Saturday, December 03, 2005

Everyone's already thought of everything...

This post is a response to the first two comments, Shannon's and Andrew's, on the prior post. My reply became too long to post as a comment.

I’m not sure I made one critical point too clear on the bribe thing in the last post. What the PD meant was that his clients were only those who couldn't afford to pay a bribe, i.e. hire a "bag man", as they are known here, to pay off the judge. Though he condemns the practice, I’m sure, he didn't seem that contemptuous of the judges. I wanted to probe him on this, so I asked, after he stated his definition of a client, how the judges acted when they didn't get a bribe. He said that in those circumstances the judges often followed the law well. I took this as there not really being any retribution by the judge’s to those who couldn't pay a bribe, guilty or innocent.

But don’t forget, the judges are happy to supplement their low monthly incomes w/ bribes, from the guilty or innocent...well at that point, all are still innocent. The PD seemed to be accepting of the situation here, and he didn’t rail against the lack of ethics on the judge’s behalf. To me it seemed like he was pushing to help get more often than not completely innocent people released through capacity building, and training of aggressive, skillful and knowledgeable PDs. (He’s said that during his short time here he’s seen more innocent people charged than in his entire career as a PD in the U.S.) Overall, he seemed fairly pleased on the progress and situation here, given the context of poverty, lack of institutions, and years of war.

Shannon, he definitely shared your view that it wont be a quick path to functioning and reliable PD system. After all, ours in America, though better than most nations, is still far from where it should be.

Andrew, I agree w/ the first half of your first point, but can't agree with what I understood to be the sentiments and underpinnings of the latter half. Maybe I’m misreading your comment. I’ve been accused such before, and may be prone to that on this blog. I don't believe it's a matter of mental and moral preparation of civil society. That philosophy sends shrills up my back. It seems patronizing and reeks of patriarchy. For one, that sentiment is way too individualistic. I think Afghanistan is probably one of the best instances of where structural and institutional changes are vital, and moreover simple building of such is a place to start.

I don't believe that development work should ever be aimed at the mental or moral "development" of people. That is just way too complex and contentious. Hopefully our days of missionary zeal are done with.

Surely, you're right that we need to provide the resources fiscal, physical and mental. And surely you’re right that the ideology of the people is critical, after all, I believe only “good” ideology will make a functioning civil society stick. But the past 20 years, and history of this region can’t be ignored, and the present ideologies are likely formed out of much of the horrendous past 20 years many of these people have lived through. The acts of corruption remain wrong, and often inexcusable, especially the high level corruption.

But it’s not moral or mental “development” that will bring this nation to “democracy and civility”. And I don’t believe that most of the difficulties in development work here are rooted in “people...acting only on unmediated desire, violence, and instinct...” These people, though they surely exist here as they do in our blissful developed nations, won’t stop a functioning civil society from forming, if the basics of civil society are developed well here.

If the structure of society, from infrastructure to education, are developed here, better civil and individual ideologies, ones that support functioning civil society will come. Potable water, literacy and a warm place to sleep, not the locals’ mental or moral preparedness for democracy and civility, are the primary barriers to civil society here. You cant hope to “raise” or wait for the latter. The former is all I believe you should strive to do, the rest is in the Afghani’s hands.

As much of a poststructuralist I may personally be, structuralism is a lot easier to act on. The “Poststructural Structuralism Manifesto” is coming soon**. But, join the movement now! For only 4.99 receive your personal membership card and a subscription to our nontemporal annual non-union union printed 100% organic digital ‘zine.

**Dammit...i googled the term. And of course it’s already taken...

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think what Andrew really wanted to say is that we should nuke the whole place. Right? Just kidding.
A strong economy needs to be in place to pay people adequately enough that the adequate justice system makes cheating not worth while. A key component of a strong economy is… POWER, go Q

LMB

Shannon said...

I didn't intend to imply that Afghani judges were hopelessly corrupt or unfit for their positions. Maybe some are, maybe some aren't...but certainly their behavior stems from economics (low pay) and politics (a sense of power or lack thereof). I don't really know. I'm not there.

I agree with your point that it's not a matter of "the natives" becoming mentally prepared for the implications of democracy and civil society...That just seems so hegemonic...We give them *our* knowledge, they slowly listen, understand, and build. If it fails, they weren't listening. Like you said, Afghanistan has a totally different context than America. Our knowledge may not even apply in all situations.

I think people, in the US especially, don't understand how long it took *us* to create a functioning (for better and worse) civil society...and how it's something must continually work at to ensure its existence...It's not solely a matter of know-how, or maybe even infrastructure (although both are needed). Maybe it's a matter of empowerment and hope? Maybe it's all the above slowly coming about together.

Vasco Pyjama said...

I particularly liked this:

If the structure of society, from infrastructure to education, are developed here, better civil and individual ideologies, ones that support functioning civil society will come. Potable water, literacy and a warm place to sleep, not the locals’ mental or moral preparedness for democracy and civility, are the primary barriers to civil society here. You cant hope to “raise” or wait for the latter. The former is all I believe you should strive to do, the rest is in the Afghani’s hands.

However, I do think that you can promote civil society. I have been involved in a project in Eastern Indonesia that sought to promote civil society by providing them with training in how to do policy engagement, etc. But yeah, we need to get other things in order first.

Q. A. Shah said...

LMB,
Should we launch the nuke before or after you get here? But, despite my biases, I think you're right about the power thing, the summit of donor and regional nations recenty concluded that energy was the top priority. Some smart folks they are, I tell ya.

Shannon,
I wasn't trying to associate you w/ Andrew's position. He seemed to take an common and fairly obvious sentiment to a twisted conclusion. I think a lot of people have an understanding of a certain level of corruption here, not to excuse it though, but especially us foriegners, we may stand in judgement, but calling them "mentally and morally unprepared for democracy" is a step further. The broken system and poverty should curtail the former judgement. They may be corrupt, that doesn't make them immoral, and it surely doesn't make them idiots (perhaps the opposite is true).

I agree that empowerment is critical (but hope, heh...i can't so hypocrital as to sell a lemon to these folks). But empowerment, to me, has always seemed too romantic, too individualistic, too personal. But i guess this depends on what type of empowerment you are talking about, the "we shall overcome" personal shit i find problematic, not the structural and institutional empowerment, i.e. civil rights. Though i do realize the value of individual ideologies and personal sense of empowerment in changing societies. But like I said before, I'm lazy. Empowering wires is so much simpler than empowering people. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Vasco,
I'll cross-link to your blog too, since you didn't, and since there is a similar discussion on your board. And to reitterate what i posted there, I do agree w/ your post here. You can promote civil society, as Shannon points out, empowering people is a good and necessary thing. Waiting for them to become what one deems to be "mentally and morally prepared for democracy", is not. One should always be ready to reap what one sows.

Are you working on democracy/civil society programs here?

...Q.A.

Vasco Pyjama said...

Hey Q... no, not working directly on democracy and civil society programs, BUT all our programs have a strong civil society component to it. I suppose policy and advocacy are 'mainstreamed' into our work.

We also have a whole team of people specialising in this area. But as for me, I am a 'programs' chick. My mandate is to improve the quality and effectiveness of our programs. Heh. BIG BIG job at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you ever post anything new?!

- Rob