Monday, May 6, 2013

Democracy & Capitalism : A deadly combination

democracyP1 from Nadeem Chaudhry on Vimeo.
This is still work in progress and as such the last couple of minutes needs modifications. I will do that soon. The partial transcript is available below:

In the name of Allah the most Beneficent and most Merciful
Assalam-u-Alequm, My name is Nadeem Ghafoor Chaudhry and I am an assistant professor in the department of Computer Science at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology. But CIIT bears no responsibility regarding the contents of this presentation. The title of this presentation is “Capitalism & Democracy: A Deadly Combination”.
There are four parts of this presentation. The first part presents a historical perspective of the events and philosophies which resulted in the development of these two ideas. The second part presents results that these two ideas produced. The remaining two parts are kind of introduction to another presentation regarding what is being done and what should be done.
For the purpose of this presentation we start off with Europe under the twin control of Church and King. By church I mean Catholic church and by King I mean all sorts of royalty like kings/queens/princes/lords/knights etc. In this alliance the worldly affairs like taxes, wars etc were in control of royalty and the Church was given free hand in spiritual matters like rituals and authority related to marriage/divorce/death etc. More over church has almost exclusive control over knowledge. All books were hand written mostly by monks and priests. The Church based its laws on the Bible, whereas the King’s decree was considered the law of the land. A very important aspect of this system was the Manorial System whereby land remained in the royalty’s holding and was loaned to the person who cultivated it in return for services and dues. Keep in mind that at that time there was no Boeing or MicroSoft etc. Directly or indirectly all production was tied to land and land belonged to King. The peasants living on the land were essentially cultivating King’s land. They were given this “opportunity” by the King and the best they could do was pass on this “opportunity” to their children but never own the land. The royalty had the authority to kick them off the land whenever they liked. This lack of private ownership under the serfdom produced huge resentment in ordinary folks.
In this setup two events took place which changed the course of European history. First was the import of books and ideas from Islamic Civilization and the second was the invention of printing press in 1450. These twin events triggered what is known as Enlightenment.
This presentation is not on Islamic Civilization so I will just present four Muslims and their contribution to knowledge to highlight the contribution of Islamic Civilization in triggering Enlightenment movement. The word algebra comes from the Arabic language and much of its methods from Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (c. 780–850). He wrote The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing, ( al-Kitāb al-muḫtaṣar fī ḥisāb al-ğabr wa-l-muqābala ) which established algebra as a mathematical discipline that is independent of geometry and arithmetic.  When this book reached Europe its name was reduced and Latinized to Algebra. Biruni's ( 937 – 1048 ) estimate of 6,339.9 km for the Earth radius had an error of 0.0026 and was 16.8 km less than the current value of 6,356.7 km.
Now when these and many other ideas from Islamic Civilization found their way into Europe they were not welcomed by the church because they challenged prevailing teachings of church. As we saw in the previous slide, Biruni calculated the radius of Earth before 1048 but the Church’s teaching were diametrically opposed to the idea of Earth being round and not being the center of the universe. As a result even in year 1500 Copernicus did not have the courage to publically state that that the sun is the center of the solar system. He kept his theories secret for 30 years, not wishing to draw the wrath of the Church. Shortly after publishing Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies, he died of old age, and was thus spared their angry response.
Giordano Bruno had no such luck; when he publicly defended Copernicus, the Inquisition arrested him, tortured and burned him at the stake on February 17, 1600
As stated in an earlier slide the political setup at that time was a combination of Church and King, both would look after each other’s interest. Around 1515 the then head of the Church, Pope Leo X embarked on the project of reconstruction of the St Peter's Basilica in Rome.  This was a huge project and he needed huge amount of money for it. In order to raise the money his disciples, particularly a fellow by the name Johann Tetzel went to the ordinary people and told them that if they want their dead relatives to get out of purgatory they better donate money to the church. A fellow named Martin Luther, who was himself a minister, was outraged at this blatant exploitative sales pitch. He wrote his objections to this emotional exploitation of ordinary people as “95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” and posted them on the door of his local church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31st 1517. If this had happened in 1417 probably no one outside Wittenberg would have known about it. But as I mentioned earlier printing press was invented by Gutenberg in 1450. Printing press allowed Luther to mass produce copies of his theses and send it out to the rest of Germany and later to the rest of Europe. In the repressive environment of that time his theses became an instant hit in most of Europe.
Obviously this did not go well with the Pope and his disciples, so they responded with their own pamphlet in which they accused Luther as being a friend of Satan. English king Henry VIII, wrote a treatise attacking Luther which earned him the title “Defender of the Faith” from the pope.
Luther and his supporters did not shy away from such attacks. In fact they counter attacked the Church with images like this one in which three devils are excreting a pile of monks. Finally Luther was declared a heretic in 1521, and owning or reading his works was banned by the church.
Luther’s provocative writings were not the only thing that the Church banned. In fact there were many scientists and philosophers that the Church wanted to ban, so in 1564 the Church produced its first edition of Index Librorum Prohibitorum  (List of Prohibited Books). It contained many noteworthy scientist, philosophers & intellectuals of that era including Jean-Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon,  John Locke, Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal. Printers were forbidden to print the works of the above mentioned people and royalty supported the Church in this matter. But people were hungry for new ideas, as a result the printers secretly printed and sold the forbidden works. The problem was so acute that the city council of Leipzig-Germany complained to the Duke of Saxony that printers faced losing “house, home, and all their livelihood” but still print Luther’s ideas.
Please accept my apology in advance because I am going to take a small detour from our main topic at this point. Currently government of Pakistan is developing a National URL Filtering and Blocking System which can block 50 million URLs. The reason given for this system is that it will help our national interest and protect our children from pornography and other indecent material available on the internet.  My question is that if the aim is to “protect our children from pornography and other indecent material” then why not start with Veena Malik, she is a walking pornography and indecent material. The fact of the matter is that this system, like the “List of Prohibited Books” is a modern version of thought control. Internet, like the printing press of that era, is a medium that our ruling elite are finding difficult to control. They have the control of the traditional print and electronic media but this internet is one place where ordinary people can present and share their point of view without much cost. So once they set up this system capable of blocking 50 million URLs then they can very easily terminate the spread of unofficial thoughts and ideas L
Returning back to our main topic we notice that one of the names in “List of Prohibited Books” was that of René Descartes. This Frenchman was a brilliant mathematician and philosopher. He had a profound impact on Western philosophy. According to Bertrand Russell ( who himself is a very renowned philosopher ) “much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his (René Descartes ) writings”. As the previous slides demonstrated the civilizational background in which Descartes grew was in flux. Luther’s teaching had split the European Christians into Catholics and Protestants.  The traditional power structures and institutions were being questioned. In this background Descartes set out to find out a solid basis for his philosophy. He doubted everything around him. He said that when he goes to sleep the dreams he has seem as real as the real world.  So what is absolutely real and solid on which he can build his philosophy. The only thing he said that he can be sure of is the fact that he is thinking all of these thoughts. Since he is thinking all these thoughts means that he must exit. He summed up all this thought process into his most famous sentence “I think, therefore I am”. As stated earlier Descartes is the most profound Western thinker of the last three hundred years and this sentence is the most fundamental sentence of his entire philosophy. This sentence and his philosophy basically established the foundation of supremacy of pure reason in the western philosophy.
Philosophers who came after Descartes did differ with him and proposed their own ideas, but fundamentally the Philosophy of Enlightenment that emerged was profoundly influenced by him and had two characteristics. 1) Faith in the European Reason and human rationality to reject the tradition and the pre-established institutions and thoughts 2) Search for the practical, useful knowledge as the power to control nature. Anything which cannot be understood by rational knowledge and the current status of sciences was defied as meaningless or superstitious. Man was born free from any bondage, be it royalty, tribal or religious or tradition etc, and rationality was guiding principal.
Freedom means only doing what wants to do, and every human being is free to choose what he/she wants to do. The decision of what one wants to do in life is solely left to the individual and no one has the authority to define what is good and what is bad. For example the desire of Saleem may be to wander in the streets all day long where as Kaleem may want to go to the moon. Both are equally valid desires, moreover both Kaleem and Saleem are equally free to pursue these desires as long as their desires do not harm other people. The importance is not of the desire itself, but of the idea of freedom to have and pursue any and every desire. It is assumed that people by their very nature are “programmed” to pursue their desires and as such society should establish a system where maximum number of people can maximally pursue their desires. This is what Ruso meant by general will of the community and this is the core idea of democracy.
Unfortunately we think that putting ballot papers in ballot boxes is democracy, it is not. It is a system in which people are motivated fundamentally by their self interest/desires and those who do not subscribe to this ideology of self interest are considered to be insane.  It is the duty of the “sane and civilized” to make the “insane and uncivilized” see the folly in their thought and if it requires imperialism, so be it. This imperialism is for their own betterment. 

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