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Thursday, October 02, 2003

I've been chewing the cud. It must be the influence of all those holy cows wandering around Delhi.

Random thoughts on conquests and empires:

In the olden days, patterns of invasion and conquest were always barbarians overcoming the more civilized, not the other way around. Social, cultural and political stability are definitions of a civilized society and it was usually the more pacified, pacific, educated, etc., but less well armed, who were overrun by the barbarians. The invasions have often been successful uniquely by the bias of the terror that was first instilled in the hearts of the victims, that is the losers. For every victor, there is a victim, and a victim is a loser by definition.

The other side of the picture is that there are no examples of "languid empires": they either expand, are active in some way, or they invite some sort of devolution, revolution or dissolution. I think the only possible examples of empires that appear to have just walked away from themselves were the indigenous peoples of Northern America, where it appears according to archaeological records that some just went back to more primitive living without being invaded by any neighbor (this before the Europeans came in and conquered all, that is).

The problem with a dynamic empire is that unless it is administered with genius, it will overreach itself and fall into a decline. It is easy for this to happen because a leadership concerned mainly with sustaining its own power will always turn a blind eye on what matters. This is why when any method fails, instead of trying something else, there is a tendency to use the same method again, only more forcefully, the next day, in total denial of the fact that if it did not work the first time around, it was probably because it was just not the right way to do it. In many cases, this involves the simplistic solution of "throwing more money at the problem".

There is no swifter way to deplenish the economic resources of any peoples than to seduce them into an arms race. It is guaranteed to bleed a nation to death: the loss of their young manpower (through death, through removal from peaceful constructive endeavors, through the diversion of the scientists from peaceful research to designing more powerful weapons), the monopolizing of materials and manufacturing industries, the scavenging of social services, such as infrastructure, education, and health services, all this inevitably leads to industrial decline and a loss of dynamic economy.

Those who wield military might always must lose because they understand the dynamics of war but have no clue for those of government and civil administration.

In times of war, or excessive civil unrest, when there is no security in society, a state of chaos can occur without warning, not only because of evil intentions on the part of anyone but because of sheer ineptitude, here and there. Chaos can also obtain under the absolute rule of a single autocratic leader whose overriding goal is to exercise absolute control on every aspect of government. Whether you have done it intentionally or accidentally, when you organize chaos, you are delivering the quiet peaceful majority of the population into the hands of the ruthless. That is why so many governments are run by fraud, corruption, theft, lies, deception, or terror. Even when this is avoided, it is a historic fact that most positive reforms to benefit the masses remain valid only on paper, remain valid in the idealistic, unrealistic imaginations of intellectuals and well-meaning do-gooders who have no idea of how things work in the real world.

War is the ultimate anachronism: it's time has passed.

That's all for now. More anon, I'm sure.

Yesterday, the best thing I watched was an interview with Dr. Keith Goh, who was the surgeon in charge of the team that operated on the Iranian twins recently in Singapore. What an extraordinary human being, what a wonderful, moving story.

He was asked what he had learnt about himself from this experience. After a pause to reflect, he answered quietly: "I learnt that it is important to empathize with your patient."

I would wish for every doctor to have such a realization before he retires...

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