26 December 2013
The fallacy of South Sudan
Remember a few years ago when the Sudan was the humanitarian crisis capital of the world? It wasn't so long ago that the word janjaweed became a synonym for evil as we learned of the oppression of Sudan's "African" southerners by its "Arab" nomads with the connivance of a government dominated by the north of the country. Autonomy, or rather independence was the only remedy, and the world rejoiced when the new nation of South Sudan was born. Now this nation threatens to become the humanitarian crisis capital, as the tribes once oppressed by the north oppress each other. If the world had an illusion that "South Sudan" was a people united by resistance to northern oppression, this month's news of mass killing has dispelled it. It's more likely that a refusal to be governed by "northerners" or "Arabs" was the only thing uniting the tribes who formed South Sudan. Now it turns out that the tribes, or their leaders, can't share power or resources with each other. No sense of national identity trumps tribal loyalties or self-interests. There probably never was a nation there, and there won't be, whether one is a good idea or not, until one tribe, one party, or one man crushes the others. Of course, the international community doesn't want a fight to the finish because that would make the humanitarian crisis worse. A certain liberal mentality always hopes that tribes can be convinced to cohabitate within national borders, but that sort of privileged pluralism is implausible wherever individuals depend on tribes to survive and tribes trust no one to distribute resources fairly. It may be that no culture can graduate from tribalism to nationhood without the sort of oppression, or at least coercion, that liberals always deplore. Progress may require giving up one identity in favor of another, whatever "violence" that may do to someone's psyche. Idealists may still hope that tribalism can be transcended without coercion through appeals to humanity, logic or enlightened self-interest. But absent any compelling opposing force, tribalism may persist for the same reasons that it evolved in the first place. Tribalism persists in the form of nationalism as well, and arguably in the more abstract if not most advanced form of ideology. Communism, for instance, appealed to universal humanity but too often has made full humanity conditional upon submission to the scripture of Marx or to some Great Leader. But if identifying with a universal humanity requires us to overcome tribal habits and actively transcend a former sense of self, there may be no way to that goal that doesn't look "totalitarian" to somebody -- though there really should be some way that does without the ego of a Great Leader. If identifying with universal humanity requires "indoctrination" and "propaganda," is it worth the trouble? It might be if people stopped comparing the process to some ideal of "freedom" (i.e. each person's unmediated development toward what each is "meant to be" as defined by each person at any given moment) that most likely never has existed and definitely doesn't in places like South Sudan. It's clear now that the path to that country's birth was paved with the same good intentions seen on a more familiar road.