Monday, 24 January, 2022

Nepalis’ Infinite Pursuit Of Freedom

Nepalis’ Infinite Pursuit Of Freedom

Dev Raj Dahal

The grim irony of human life is the constant progression of problems either induced by themselves, nature or judgment and action of outsiders and failure to solve them all at once that often limit the grasp of their basic rights allied with freedom. The impossibility of meeting their solutions at once arises from the insensible conditioning of their life by internal circumstances of the past and turning them less answerable to their actions. It literally poses a question whether politics, the art of possible, can help optimally resolve problems and adequately create the condition of freedom from fear where no one imposes its will on choice and action of others. The inevitability of history cannot predict the creative possibilities of human beings for the expansion of freedom in the future.

The error of social scientists to use scientific reason to solve human problems springs from a lack of understanding or conflicting interpretation of the blind impulse of selfish human nature. Natural sciences have been partly able to discern certain human mysteries. The scientific spirit driven by a pursuit of truth, if prudently applied, can resolve some of human problems, if not all. The homo politicus is the domain of human freedom. It allows creative contest of a variety of ideas, identities, interests and ideologies in the public sphere and offers scope to find systemic ways to the solution of complex problems arising out of human prejudices or self-deception. Social scientists, unlike unprejudiced natural scientists and seers, are less enthusiastic of seeking universal truth and, therefore, often muddle around cultural relativism.

The vocation of freedom is as old as the philosophies of the East and the West. Philosophers like Socrates, scientists like Galileo and Bruno and religious figure such as Christ sacrificed their lives in defence of truth, freedom, justice and control of the irrational. Truth failed to triumph over the falsehood of the faith system as the truth-seekers monopolised their knowledge in contemplation, not action. Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx, who built the foundation of freedom on the shoulders of intellectual giants, had suffered pains in their struggle to enlighten the people to liberate them from necessity, domination, exploitation, alienation and ignorance and provide them the ground to shape their open future seeking to bring philosophy to action for the creation of a just society.

In the East, sage Jamadagni was killed by the sons of King Kartavirya Arjuna aiming to loot his divine cow, Kamdhenu. In revenge, his son Parsuram brutally killed the entire male members of the royal family for their misdeeds when they did not heed his warning. The sovereignty of knowledge and utility of political power for public service was established by Kautilya who raised Chandra Gupta to depose wicked king Dhananda, restore the rule of justice in India where people would freely get engaged in their spiritual, moral and material pursuits and separate the domain of public and private spheres. Plato, Aristotle and Machiavelli served as advisors to the princes and linked their philosophy to action.

Both the traditions have defended the need of enlightenment to rulers and people to self-define their rational desire and goals, act as autonomous political actors against corruption of power, excessive lust and appetites and sought a transformation from the necessities of life to good life liberating politics from violence. Both have sought a regulative political system in accordance with law and fostered a discursive public sphere for deliberation, communication, opinion formation, policy and law-making and socialisation of people to conform laws. They were furnished by homo cogitans, the basis of enlightened civil society enmeshed in the actualisation of freedom of people from excessive partisan conformity and recognition of their right to self-rule. The central challenge of Nepali constitution is to mitigate a tension between freedom of people and creation of an egalitarian society, ending the politics of contradiction.

Law-based polity can balance economic determinism and individual conscience, the interconnected cosmic web of life and apt use of science and technology and human desire for freedom that act against the brutal game of natural selection of life. Squeezing economic prospects for Nepalis, however, risks political freedom and democracy falling prey to artificial promises of leaders made in the elections and social contract and the creeping practice of authoritarianism. The Western democratic theorists imagining selfish human nature have, therefore, invented the notion of power balance in the system to control arbitrary behaviour of powerful elites while socialists invented social solidarity against the logic of might is right.

In the East, conceiving human nature's potential for divinity and humanity stressed the spread of education and reforms in Rousseau's spirit. Now, Nepal is struggling to safeguard freedom and democracy by seeking the autonomy of the courts, constitutional bodies and public institutions of education, justice and service delivery which are filled by party loyalists. This has devalued the power checks, separation and devolution, valued the rule of personalised parties, not impersonal institutions of governance and attrition of the preconditions of freedom of Nepalis. Civil society and media are, therefore, pressuring for democratisation against overstretched political classes exposing them vulnerable to social fuel.

The Eastern tradition justifies the just war evident from the lessons of Ramayana and Mahabharat against political oppression and injustice that curtailed the condition of freedom for the people until Buddha and Gandhi sought the compatibility of ends and means in politics and wanted to mediate the journey of life in middle path where nature and culture, faith and reason, freedom and order and politics and laws are reconciled. Still, the debates on political freedom in both the worlds remain unfinished and the return of geopolitics marks a doubt whether norm-based order will have a chance to nourish freedom of people and the states in various orders of life. It leaves little freedom if ideologies seek to transform society into capital and labour, de-individualising a person's life, withering away the critical public sphere and denationalising the economy beyond democratic control of people.

The espousal of determinist ideologies and theories of progress by Nepali leaders devoid of either scientific spirit or suitability to multi-versal life-world of people had corroded the native intellectual and cultural bases of socialisation on historic wisdom and enlightenment. This is the reason democracy provides the right to private property which offers an admission to citizenship and the participation in the public realm of politics, the state, polity and civil society but taxes the wealthy to subsidise the poor so that condition for freedom for them is created and one does not consider the other an enemy in need of perpetual warfare.

In Nepal, freedom of people often stands in opposition to the scarcity of public good, necessity of suitable public policies, laws and institutional means that balances provisions, production, exchange and circulation of economy without undermining nature's power of resilience to feed all organic life. The homo economicus is the domain of the fulfilment of essential needs so that people can enjoy the condition of freedom. Human beings have become successful to liberate themselves from the domination of nature, not the metabolism supplied for the survival of their lives. With poor flow of intelligence in the society about this fact, Nepalis are still the slave of their passion and ideological indoctrination which are the source of problems at various scales — family, community, society, state and international relations.

Their shakiness to find rational solutions is manifestly caused by the inability of their leaders to know their hidden connection with others as they, like their policy advisors, are governed by what Herbert Simon calls “bounded rationality,” and disciplined by their own partial information and institutional frame. An awakening to climate change, progress in modern science and understanding attest the fact that human order cannot be created by disrupting the order of nature. Protection of both requires the right state of affairs, the regularity of nature and free will of people to think creatively to adapt to shifting ecological, social, economic, political and technological necessities. The determination of Nepalis’ free will is the basis of their freedom. It is an opposition to fatalism, mental vacuity and material scarcity. Freedom requires inner strength of cognitive power, courage and internal purpose. External conditions may help its articulation if inner vigilance is animated by their self-esteem.

Nepali social scientists have developed a tendency of thick description of knowledge of what is already invented outside, not to penetrate the core of innovation. They are no longer fervent truth-seekers and disseminators of their knowledge as a basis of equal freedom of Nepalis premised on equality of opportunity. The bulging of social movements in Nepal is largely couched in as a revolt against the political, legal and disciplinary order formulated on the basis of social science theories and practices in creating knowledge, laws, institutions and order of political and economic life.

On various occasions, Nepalis have defended their freedom as a bulwark against despotism of all kinds that subverted their dignity. In this sense, freedom in Nepal means informed determination of will based on the rule of law, for law is based on general will of citizens which universalises freedom and bases human rights as a ground for rational action. Still, the lingering of transitional justice in Nepal does not spur the possibility for stable democracy beyond elongated political transition. A democratic struggle does not justify impunity to win freedom. It is imperfect in the long run because justification of impunity breeds a feeling of revenge, fosters the silence of the meek and tears all basic values -freedom, justice and peace. It contradicts the Kantian motto “every human being is an end in itself.” It is the basis of human rights, a higher order of freedom close to the emancipatory ideal of the East. It is cosmological as it espouses fulfilling lives for all living species upon which human beings survive and prosper. Laws based on universal public reasons of dharma have to serve life, not pedantic logic.

Slave of passion
The cause of viciousness of Nepali politics has its origin in the conduct of political leaders who instead of becoming law-abiding turned laws into a privileged area thus infusing intra-mural friction in each political party, inverting the classical wisdom of dharmo rakṣati rakṣitaḥ (those who protect the law are protected by its canon), indulged in infinite altering of party statute and the constitution to suit personal interests rather than adapting to constitutional behaviour and setting Faustian bargain between power-sharing and democratic peace. Conscious of their grandeur and capacity but unconscious of responsibility, Nepali leaders are functioning as a slave of passion and tricks of command, control, direction and division of people into multiple identities, not sovereign citizens.

As a result, the state of poverty drives the bulk of the youth force to sacrifice their constitutional rights and freedom and become labour of necessity unlinked to freedom, national political and economic activities and drivers of inclusive transformation. Nepali leaders, cadres and citizens need constitutional enlightenment and civic education for the health of democracy and rule-based behaviour and harness the mutually related positive and negative freedoms of all. In Nepal, laws and political leaders should prize both inner and outer freedom. The former is a source of their virtuous character building. The unity of both is essential to create a normatively ordered society and constitution-governed state of Nepal. Here one can agree with G. F. W. Hegel who thinks that actualisation of freedom transforms it into absolute equality.

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)