Nepali Times
Moving Target
The curse of ideology


Conflict in the 20th century reached new levels of depravity through the introduction of ideology. For the first time, territorial wars and other conventional excuses for mayhem took lower casualties and ruined fewer lives than state-sponsored purges and repression.

As an opinionated student of history, the Hand fears and loathes ideology for the blind faith it demands and the devastation unleashed in its name. Every thinking person is bound to despise those who glom onto doctrinaire beliefs and allow such abuses. The atrocities committed for political conviction are too numerous and nasty to forgive and forget.

Fascist regimes in Spain, Italy, and Japan jailed trade-unionists, executed leftists, and brutally suppressed dissent before collapsing in the dustbin of history. Stalin wiped out the landlord class, demonised kulaks ('rich' peasants), and exiled countless to the gulag to preserve Marxist purity, only to have his legacy disowned by his successor. Hitler's ideology of racial superiority systematically slaughtered millions of innocents in concentration camps before destroying Germany. Needless to say, none of the above qualifies as progressive.

Communism and capitalism emerged from the ashes of World War II to compete fiercely for the next 50 years. The Cold War provided a handy excuse for a ruinous arms race that ignited proxy wars throughout the third world, propping up tinpot dictators from Mobutu to Mengitsu. Millions more were thus sacrificed to the weird 20th century phenomena of ideological struggle.

Repressive military juntas in Latin America 'disappeared' and murdered innumerable 'leftists', while Mao Tse Tung launched purges that reached into every home, liquidating all labelled 'rightist'. In Argentina or China, right or left, the merest suspicion of dissent was enough for imprisonment, torture, and death. State organised persecution for thought-crime surely marks an all-time low in human political history.

By the time Nixon and Kissinger launched their secret bombing of neutral Laos and Cambodia, justified by anti-communist domino theory ideology, events were spinning out of control. This particular effort proved spectacularly counterproductive by propelling the Maoist Khmer Rouge to power. The result, a five-year orgy of killing, was another no-win situation for all, especially those stuck in the middle.

None of this feverish activity benefited anybody except the governing clique, who inevitably used their chosen ideology to crush opposition and terrorise the citizenry as a means of maintaining power.

The Hand admits to a melancholic fascination with unquestioned belief. What attracts certain people to such strict doctrine? The absolute conviction required by the party removes the need to think for oneself, which must be comforting to some. Psychology amateurs would point to the stern father-figure personality cults of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao that were so brutally effective in keeping the people obedient. It would be convenient if a set of books provided solutions to all the problems of governance and society, and in my more desperate moments I wonder if brainwashing isn't somehow soothing.

But rigid adherence to a canon creates far more problems than it solves. When critical analysis can lead to dreaded accusations of 'revisionism' and a possible death sentence, intellectual flexibility and independent thought are stifled. The next step is mental lethargy and stagnation.

Buying into an ideology allows individuals to relinquish personal responsibility in the guise of following orders, As individualism is submerged in pursuit of the greater goal, which usually amounts to increasing production for the state.

When a dissenting opinion can be fatal, cultural diversity is the first victim. Fascists dehumanised and wiped out minorities, while communists suppressed and derided traditional cultural expression as superstitious, reactionary, and irrelevant in the workers' paradise.

The uniformity imposed by ideological governments is intentionally drab and the arts inevitably become propaganda tools. Rather than celebrate human nature and creative expression, ideologues control such diversity in the interest of ideological monoculture.

The Hand entertains no doubts that denial of the human spirit ultimately damned these systems to disgrace and failure. The soul seeks more out of life than fulfilling party dictated quotas for the current five-year plan, and societies that ignore morality and spirituality are unsustainable.

Alas, Nepal looks set to join North Korea as the final battleground of the Cold War, long after the other players have moved on to more profitable agendas. Maoist denunciations of regressive royalist forces and imperialist conspiracies would be amusing if they weren't so ridiculously outdated, and if they didn't put the country at risk of repeating these senseless episodes of history.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)