ago they won 80% of the vote but the military didn’t accept the result and put ASSK under house arrest. This time the generals conceded and Myanmar is set to return to the democratic fold. Hooray! Celebrations all around.
It’s victories like this that inspire people all around the world, ASSK is like a modern Nelson Mandela, undergoing great personal discomfort but unshaken in her resolve, in her dedication to democracy and to her country. Victory well deserved, very sweet, and so Myanmar will live happily ever after.
I’m pessimistic. They don’t know what they are getting themselves into and this victory is nothing but a carrot dangling in front of a donkey.
Śrīla Prabhupāda explained it many times but people don’t seem to get the seriousness of the donkey situation – grass can be had everywhere, there’s absolutely no reason for the donkey to carry huge burdens, let alone chase the carrot. To Śrīla Prabhupāda it was an apogee of stupidity, to everyone else it’s just normal life, there’s nothing wrong with it.
Of course people understand the donkey situation but they don’t take it seriously. Donkeys have been around forever, they are domesticated animals and so practically a family. They might be stupid but we are not going to release them back into the wild, it’s unthinkable. Prabhupāda might have a good point here but we are not going to change our treatment of donkeys, he can’t really expect us to do that.
Metaphorically speaking, we are all donkeys in some way, we understand the metaphor and we might re-examine some aspects of our behavior, but we are not going to change our lives either – Prabhupāda can’t be serious by comparing us to donkeys. This is exactly what Prabhupāda meant by stupid – no amount of explanation can fix us, we just don’t have enough intelligence to change our lives around.
There are two things to consider in our asslike position – the grass and the carrot. We don’t believe that we’ll get the grass without hard work. We don’t believe that Kṛṣṇa would literally supply us with all the necessities if we simply chant the Holy Name. Our ācāryas might say it again and again but we still think we need to work for a living.
Actually, our ācāryas said that everyone needs to work for a living, too, that’s what Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna in Bhagavad Gītā, but I think there’s some misunderstanding here. Everyone must work by the dint of being born in the material world but that’s not the same as everyone must work for a living. Everyone must work for Kṛṣṇa and, as far as living is concerned, it will be there as long as work is, it we “must work” but not necessarily “for a living”. That’s a discussion for another day, though.
Second consideration is the carrot. We see this carrot within our reach, just another step forward and it will be ours, it is as good as ours already, and we are not going to exchange this carrot for whatever grass is there.
Carrot, however, is never really ours, we can’t exchange it for anything because we never have it, it only dangles in front of our noses but is never attainable. It looks good, it smells good, and sometimes we can almost bite it, but it never actually happens.
We approach the carrot problem scientifically – we calculate the distance to it form our noses, we calculate our speed, we calculate the speed of the carrot, and we make great plans how to get it, hundred percent foolproof. We follow these plans, we chart our progress, and one day the carrot will surely be ours, we can even calculate how many days we have to wait exactly.
Same thing is happening with this Burmese democracy. The NLD looks to win 80 to 90 percent of the contested seats (some seats are constitutionally assigned to the military) and it looks as if democracy is finally there, just a few more days before official announcement, then a few more weeks before the new parliament convenes and government is formed, and then democracy will become real.
This has been tried before, however – democracy is still unattainable. There are countries that practiced it longer than others but they are still far from perfect and there’s zero chance that Myanmar will succeed at the first try.
NLD has absolutely no experience of governing anything, ASSK has always been an icon but icons don’t do work either, they exist only to inspire. Normally people reach iconic status through work but not in ASSK’s case. She basically studied abroad her whole life, flew back into Burma in 1988, spoke at a rally maybe a week later, and that was it, she was declared an icon and then the military took over.
Now she says she will govern the country from “above”, not even from “behind” the nominal president, whoever she chooses to appoint. The president will be accountable only to her. There are so many ways it can go wrong, and it always does, Myanmar won’t be an exception.
I also don’t think her huge victory means a lot. Parliament seats are given to winners in each constituency so NLD might have won eighty times out of a hundred but it doesn’t mean it’s supported by eighty percent of the people, each victory could be only 51-49. I assume NLD did significantly better than fifty one percent but we should reserve judgement on NLD’s popularity until all the numbers are in. For example – I just said that in previous elections they won 80% of the vote but actually it was only 59% of the vote but it translated into 80% of the seats.
There’s also the case of the country trying something different for a change. The fact that they want to try it doesn’t automatically mean they’ll like it. Eastern Europe saw plenty of iconic politicians failing to live up to expectations. Those countries didn’t return to communist rule, of course, but they also became much more realistic about their expectations. Myanmar will have to live through this stage, too, and, unlike Europe, no one will give them tons of money to keep the population happy during the transition.
Then there’s the case of the country opening up and inviting foreign investment. Everybody becomes temporarily excited about Coca Cola and KFC and it would take a couple of decades to lose interest in these things. Asians are more into K- and J-Pop nowadays – Korean and Japanese rather than western culture. Myanmar will eventually catch up, too, and the novelty of democracy wears off.
Then there’s the fact that there are no functioning democracies in South East Asia at all, they are all dysfunctional in some way, be it Thailand with its coups, Singapore with one party rule, or Malaysia with their endless Anwar sex trials.
And then there will be inevitable backlash against the modernization. We are talking about a country where a popular Buddhist monk openly calls for eradicating all Muslims because he feels Muslims dilute their Buddhist way of life. Wait until they see what Hollywood does to their culture.
So, Myanmar is the latest arrival on the scene that doesn’t have any actual victors, only failed hopefuls, but everyone gets overwhelmed by electoral euphoria and really really thinks that the carrot is finally theirs.