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Observing national epiphanies


An epiphany is a sudden and striking realisation.  The penny drops.  The light bulb goes on.

The idea of individual epiphany is at the heart of many faiths.  The Buddha finally got it under a Bodhi tree and became enlightened.  Jesus' personal epiphany came after starving for 40 days and nights in the desert.  An epiphany can be godless.  In the secular world, Isaac Newton had a gravitational epiphany when an apple dropped.  These are personal epiphanies; but can there be national breakthrough moments?  Today I look at national epiphanies and in the next blog I look at personal ones.

Recently I have observed two national examples.  For more than a month and a half I have watched from inside the country as (some) parts of Indian society convulsed with shame over the plight of women.   From afar I have observed the US similarly convulse over the Sandy Hook massacre. 

Sometimes, national epiphanies take some time to work.  The Prague Spring of 1968 ostensibly failed.  Yet it was undoubtedly still resounding in the Communist bloc when the Soviet Union died in 1991.  Similarly with the Arab Spring, it will be impossible to know the ultimate destination of that epiphany when young educated people took to the streets.  So far four governments have toppled but more may go and dramatic change will ensnare the Arab world for time to come.

National epiphanies need attention-grabbing disasters.  If a country is to change deeply ingrained views, practices or habits, something truly awful needs to occur. Port Arthur was our epiphany with assault weapons. The Delhi rape and the Sandy Hook massacre were of such gravity that they captivated the two nations.  But will these two events lead to a national change or are they merely the cause of some temporary media furore that will die down and go away before any real change is achieved?

My guess is that India has and will probably change forever as a result of its epiphany but that the US will not.

The Delhi gang rape was notable for its savagery.    It was also notable for the police and government's initial lacklustre response.

The rape with its hideous assaults and subsequent killing has elicited a range of responses.  The predictable blaming of the victim for her dress and actions has been overwhelmed by recognition that the rape was not an isolated incident and is utterly unacceptable.  This moment of enlightenment has been backed up by action. The trial of the accused has been fast tracked, and the Verma Panel, which had been formed to examine how to curb violence against women in India, has within weeks of its formation finished a 630-page report after receiving 80,000 submissions.  Its main recommendations include taking on the patriarchal rules and Village Councils, reforming the police and complaint procedures. These actions, and the ferocious media debate I have observed, augur that this event may be one of national epiphany.

There are acts of violence against women all the time.  Why was this one a moment of national revelation?  My guess is the serendipity of several factors.  The leadership of the Women's Commission was outstanding.  The educated and young middle class were savvy and used the social media brilliantly.  The case was going to be just another poorly run criminal investigation when the young educated middle class of Delhi exploded and the demonstrations erupted across the country in protest at what they perceived as both the horrific nature of the crime and the political leaders and police forces' lack of any immediate, real or genuine response.

As Tony Chapman, a former bureau chief of the 7.30 Report now based in Hyderabad told me, ''India is a land where political promises too frequently come to nought.  Sexual violence may not abate significantly immediately.  But the important aspect of this episode is political.  This was an occasion when the educated, young middle class learned how to exert political pressure to obtain a result.  In that sense it is a seminal moment.''

At the very least it has put the political class on notice that they can no longer take the electorate for granted as much as they have done in the past.

So while India has in the past been known for dowry death, maternal mortality, vitriolage (acid throwing) and violence against women, things may have changed for women because a politically engaged young middle class has now seized the initiative in this large and complex land.  The recent economic growth has brought on education, which has brought on political change.

The US, however, is not a place for optimism.  Despite Presidential tears and a Vice-Presidential report, one wonders whether the outrage in Newtown Connecticut may well be just another blip on the media radar rather than a seminal moment.  Is the Second Amendment so ingrained that no event can be the epiphany that is needed?  The Second Amendment is quoted by gun advocates like a fundamentalist religious document.  Quite unquestioned, advocates talk about the Amendment with reverential faith.  Guns and God share more than just their first letter.  They both gain credibility by unquestioning belief in a document that is a relic from the past.  That belief belies repudiation by a single event.

In theory, guns are an anachronism in any civil society that is politically stable and effectively policed.  You don't need any weapons if there is not going to be a war or invasion.  But is it too late for the States?  Are weapons so widely distributed and gun culture so entrenched that it is impervious to the trauma of 20 dead kids?  Gun advocates talk about political revolution in the US as though it is a reasonable and immediate prospect.  What planet are they on?

I suspect that there is no national epiphany on guns in America.  There will be some reform.  There will not be enough and gun violence will still mar the US because constitutional fundamentalism reigns supreme.

What is your view?

What are the things that make for a national epiphany?

Do you need more than just an event? What about political guts and citizen support after a nationally significant event?

Will Indian society change because an act of epiphany coincided with the political rise of the educated young in a now wealthier country?

Will the US still continue to tolerate mass murder because nothing can undermine their faith in the Second Amendment?

Are the persistent beliefs in God and guns drawn from the same fundamentalist well?

Over to you guys . . .


  • Nothing will radically alter the gun culture of the US. Conservative, right wing Christians are the largest owners of guns and still own the political and cultural structure. These people actually believe they will need their guns to overthrow a tyrannical government.Crazy.

    Date and time
    February 04, 2013, 7:05AM
    • Actually Sipper I think that the takeover of the republican party by the zealots, gun nuts the south and rural west is the beginning of the end for them. The growth of the Negro and Hispanic vote alienated by a racist anti coloured, anti immigrant agenda to shore up the white trash vote will render the party unelectable eventually.

      We live in hope.

      Uncle Quentin
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 10:53AM
    • I love how the Republicans are reaching out -

      On illegal immigration they are changing not because they think it's the right thing to do but to try & capture more than the 23% of the hispanic votes they received (refer to interviews by McCain)

      On reaching out to blacks, they had a talkfest on how to reach out to minority voters in January - their choice of having the retreat at what is now the Kingsmill Resort but was formerly the Kingsmill Plantation, which was owned by Lewis Burrell III (who, coincidently, also owned all the slaves that worked on the plantation)

      I may be going out on a limb here, but telling the world you are changing the policy not because it is correct, but because you aren't getting enough of the hispanic votes, and holding a conference to discuss why more black voters don't support you on a former slave plantation, does sound like you won't get a single extra vote.

      On guns, it's sad there seems to be a large enough group in the US who think they either will be able to stop someone from shooting them, if they own a gun, where stats show you are likely to be a victim of your own gun in your own house (also, the talk of stopping the recent shootinh if either teachers or school guards had guns when the shooter had a bullet proof vest along with his assault rifles)

      Amazing the rest of the western world has the same computer games & movies but still lacks the number of gun deaths if they are the cause also

      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 12:13PM
  • Dick I'd say genuine 'epiphanies' are very rare, while media driven 'epiphanies' aren't,
    the later is more about popular reaction rather than understanding.

    Date and time
    February 04, 2013, 7:17AM
    • Yes the definition of "epiphany" is vague and its radical import may have been watered down by the sensual overload of modern life.


      Dick Gross
      St Kilda
      Date and time
      February 05, 2013, 3:49PM
  • Well G.G. an epiphany is not one where singing, with hand over heart, eyes gazing lovingly at a symbol fluttering in the breeze, the words "America the brave", while being afraid to take on the NRA.

    Nor is it singing three word slogans in Australia because 70% of the media has the same power as the NRA and appears to use it in exactly the same fashion.

    Has the last 2 years of persistent negativity and belief in a god given destiny darkened the landscape so much that any epiphany is redacted ?

    J. Fraser
    Date and time
    February 04, 2013, 7:59AM
    • Please don't put two spaces after a full stop. That is a carry-over from the mono-spaced fonts of the typewriter days. Modern proportionally-spaced fonts do not require two spaces. It makes reading text very difficult.

      Old skool
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 8:39AM
      • "It makes reading text very difficult."

        Difficult or just irritating? 'Cause, you know, they're not the same thing.

        Could you point out where the double spacing made either comprehension or reading "difficult."

        There is one place where four spaces are in place. Did you notice any increased difficulty at that point compared to the double spaces?

        Geoff Edwards
        Date and time
        February 04, 2013, 9:15AM
      • Old skool (With this as your computer alias you complain about spacing in this article? One would think that a member of the literary police would not use 'skool' for any reason.)

        I am heartily sick of the superiority of those who denigrate grammar and sometimes the validity of a comment simply because of the wording, spelling, spacing etc.. People are skilled in different areas, that doesn't mean they lack intelligence or that their comments are somehow less relevant.

        Dick wrote a meaty article about serious issues and spacing is the thing that bothers you?

        If you'd passed your remark after commenting on the article it might - no not even then. I find the word passed particularly appropriate when referring to these types of comments.

        Tricia Bertram
        Date and time
        February 04, 2013, 12:30PM
      • Dear Old Skool,

        You are correct. I will try to change. But in the last two sentences I double hit the space bar and then had to revise. Old habits....


        Dick Gross
        St Kilda
        Date and time
        February 05, 2013, 3:50PM

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