Monday, 20 July 2009

On Collective Free Will, or Lack Thereof

Nas of the Black Iris of Jordan has posed a question on his blog about whether we ‎Jordanians decide our fates, and I'm glad to answer that question with a simple No. ‎

We've gotten used to the idea of passive participation in society, out of fear of ‎‎"Authority" or mere indifference to what goes around us, and the former can and in ‎many cases did lead to the latter. But why are we passive? We've grown accustomed to ‎the tribal idea of the collective father figure who decides what's best for us, and we oblige ‎out of "loyalty". The father figure was reincarnated in the government, which ‎decides what the tribe/people's best interest is and acts accordingly. ‎

Society is a living organism, this is what French sociologist Emile ‎Durkheim suggests, and he explains that the relationship between the elements of ‎any society; Family, Law..etc, are examined as they interact with each other as well as ‎other elements to achieve social needs, which eventually function into the stability and ‎survival of the society, much like any living organism, including humans.‎

The problem with our society is that despite it being a living organism in the ‎anthropological meaning of the argument, it actually lacks the tools of free interaction ‎with other elements; And if we want to call things by their names, I'd explain that our ‎freedoms are deficient; people have the right to protest, but their protest has to be ‎licensed, or else their exercise of their right to protest would be deemed illegal, and the most recent example of this was the protest which took place outside ‎the ministry of Agriculture a few weeks ago. On the other side of the coin, The ‎Parliament; the supposed representative of the will of the people isn't representing the ‎people anymore, I'm not even sure it ever did, at least in the past 10 years or so, besides ‎the way it's elected in the first place, and we've all seen the latest episodes of the war of ‎attrition between the parliament and the press, two of the most important pillars of any ‎country's social conscience. ‎

Now the buck should stop at the members of the civil society, NGOs and other ‎institutions in the broader social scene, but those, as the black iris observed, are based on ‎a select group of people, who end up patronising the rest of the society with their elitist ‎approach to social activism. And in many cases, the members of those NGOs and civil ‎society institutions are in one way or another connected to non civil society institutions, ‎which voids their attempt to balance the scale of social interaction between the ‎government and the rest of the society from its point.‎

Whether we accept it or not, ours is a pastoral society, The Pastor -in his many forms- ‎directs us towards our best interest and we gladly follow, we've had attempts to grow up, ‎but we haven't figured out a way to do it yet, out of frustration from our failure or our tribal ‎loyalty to the pastor, and until both the pastor and the flock understand that they both ‎belong to the very same farm; bearing in mind George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”; Until we ‎establish that All are equal, and that some aren’t more equal than others, our control of our ‎fates will be deficient, as will our control of our country’s fate.‎

On a different note, today marks the 40th anniversary of the Moon Landing, and to celebrate the ‎occasion, here's a song for you.


  1. I am starting to think that society is basically just an extension of the typical family. The dad decides what is right and what is wrong. The kids can input when they're told they can, and are punished if they did not do as they are told or rebelled in some way. Excess rebellion may increase the punishment, until the Mrs intervenes to find some "solution" to the problem where both adapt - basically an organized rebellion that can go on until the kids are exhausted when they see the dad won't change the rule, or change it to the desired extent.

    I am not sure if every society is a giant reflection of individual households, what do you think?

  2. Excellent take on the issue. Here are my two cents: Some entity needs to train people on how to organize. People need to understand the politics of power within their society. People living within the "bubble" tend to miss the bigger picture, what is needed is a mechanism that will help people get that bigger picture. I think that we in Jordan reached a point where some are protecting their benifits by their silence while others decided that it is in their best interest to walk away.

  3. Mohannad, my understanding is that a decent amount of people understand the politics of their respective governments, but they put themselves in a bubble because understanding a problem does not give you the ability to solve it without tools. What is needed, other than showing the bigger picture to the less-inclined populace, is the tools that can change things around.

    Now governments will bubble themselves and others because it's only natural that a government does not want to have itself toppled or changed. Hence the pastor symbology in the post. If you argue with a mufti or a priest, they will try to convince you in every way possible, and if you're not convinced you won't change their mind so the best thing to do is either leave the place, or live in your own bubble and not have it rub against their bubble as much as possible

  4. KJ: Well any society is an extension to the families that make it what it is, and the attributes of a society, and the relationships within it have certain similarities with the relationships in a family in terms of the existence of rules/laws under which people live, as well as duties and rights.

    The problem though is that treating other members of the society as minors, like one would treat children in a family, is a condescending attempt to protect interests under the pretext of authority and the right "under the law" to decide what's best for everyone.

    Societies prosper when everyone is treated as an equal, regardless of social/political/economic status.

    Muhanned: I agree, but in general, 3rd world political entities, and we're among them, don't want to train people how to organize, hence the restricting laws and regulations for establishing unions and the need for security approvals to "organize" activities.

    We in Jordan are seeing several interconnecting bubbles, more like the olympic rings of interests, and each will protect the existence of the other as any disturbance to one would disturb the rest, while those outside all these bubbles, who make up the backbone of the society, have no control over anything, so they just go about earning their daily bread, literally, because that's where their sole interest lies.

  5. True, but while they do "understand" how governments work, they might not understand why policies are being implemented, why some laws are set, why some issues are ignored, how the policies affect their lifes in direct and more importantly in indirect ways, how some of the effects of the policies are to be felt in the long run, etc..

    Some of the issues I and ammar pointed are jordan-sepcific, namely the "demographic" cord which is constantly being played by policy makers.