CHETAN RAMCHURN

Often when major scandals erupt, the most worrying aspect surrounding them is not the greed of the pilferers but the lack of reaction they elicit from the majority of the population.  At par with the level of indifference is the sycophancy towards those in office.

Chetan Ramchurn

At times these two go hand in hand; the indifference to the ills of the system is bundled with a predisposition towards flattering those that wield influence. This can be easily gauged upon visiting the Facebook pages of some of our representatives in Parliament: people are constantly thanking them for strolling in their constituencies and posing for pictures while roads are being asphalted or even more worryingly are liking the most ludicrous of claims of some parliamentarians.  It is that “blind automatism which drives the system”. This is often in full view in Mauritius.

A Havelian look at Mauritius

Kaushik Basu, echoing the views of Havel in The Republic of Beliefs, writes of the post-totalitarian system that “it draws everyone into its sphere of power, not so they may realize themselves as human beings, but so they may surrender their human identity in favor of the identity of the system, that is, so they may become agents of the system’s general automatism and servants of its self-determined goals.” In short, the allure of power is such that people wilfully stop thinking and reacting and obsequiously conform to whatever the system condones, preaches or requires.

Our system mirrors the post-totalitarian one described by Havel, one that is “thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies: government by bureaucracy is called popular government; the working class is enslaved in the name of the working class”. Was saving jobs not announced by the government as its greatest concern before it imposed the COVID-19 Act upon us which included laws that eroded the rights of lower-income workers? Many pieces of legislation have been voted by successive governments to ensure greater transparency and curb corruption but with appalling results. Our jurisdiction is blacklisted and the Mauritian administration is accused of “providing access to confidential tender-related information” against financial rewards. The pretence of fighting corruption has reached absurd heights with little credibility given to those entrusted with combating it.

Havel further dissects the makings of a perverted system; “farcical elections become the highest form of democracy; banning independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views[…]. Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future.” In the weeks following the decision of going ahead with the tramway, spin doctors predicted profits for the tramway even going so far as averring that it would be financially viable within a few years. True, the tramway has not been operational during the lockdown but the figures fed to the population were grossly exaggerated. Likewise, the onerous Côte D’Or Sports Complex was launched with ludicrous promises that have not materialised and now hosts a pitch infected by mushrooms. On a more concerning note, is the way so many of the present economic woes are masked from the general population and the strategies to cure them so inept. This is not the first time we are seeing this type of mismatch between what is professed and what actually happens; democratising the economy and the implementation of a flat tax are incongruent as is claiming to be a socialist and fighting against progressive taxation.

We are the system

Václav Havel describes existing in this system as having to “live within a lie” despite knowing that it is one. “It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfil the system, make the system, are the system.”

Arendt believed that coming out of this world of lies requires “the disposition to live together explicitly with oneself, to have intercourse with oneself, that is, to be engaged in that silent dialogue between me and myself which, since Socrates and Plato, we usually call thinking.” In the same vein, Havel deemed that moral epiphanies could only be the outcome of, what is termed in Delia Popescu’s in Political Action in Vaclav Havel’s thought, “a dialectical exchange with one’s own conscience.” In an excellent new book by Catherine A. Sanderson titled Why We Act? Turning Bystanders into Moral Rebels, she states that ‘moral rebels’ are those who “take a principled stand against the status quo, who refuse to comply, stay silent, or simply go along when this would require they compromise their values.”

Be a rebel.

*Quoted from Václav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless