The Big Questions of Our Time: The Future of Stupidity [25 April 2007]

The Big Questions of Our Time: The Future of Stupidity by Syndeep Waslekar, President of Strategic Foresight Group

Exactly 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli served the court of Cesare Borgia, Duke of Valentinois and Romagna, son of Pope Alexander VI, and the military general of the papacy. Machiavelli was so impressed by Borgiaís crude pursuit of power that a decade and half later, he wrote a treatise, The Prince, as an offering to the Medici princes. Machiavelli was particularly impressed by Borgiaís assassination of rivals on the new yearís eve of 1503 in Sinigaglia. He advocated that princes should use crude use of force to acquire and retain power at any cost.
Machiavelliís theory of the pursuit of power was based on false hypothesis. Cesare Borgia, his hero, was nothing but his fatherís poodle. He was a spoilt arrogant kid who could only become the military general for no other reason than nepotism. His incompetence was proved after his fatherís demise. As soon as his father died, he was arrested by Pope Julius II. And that was the end of Machiavelliís powerful hero.
Many world leaders in the last 500 years have followed Machiavelliís advice based on the life of an incompetent prince. They believe that they should retain power at any cost. They also believe in dynastic regimes. All they want is to grab power and serve the interests of a particular group or a family using a combination of prudence and force. This is the Machiavellian doctrine. It has often resulted in massacres and killings of innocent people. Sometimes the practitioners of this theory may not go as far as enforcing death on their victims but they practise discriminatory politics causing miserable life for many.
The French Revolution challenged The Prince in a real sense. But it was usurped by its own enthusiastic supporters. Finally, it gave in to a prince, Prince Napoleon. Nevertheless, when Napoleonís revolutionary army won a victory over the Prussian Empire in 1806, Hegel declared the end of history. This was another stupid theory that has been revived from time to time. Within a decade of Hegelís proclamation, Napoleon was defeated and the House of Bourbon was restored. If Hegelís followers claim that Hegel was celebrating the victory of the revolutionary principle, Napoleon was no embodiment of such lofty ideals. He was a great military commander. Thatís it. His nephew took the help of the Church, undoing the French Revolution, to come to power and later on demolished the Republic to create the second empire under the Napoleon dynasty. Thus, the end of history was nothing more than the heralding of a new empire.
Centuries later, Marx also advocated that the history would end when a classless society were established on the earth. In reality, Marxism has only given birth to different types of empires. These empires are not dynastic but the ruling coteries enjoy absolute power. Communist societies in the former Soviet Union and China, among others, have been known for dictatorship and atrocities by the Politburo. The Soviet Empire has collapsed and the Chinese one is trying to reform itself from inside. But the Marxist declaration of the end of history proved to be nothing more than arrival of new forms of empires on the earth.
Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history in exactly the opposite way that Marx had connoted. His is the triumph of liberalism and free market. Until Fukuyamaís proclamation, the United States often helped people to secure freedom. The United States since then has been trying to build an empire. Once again, the announcement of the end of history has proved to be the trumpeting of another empire. Of course, the French empire and the Soviet empire have disappeared in the debris of history. We have to wait and see what happens to the new American Empire.
In the last decade and half another theory has dominated global discourse. This is the theory of clash of civilizations. I had the pleasure of staying with Prof Samuel Huntington at Hotel Cresta Sun at Davos on a couple of occasions and he repeatedly told me that he did not advocate any clash of civilisations. But there is no doubt that a number of scholars and leaders have quoted his essay in Foreign Affairs not only to describe but also to influence world events in a way that would divide humanity on religious lines. The translation of this theory into reality has resulted in the death of over 3000 soldiers in Iraq under the Bush presidency, even more than the number of innocent people killed by Al Qaeda at the World Trade Centre. The application of this theory has meant American support for tin pot dictators and malignant neglect of the cancerous racket of a nuclear weapons smuggler. It has meant the killing of hundreds of children in Iraq and Afghanistan, and bombing the shelter of thousands of absolutely innocent people. Most important, it has meant an assault on freedom and trust.
This theory has proved to be yet another example of stupidity not only because its author disclaims it at least in private conversations but also because it is based on wrong understanding of the English language. As I have repeated in every forum what I once heard from a senior statesman Ė those who are civilised by definition do not clash. The clash is always between the uncivilised.
Prof Huntingtonís theory was corroborated by Osama bin Laden in the name of fighting Jews and Crusaders. This is another stupid theory based on ignorance of history. Crusaders and Jews were always on the opposite sides. The Crusaders killed the Jews first, then Christians of the Orthodox Church and then the Muslims. At times the Crusaders did not even go as far as Jerusalem. They satisfied themselves by looting Constantinople, torturing the Christian priests of the Orthodox Church and raping Christian women to satisfy their lust. At times they travelled to the southern France to execute dissidents. To accord religious sanctity to this brutal historical nonsense, merely because shrewd Pope Urban started it all by citing religious justification, is to sacrifice truth to serve political ends. It is crazy for anyone to believe in this theory and leave behind their dear ones to undertake suicide bombing. The theory of religious justice, in its deep analysis, is a cover for power politics.
It is amazing to see how we allow ourselves to be taken for a ride by these stupid theories. The more educated we are, the more likely it is that we will use one of these theories in cocktail conversations or seminars. If we carry on accepting such insults to human intellect with pride, we will together contribute to creating an atmosphere that will create a split in the human society. In a way, our survival in the future depends on our willingness to respect stupidity. Perhaps, instead of chasing stupidity of grand theories advocated by the so-called wise men, we need to place faith in the simple wisdom of core human values.


Ľ Politics
Ľ Economy
Ľ Civil society