Path (In)dependence

By Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa, (On Twitter) @c_tamirisa

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I had submitted this essay to the Global Leadership Fellows Program of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2007.

The ship wrecked.
It ran aground by the lighthouse.
There was neither fog nor haze.
It was not twilight,
But a calm, clear and beautiful pre-dawn sky.
The beacon of light from the lighthouse shined its predictable sweeping arcs across the horizon about to be bathed by the equally predictable sun rise.
Still, the ship wrecked.
It ran aground by the lighthouse.

The lighthouse stood still ,
While the ocean rhythmically hummed.
All was as expected,
Except for the ship.

The purpose was clear,
And the intent noble.
“If only he could dock safely,” the captain thought in remorse,
The Flock would be Home by now.
“We were so close and yet so far,”
The captain lamented.

All sides of the giant arc of the sweeping lighthouse beacon led to it in more ways than one.
Each way in anticipation of the same brilliant sun rise,
Charting the same waters.
The beacon soon faded into the bright morning light.
The Flock was to be enlightened,
The captain realized.
He was leading not one ship, but many,
Yet bound by existence into one.
Thus a Shepherd was born.

While writing this essay, I changed the default font from Times New Roman. I dedicate the following two sentences to Saul Bellow. I am an American. Indian born. And the times are not new Roman, but surely they have changed and are changing at a pace that is faster than both our understanding and imagination. Therein lay humanity’s opportunities and risks.

The central question of our times appears to be, “can we integrate politically and economically within the contexts of our interweaving and yet independent histories and cultures?” This question is fractal in its very nature. While on the one hand it challenges as never before the idea of a nation state, nations themselves being quilts, some evolved and some hand-woven, on the other hand it presents possibilities in which nations can coalesce, transcending the very notion of nation or a geographic region in ways that are both symbiotic and synergistic. The former poses the risks that can affect the course of the latter in a profound manner.

In my view, a pragmatic approach to answering this question lies first in dismantling the myth of the existence of an American Imperium. America is a time tested idea personified by its political existence. Its evolution, and more recently of today’s Europe, represents an organic framework of principled thought put into practice that dynamically encapsulates not only the lessons learned from history, but a growing understanding of the human kind and its habitat. It is a nation that is forever young because it is restless in its struggles with itself, as its history amply demonstrates, to be continually aligned with its founding ideals. America is thus both an adaptable abstraction, an idea adaptable to the historical, political, economic and social contexts of other nations and regions in the world, and a palpable reality. In the spirit of its founding, all that it asks for in return is an opportunity to be a partner in the processes of change in other parts of the world. America is not an imperial regent but a hesitant mentor and shepherd who would bemoan the loss of a single lamb in its flock, while zealously guarding its own treasures, not of power or wealth but the ideas and the ideals it was founded on.

The question posed above then becomes, “is there coherence between nations in the ideas and ideals that are contained in their respective constitutions (or similar such bases) that provide political, economic and social order?” If there is not, should there be? Does a lack of it lead to geopolitical conflict that can have adverse political and economic consequences? In today’s highly interacting societies, is the phrase “peaceful coexistence” meaningful at all without talking about some degree of political, economic and social integration?

The painful history of particularly the past century and an equally painful beginning of the new century, whose aftermath has awakened us from the funk of the end of the Cold War, have clearly demonstrated the need for more participatory societies, where transparency is achieved through greater citizen participation in making laws or in debating the theological principles that govern their lives. A lack of citizen participation, as we all are painfully aware, fester destructive ideologies that manifest themselves as The Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, The Gulag and September 11,2001. Therefore, what is at issue is not the possibility of a world in America’s image, but coherence in the fundamental principles by which societies live, interact, survive and evolve. To me a debate here is unwarranted because it is a non-issue, for coherence does not mean homogeneity of constitutions but our overarching common humanity which is constituted remarkably similarly in the conduct of many cultures across the world, discounting for some rituals and traditions that are relics if not outright dogma.

What thus remains at hand is the crux of the problem of global development: sustaining and building infrastructures of citizen participation in a way that are adapted to specific historical, political, economic and social contexts across nations and regions and endowing them with the ability to change over time as necessary, considering that the fundamental wisdom across cultures is remarkably similar regarding coexistence among the quilt that makes humanity human. Such a task would be worthy of a life well lived.


About Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa
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