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Libyan Writer Ghoma
الكاتب الليبي غومة

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Friday, 2 July, 2010

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APPROACHES TO DEVELOPMENT:
No Development Without Creativity and Originality!

(Part IV)

By: Ghoma

"Our opinions will be formed for us by those who have hitherto done the work instead of us, that is, as always Europe and [America]- our teachers for the last ..."
                                                                     Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Possessed



        Perhaps backwardness was an accident of history not a normal default position society had found itself in, but mostly a product of causes and forces which had exceeded society's abilities to fend from or cope with. Some of these causes were intrinsic to certain region's layout, as say the desert in the Middle East; others were merely self-inflicted, as when a society checked out of history and went to sleep.

        The paucity of desert resources imposed severe restrictions on countries such as Libya. The scarcity has had severe consequences on the dynamics of social and cultural developments. For instance, on the social set-up which had long been frozen in the tribal stage -a fossilized relic of long bygone eras. If this primordial mode grew out of the apathy of the bedouins to any order, be political or otherwise, its endurance through the vicissitudes of time was due consequently to the vacuum left by the absence of a body politic's culture. Precisely that culture which would have been in conflict with the social order that would have given birth to and would have to supercede, but would have also dealt with some of the constrainst imposed by geography and tribalism.

        Lack of surplus then had not only stunted any noticeable economic transformations but also had plummeted the region into a lasting bedouin mode of existence. This mode of living at the margins of subsisitence had also given rise to a unique type of polarity: the one between urban enclaves and their larger bedouin hinterlands, that has been wreacking havoc with whatever civilizational experiences the area had come in contact with. This duality had pinned nomadic hordes against likewise poor and abject settled communities. The subsistence economy hence had kept both groups on the edge of a precarious co-existence. Furthermore, infrequent economic exchanges had left regional ties very loose and and thus arrested culture into a mode of repetitive practices of oppressive and dogmatic rituals. Both of these events were causes and effects of the absence of any noticeable changes in the region's fortunes.

        The scarcity, the structural deficits in the economy, had resulted in enduring social and cultural traits inherent in the vulnerabilities of the social arrangements and in the obssessive fear from change. As many economists, among them Milton Friedman, have argued scarcity of resources pales in front of the poverty of institutions that would have dealt with social-cultural and geographical constraints. Geography aside, many of the forces which have kept the region frozen in time and space were consequences of cultural ossification, i.e. the apathy for change and thus of building institutions that would have avoided society's settling in the position of complete stasis.

        Backwardness, therefore, was a cumulative process of historical proportions, of screw-ups that took centuries if not millennia to penetrate and to ensconce in the hearts and minds of an entire society, from its ruling cliques to ordinary folks for generations to no end. In this light, development is bound to deal with this pernicious legacy. As such development thus becomes also an historical arrangement.

        History, therefore, becomes a critical factor and at the core of development. Taking stock of society's past and coming to terms with its failures are a sine qua non any society to become conscious of itself in time and space. What to do with the past: to continue its legacy or fold it altogether, that's, repudiating its effects once and for all and relegating it to the museums. Those who champion the legacy approach would have a valid argument if only history is wise enough, practicable enough, and malleable enough to lend itself into the task of nation-building. The opposite side of the coin, the argument to start from scratch, from a clean slate -which will more likely be the battleground among the various factions- would get more traction if enough evidence could be mustered on how to get the slate cleaned timely and peacefully. The battle to win the minds and hearts of the populace would pin conservatives against radicals. Or, those still stuck in issues of identity and cultural originality versus those who view such abstractions only hark to a remote past no longer tenable. Given the kind of enviroment in which backwardness is usually nestled, the tantalizing yet empty jingles of identity, purity, pride, etc. would more likely resonate more stridently than the more sober and stern calls to self-bootstraping. In the absence of a popular revolution, the pace of development would more likely proceed in snail slog steps, in fits and starts, than by giant leaps and bounces.

        History, the record of past human actions and inactions, is at the center of any nation's existence, as it's bound to contain among its collections, the possible causes and reasons for the country's laggardness, and thus is of paramount importance. As to whether history could be a catalyst to the task of nation-building depends on many factors not the least of which how history was viewed and how was written. In other words, whether history was deemed a catalyst or a distractor, an illuminator or an obfuscator. But the mega-question is: What's to be done with countries which have no history to speak of, no communal traditions to recall, and no past models to emulate? How concocting and spinning of yarns -as some are trying so hard to weave together alternative narratives: People's history, Social history, Oral history, Post-colonial history, and the rest of the other panoply of histories- would further make these countries come to terms with their present conditions and thus face their predictments? This squabble about history's role has contributed to the impasse on how to proceed forward. Even the much touted few development bouts have suffered from confused missions and lack of clear and well focused objectives. The confusion about "who are we?" and "where are we heading?" has split the backwaters of the world into at least two groups: 1-Those with tormented past but little recorded history: and, 2- Those with some history but few, if any, historians, to winnow the grain from the shafts and make history accessible and usable. Thus History's role, if not fate, was doomed to swing between irreconciable and pernicious extremes of either a trap to fall into or a linchpin to start from, instead of weighing the various tendences and mitigate their intemperances! The extreme positions were inevitably the result of not having a well-recorded and agreed upon narratives. A condition that gave rise to polarized positions: some to disavow any trace of history while others to worship at its door step. Countries, like Libya, thus have been seething in this purgatory of the in-limbo, for the last half-century or so, torn between tormented and unretrievable past and a very fuzzy future.

        In some countries history writing took the form of a cottage industry! Literally making it up? History took the turn to fiction writing and thus got bogged down in its many folds and loops, studding it here and there with folksy fables, fanciful stubborn resistances, and chains of heroes. Soothing yarns indeed! Some of these stories may have happened but many others were out of wishful fancy, more of what could or should have been rather of what had been. Owing to the intricate relationship of development to history, a made up past won't make up for a happy future? History can only be a point of departure, to help people get a grip on their conditions, not just to either invoking its contents or rejecting it altogether. Nonetheless, without a clear-cut choice, any process of change would get bogged down in the swamps of cultural myopia.

        Development of a country, in the final analysis, is no other than the collective will of a people to take control of their own destiny. Only thus would put an end to the quixotic contest that pegged yesteryears -with their ingrained byproducts of history and culture- against tomorrow -with its unpredictable challenges. The debate about what to do with the past and where and how to go about it will continue even when modernity had finally got a grip. A propos of modernity? History's role, if any, is to trace how the collective strives' destination leads to modernity's doorstep. Rather than add stokes to a simmering fires. Aldready too many, in the still dozing world, modernity was stagmatized of being a Faustian bargain. A road if taken will lead inevitably to society's losing of soul for the price of saving its rump! The fear from this imagined phantum's byproducts and side effects was stretched beyond reasonable bounds. This bogus and much exaggerated fear has not only distorted modernity's images but most importantly has blurred its liberating potentials. Moreover, what still holds sway on many wretched lands is the notion which has associated modernity with all the ills of the modern world. Wherein claims of modernity's stripping peoples and countries of their identities have more effects than the fact of its benefits in expanding human horizons. Thus an erroneous impression has taken hold and been used by forces and factions to forestall any attempt to proceed forward. It didn't matter whether the issue of identity has been wreacked havoc with by factors only tangentially attributable to modernity's relentess pursuit of economic growth and consumption. Identity was already in crisis long before the inception of the modern world, prompted by the rejection of the oppressive partices of the pre-modern world. In backward countries, however, identity had been exaserpated by the onslaught of colonization, and became even more endemic at its wake. Aggravating the problem was the colonizers' messy withdrawals, leaving behind a see of chaotic impoverished and fractious real-estates. The newly and suddenly put-up states have soon discovered how poor, ignorant, and fragmented their social and cultural make-ups were. Thus, to the political and economic vulnerabilities were added the social and cultural volatilities. Since the various groups inhabiting these states were held together merely by some loose glues that would come apart for the most trivial of reasons. Lack of traditions of how to form and run a modern and efficient state are still at the center of the crisis rampant in the 3rd-World countries, on top of the still festering wounds of colonialism.

        When colonialism withdrew, the states left behind had then but two choices: either to look for a way to find consensus and form a modern working state, or to jump on the wagon already there and wrap themselves in the mantle in place of the inherited colonial-state. Few states had invoked their collective wisdom, China, Vietnam, Cuba, India, Singapore, etc. to blaze their own paths toward some consensus to build a modern and efficient apparatuses of state. But the bulk of the new countries have chosen the relatively easier option, the second option, wrapping themselves under the mantile of the colonial-state, perhaps to gain some time, in the hope of strengthening some of the ties, which would give the needed stability for the development to start. However, this never came to be, and before any development could have started, these states have found themselves bogged down in the swamps which had kept their societies fragmented for so long: tribalism, sectrianism, factionalism, etc. Tribalism in particular is still the scrouge of the modern state.

        Tribalism's abhorence of collective action had kept its loose clans out of history' books. Since tribalism never had a cohesive and consistent history and without history to build on -or to cut clear from- the states that were made up of contending tribal groups have found no better ways than to resort to the repressive apparatuses of the colonial-state to keep the herd together. These states' instability was due mostly to their lack both of legitimacy and tradition of governance, which thus have made them literally feathers at the mercy of the colonial powers' whims.

        As countries prepare to launch modernization, they must keep in mind the deep crisis and traumatic events, not only in the abyss of time's well, but also on the surface of days still upon them. Those events, though had tremendous effects in the way they were shaped, but little transformational effects, and as such couldn't become a launching pad either for soul searching or as opportunities to ask the "Whys" of things present. Many countries instead have summed upo their past in 'never again' and started cleansing themselves from what had kept them muddled. The experiences of tough times had edged these countries to question many of the aspects of their constitutions – inherent in the social setup and cultural practices. Past crises were used thus as cleanisng agents to get rid of what had held these societies back for so long. 'Never Again' was a powerful concept that pushed some societies to do whatever it takes to get rid of what had made them easy preys for the predators of this world. In this way, history became thus an occasion for reflection and therefore a catalyst for renewal. History therefore, has ushered some societies ino both re-founding the country and revitalizing its society on new bases. Southeast Asia is a good exmaple with all its tigers and foxes.

        But if backwardness was a product of history's grinding processes, its persistence is a function of other no lesser powerful force, culture. Culture, as the crucible to history's stirrings, was also the end result of the churning swirls by which values, mores, and norms were produced, reproduced, and transmitted. It thus carries perhaps the heaviest weight in the culpability of society's lagging behind. With its codes of conduct, mores, and values, acting as the operating system in a computer so to speak, by which individuals navigate their environment, however, if this system was left to its own devices could become an entrapment, no different than those of poverty and ignorance. Actually its slow corrosive influences perhaps are much more insidious than the more tangible categories of ignornace and poverty. A stultified and decadent culture, in its broader sense, is no other than an invisible cage surrounding its adherents and superseding their capacity to think for themselves, instilling in their minds and hearts surreptiously those mores and habits pertinent to superstitions and victimization. As a self-referential closed system, culture thus creates its own illusive universe within which, justifactory modes -that sanction the passive and accepts the status quoas of God's induced calamities, if not will, finds a fertile ground!

        Societies living under the sway of mythical thought have to contend with another no less insidious force, than those of history and culture -the product of both of these- that of its own brand of intellectuals, clerical or secular. As to the clerical side, since al-Ghazali's 11th century campaign against philosophy and philosophers had shuttered closed the so-called gates of 'Ijtihad,' and thus had cleared the way for the bearded-turbaned-bunch to dig themselves deeper and deeper into the trenchs of myth-making narratives, which in essence were/are antithetical to reason and to any form of innovation. The clerics had dug their heels deep into the flunkey lore to the extent that any questioning of their premises, not to say their modus operandi, would be seen as a direct assault on theirs and God's strongholds. As for the secular ones, 3-World intellectuals were caught between Western hegemonic and thus alienating forms of thought and practices and their own indigenous scattered array of fossilized local folkores.

        These intellectuals have produced so far screeds that would easily be classified mostly in the flunkey side of thought and thinking. Their hopelessly and helplessly efforts of coaxing and cajoling of both the political power and its shadowy twin, the religious establishment have made them participant in the national blight. Beating on emotional strings, feeding false hopes, and waging on dead horses was not going to arm the defeated nor resurrect past glories or win wars on social pathologies. Their spending of of scarce energy on searching for some illusive panacea, as those of authenticity and originality, etc. to placate some would-be backers or to boost the same culture which still feeds the mythical machine and keeps it revving, was scandalous. The results of these efforts, so far, were to normalize national blight and and brand social miseries as an inevitable fate.

        To exaserpate the social agony, the thoughtfuls, have reverted to their stock in trade: the incessant beating on the dead bodies of abstract cliches, from national identity, to authenticity, continuity, originality, etc. up to modern pathologies of alienantion, blase'ism, etc.. Such diatribes have only fed further negativism into the hopelessly disgruntled, the meek, and the alienated. These intellectuals, starting from the critiques of culture have ended up in affirming its main tenents, if not wokings. Consequently the efforts to understand and thus to ease backwardness have backfired and further worsened its conditions by assuming it to be part and parcel of the structure of what has made social fabric the way it's today. In splitting human achievements, civilization, into its primary constituents of constant and changeable, or fixed and movable, they've indirectly justified the forces of stangnation. Research into 'Constant and changeable' (in culture and civilization of Adonis) or the ineffable flip of the so-called 'Arab Mind' (Arab Thought, of Arkoun, el-Jabri, etc. ) have melded history into philosophy and hermeneutics in a melange of sanctimonious trinity. The Fact is, for the last one thousand years 'Arab thought' was non-existent, went to sleep. In this span of time A-rabs had not produced, with the exception of Ibn Khalduon's descriptive historical breakthroughs, one single idea worth of Micky Mouse's attention span.

        Social processes rarely if ever presented themselves in the garb of a supermaket displays where society could choose from its sheleves what was suitable to its mood under the contingences of the day. Changes that count came always in the wake of tumultuous rebellions against history, culture, and the whole nine-yards of traditions that would have allowed ancestors to rule from their graves. Few societies had the opportunity, if not the luxury, to choose their course of action beforehand and then went on to execute the maneuvers necessary to get them going on the chosen path. Most have faced the changes as they came their way, compelled by circumstances to act against their grinding oppressers, be societal, cultural, or otherwise. Intellectuals have played their part in these dramas. They'd prepared their societies to what was coming their ways and how to go about them. These, unlike intellectuals in the wretched lands of the Arabs, faced their societies with the truth of their circumstances and the dangers they'd be facing. They didn't coat their findings with false pretences or packaged their messages into unreadablke mumbo-jumbos slogans. If truth to be told most of the Arab intellectuals have forfeited their roles, way before they even had started in soaking themselves in the ways and means of near-dead culture in the hope of reviving it and thus have bypassed terribly over the tools of reason and its alleyways and byways. A continuous sing-song pontificating about the glorious past and the ancestors' exceptionalism has without doubt put them on the side of history's dark abarrations rather than on the part of solution seekers. They've become truly part of the problem, by never looking for made some societies succssful while others remained mere flups. Truthfulness to culture or cultural authenticity has run them into entrapment into the so-called ancestors'supposed universals. These kind of intellectuals have to be fought, by all means, just like any other social pathologies, to uncover the guff underlying their unctuous yet deceptive screeds. After dusting off the patina of modernistic methods and thoughts, these intellectuals and their products have very little secular left in them. They have converged perhaps unwittingly with their nemesis, the beared-turbaned-bunch, in the sense both sides in their nostrums have sounded like a broken-record with futile panaceas privy of any realsitic hopes

        The plunders of intellectuals could also be found in the way of history writing. To the extent that in some of these countries the gist of history, and thus the essence of the countries themselves, would get lost in the act of writing it. That;s because the writers' committments before hand to certain positions, their ideological lenses, have blurred their visions and mental perceptions, acting eventually in the manner of the mythical fog of the battlefields; wherein many of the details got portrayed with shaded colors preferred by the powers that be and thus have deemed worthy of their nations collective memories. Real or presumed events got jumbled together in the mayhem of the past. What comes out is a pastiche which doesn't separate events from narratives, and mixes those who acted in good faith with those who pretended they were acting. Actors and impostors become hard to tell apart. In such narratives what truly had taken place takes a second rank to what had trickled down through the narrators' grapevines. As deeds get mingled with intentions, chroniclers's perception becomes difficult to tell apart from the events themselves. The melange that survives the mayhem of events would be as far from what Napoleon had once quibbed: "History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon," as the presumed past glories to present blunders. The squabbles about which version was closer to the truth, most of the time, leaves no room for asking what had been missed. Without an account for the missed opportunities and failed expectations history becomes Aristotle's discrete events without the links and connections that gave continuity an led from one evant to the next. In this way history becomes an incessant drone of singsongs about feats or fallen heroes, and forgotten villains, more than a sober tracking of the nation's ups and downs and the lessons to be learned from them.

Ghoma
Ghoma47@hotmail.com


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