IJWP, 30:2, June 2013, pdf

IJWP, 30:2, June 2013, pdf



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Rights and Abilities

This issue of IJWP has articles on three different topics: Political stability in Chechnya, treatment of women in Pakistan, and bullying in U.S. schools. While these are quite different topics, they all relate to the general issue of rights and abilities.

Our global culture promotes concepts of human rights and democracy through the United Nations, the mass media, and many NGOs. However, human rights and democracy cannot be obtained without the ability to design structures of governance and the abilities of people living in a society to produce the things they want. Many people demand rights without having the necessary abilities to achieve them. The United Nations promotes rights, but cannot provide people with the ability to achieve them.

After World War II, many East European Communist countries promoted “positive rights” like housing, but these countries were not able to provide housing as satisfactory as in the West, because communist governments had to ration the housing that was available from pre-communist times, or force resistant workers to accept low wages to build inexpensive homes for other people. This produced poor quality and unattractive housing with long waiting lists for occupancy. When people are free to build or buy their own houses, they are usually happier because they are pursuing their own dream and are not being forced to work for the dream of another.

The Arab Spring has taught the present generation that democracy doesn’t automatically lead to better food, housing, and education for citizens. These goods and services cannot be created by law; they require human beings with motivation and skills. Without having a population that has such abilities, demands on a government to provide these things is fruitless.

A counter-example is South Korea. It’s war-ravaged economy, left in shambles after the Korean War, is today one of the leading economies of the world: producing cars in the U.S. and around the world, and outselling Apple and other Western hi-tech companies in televisions and smartphones. The Korean economy got its start under the military rule of General Park Chung Hee, who only liberalized the society as economic experience and political education advanced. While General Park was a largely unpopular figure among rights advocates in the West, his reputation is experiencing a revival in South Korea and is currently considered the most popular president ever. This was validated by the recent election of his daughter, Park Geun-Hye, who took office in February 2013.

Our first article, “Russian ‘Chechenization’ and the Prospects for a Lasting Peace in Chechnya,” may be as unpopular among human rights advocates today as President Park Chung Hee’s rule was in the 1970s. However, it might also become a less-successful economic development strategy if leaders do not put the development of Chechnya ahead of their own interests.

Since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, several of the former soviet states have sought independence from Russia, but were unsuccessful in achieving stable regimes. The economies of the former soviet states were heavily tied to Russia. After years of violence and political instability, Chechnya has been put on a more stable path with Russian President Putin’s policy of proxy rule through a loyal Chechen leader, whose cooperation has been “purchased” through cooptation. Miriam Matejova’s article examines Russia’s rule of Chechnya through Ramzan Kadyrov.

Rule through local leaders is as old as the history of empires. Alexander the Great ruled Persia through local leaders and intermarried Greeks and Persians to reduce ethnic hatreds. The Romans ruled Israel, Egypt, and other remote colonies through native provincial governors. Ghengis Khan did much the same in the Mongol empire. And, during the Cold War, both the U.S. and Russia created a bi-polar world by buying off client states through economic aid and the provision of arms. Since political stability and the protection of property is a prerequisite for economic development, it is often argued by the rulers of an empire that they are creating conditions for economic development.

But this is where it usually breaks down. In ancient times King Hammurabi of Babylon and, more recently Park Chung Hee in South Korea, were exceptions to the rule who provided citizens with more freedom as they were capable of handling it. Most authoritarian regimes end up exploiting citizens, with leaders skimming off wealth for themselves. Vivid examples are Mobuto Sese Seko in the Zaire and Muammar al-Gaddafi in Libya who stockpiled gold and lived in luxury at the expense of citizens who they promised but failed to liberate as they gained skills required for self-rule.

After World War II, the U.S. instituted the Marshall Plan to revive the economies of Germany and Japan. The Germans and Japanese had already developed heavy industries, skills, and a work ethic appropriate for economic development, but under the Marshall Plan, the U.S. gave Germans and Japanese citizens the contracts for development, with the altruistic goal of creating economic competitors. This was not the case in Iraq, where U.S. companies received contracts for development in Iraq, and much of the wealth returned to the U.S. through U.S. companies and workers. The Iraq development policy was far less noble than the Marshall Plan. A test of Russia’s “Chechenization” policy will be whether it develops Chechnya’s capacity for economic self-sufficiency, like the Marshall Plan, or whether it will seek to keep Chechnya a dependent client state, designed to produce a profit for Russia at the expense of the Chechens.

Many people are too impatient to wait for the results of economic development strategies, just as many people in South Korea had a difficult time waiting to see the results of Park Chung Hee’s policies. Also, many leaders hesitate to report transparent periodic results on the success of economic strategies because they fear it might undermine their political legitimacy. Matejova argues that Russia has succeeded in creating the prerequisite stability for economic development, but suggests there may not be a sufficient genuine economic development strategy to create the long-term success the people desire.

Our second article, “Pakistan Is a Dangerous and Insecure Place for Women,” is about a country in which the UN Declaration of Human Rights is officially endorsed, and equal rights for women are in the laws, but male chauvinism and cultural traditions defy these laws and prevent women from gaining the abilities required for active public life. Many argue that this treatment of women is based on the Quran, but our authors argue that this is an excuse to exploit and oppress women that derives from pre-Islamic tribal customs, in addition to political and economic motives.

For example, the custom of marrying a young woman to the Quran is often done to avoid paying the customary dowry that redistributes money from the bride’s family to the groom’s. In the Catholic tradition, nuns are considered married to the Church, but this is different because they voluntarily take vows after years of education about the sacrifices such vows require. In Pakistan, however, uneducated twelve-year-old girls are married to the Quran by their parents and given no choice in the life they will pursue.

This article makes clear that having equal legal rights for women on the law books in Pakistan does not necessarily guarantee women the ability to live according to these rights. Governments are only as good as the cultural institutions that underlie them. In the case of Pakistan, the authors argue, these are not really Islamic institutions, even though Islamist clerics often claim they are. Rather, they are selfish, domineering, and unenlightened social institutions based on the quest for power and wealth of individuals and rural groups, who make life for women particularly dangerous in Pakistan.

Our third article in on the current politically fashionable topic of bullying. This article by Israel C. Kalman, a school psychologist, develops a distinction between a legal approach and a psychological approach to bullying. Since the Columbine school shooting in 1999, U.S. schools and state legislatures have been enacting laws and policies designed to prevent bullying and make schools safer. Kalman argues that these laws turn school counselors into a sub-branch of law enforcement aimed at reporting and punishing bully behavior (a legal approach), rather than taking a psychological approach to bullying that enables children to learn from their mistakes, overcome their aggressive behaviors and victim mentalities, and mature into responsible adults.

The education of children is not just about reading, math, science, and history. It is also about socialization, learning to live harmoniously with one another. Our schools know that when a child fails a math test, it is not helpful to call him “stupid.” Rather, we work with him to see why he failed and teach him more so he can pass the next time. But a legal approach to bullying labels a perpetrator, sometimes 6 years old or less, as a bully, and the recipient as a victim. These labels, like “stupid,” define a person’s self image rather than help them learn constructive behavior. In this sense, many bully policies attempt to shield schools and teachers from the responsibility of socializing children.

Kalman argues that acts of terrorism are more likely to be perpetrated by people who feel they are victims than those who act as bullies, because those with a victim mentality feel helpless to change things choose terrorism against an oppressor as an act of desperation. Rather, it is your average politician that acts like a bully by imposing his rules and laws on others because he has the power and self-confidence to do so. From this perspective, victims need as much psychological education as bullies.

Kalman argues that teachers who put more effort into ending bullying through legal approaches compound problems and, in the long run, do little to reduce bullying in their classrooms. What he calls the psychological approach might be more akin to what we think of as common sense child-raising. He has developed a set of role-playing models that show why this is the case. He concludes his article by asking policymakers not to force school teachers and psychologists to adopt legalistic approaches to childhood aggression and meanness, but instead encourage them to use practices that enable bullies to control their mean behavior and victims to develop enough self-reliance and abilities to believe they can make responsible personal decisions that can make a positive impact on society.

The advent of the modern nation-state about 400 years ago has enabled many developments in human rights and economic welfare, but these developments have also promoted unrealistic expectations on the limits of what states can do. States cannot pass laws to do everything to make our world a utopia. States may treat people as equal before the law, but they do not provide the personal attention that people need to grow and develop into productive and happy adults. Parents, teachers, and communities are essential for this. Yet, we continue to ask our legislators to pass laws to do things that states cannot do. Laws cannot make Chechnya economically prosperous, educate Pakistani women, or socialize children. These things require personal interaction and the learning of creative skills that a system of governance, by nature, cannot perform. Governments can provide a rule of law that guarantees equal rights, but they cannot create the individual abilities and attitudes that enable people to become prosperous and happy.

Rather than adopting a Hegelian view in which the unfolding of the state in history is the manifestation of God, it is important to distinguish what a modern state can and cannot do. We cannot escape all personal responsibility and ask states to do everything for us. Yet, whether you listen to the hopes of those promoting the Arab Spring, or the rhetoric of American politics, we find that such distinctions are not often made. Further, we find small governments asking large government for funding to do things for which they could better and more efficiently take responsibility. In the end, when responsibility gets passed up the line to the state, the state has nowhere to turn but to borrow money from a bank, and thereby the future. The result is the unemployment and austerity we see today in Greece and not the utopia Greek citizens had asked their state to provide.

Those who champion the power of the modern state often dismiss the value of social traditions inherited through various religions and cultures. It may be that many of these inherited traditions, as in the case of Pakistan, carried some very undesirable customs into the modern world. Yet, without cultural values at all, the state becomes a hollow shell. In addition to establishing a rule of law that guarantees rights, parental, psychological, and educational approaches that enable abilities are equally important. When we dismiss these approaches and believe a legal approach will make a better world, we only discover that better world becoming more and more elusive.

Gordon L. Anderson Editor-in-Chief