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 . . .