Caring For Good Life
Dev Raj Dahal
The search for good life of Nepali citizens, sages and leaders goes beyond daily rituals driven by passion to perform virtuous deeds and enjoy the blessing of civilisation. Use of moral virtues spurs a condition of security and richness. Nepali spirit reveals the interest in self-rule, no matter how feeble leaders may be. So long as leaders adore culture of the family, community, society and the state, there is no reason for Nepali citizens to feel unease. Their essential humanity bond cares the land, heritage and identity. Bonding has a power of enlivening mutual trust. The inner soul of sociability drives the cultivation of positive freedom out of goodwill of all citizens. The production of common good is inbuilt in citizens’ collective psychology of fulfilling emotional feelings, attachment and reciprocity with the local and national community - the state and trade with others on shared interests. The service to common good improves moral life and leads to civilisation, a condition for the removal of subversive agents of Nepali society and overcoming of alienation of modern life through what Immanuel Kant calls “synthetic unity of perfect virtue and complete happiness.”
The Constitution of Nepal binds all citizens by common values and interests to create a basis of public order and individual liberty. It promises double dividend - development and peace. Their rights correspond to their duties to help one another and restrain aggressive conduct hostile to self-rule. Nepal’s classical treatises argue that the common humanity has a gift to surpass vicious egoism and impel a social virtue of cooperation with others for the growth in moral and material standards. Even selfish person calculates the benefit of cooperation. Nepali legacy of cross-sphere justice puts freedom at the heart of political and moral life in which all citizens can live together in harmony with the similar opportunity.
Now pre-modern politics rooted in envy and post-modern politics of nihilism, however, raze social decency and entangle them in political strife. They crush hope for good life for Nepalis. The basic concept of humanity is shaped by the theory of evolution. As this concept is constructed, it is linked with the evolutionary roots of Nepali institutions and practices and mediated by language and knowledge. This theory makes it possible to uncover the native tradition of objective knowledge because it springs from the fusion of various forms of life. In Nepal, all citizens do not have equal capacity to overcome what Kant calls “self-tutelage” to satisfy lawful aspiration for self-awakening. One positive psychology motivates them to catch the flow of worthy life enduring hedonic treadmill.
Nepali citizens have furnished ideas about happiness and choices for action. This drove them to a sort of common will for the grasp of human potential worthy of good life and linked national civility to global one. But the execution of deterministic models of progress and self-justifying canons of reason underlying modern social sciences showed poor positive outcome. Their cognitive bias diminished the utility of indigenous knowledge and experience, destabilised Nepali nation from inside and left one-third citizens in sub-human condition. Now policy makers are opting for alternative concept of progress to optimally manage natural resources, population, technology and knowledge lifting up human condition. Still, due to their historical and inter-subjective amnesia in learning, they would find no answer as to how to shape civic culture which is central to good life.
The equity-based alternative concept has set an equation among degrading ecology, rising population, social chaos and torment of the poor. It stresses on increase in women’s rights, particularly their pivotal role in controlling fertility; reduce the rich-poor disparity through inclusive, shared and self-rule and clinch sustainable use of nature by adopting technologies capable of reducing stress on ecology and human and animal labour. The scientific progress has widened the frontiers of knowledge aiming to fulfill vital human needs. But it gains have yet to be diffused in the Nepali society and this progress is lurking ahead of morality. So long as politics aims for institutional power devoid of the production of public goods to take Nepali society to a higher plane, the vaunted progress can be consumed by clienteles without flouting the law of misery Nepalis are suffering from.
There is a lack of general consensus of Nepalis on the aptness of development except SDGs which for the first time exposed the futility of the resource-intensive progress for the fear to wreck the limits of Earth’s thermostat spelling the end of civilisation. The adoption of modern technology in Nepal has brought down death rates but the new economy has increased the scale of poverty, social inequality and economic insecurity, conflict and youth migration hitting the self-sufficiency of the masses based on agriculture and small industries. There is a need for a change in the consumption pattern in Nepali society where balance between the carrying capacity of the earth and caring aptitude of leaders is struck.
A good politics rests on balancing the conflicting aspirations of citizens. National efforts for prosperity are necessary, but not sufficient to control the misery of Nepalis and cultivate moral dignity and material wellbeing. The duty of leadership lies in creating conditions needed for neighbourhood, regional and international solidarity and adjusting the nation to the demands of often changing social stratification. In an age of reason and recognition, it is only with the conscience of community that public figures can provide a role model for the citizens and inspire care to the dejected. A good life is feasible if social discipline, basic rule and intellectual and emotional energy can release Nepalis from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Democratic balance bonds both rights and duties evoking the concern of citizens to integrate poverty, inequality and disadvantage to governance. Civil society as integral part of civility need to link ethics to politics and define policy coherence by easing resource flow and allocation to citizens to reform the unjust economic and social structures that institutionalised misery, deprivation, ignorance and violence. It calls for a long-term vision of Nepali leaders, rather than their short-term personal survival and aid citizens to cut the risks to material scarcity. Nepali citizens have an interest in the transformation of their role from passive recipients of official aid to sovereign and deepen state-citizen ties in the golden mean. Raising the standards of policy on collecting revenue, tax, public finance and wisely using the resources can pull Nepal back from economic torpor.
In an uncertain time, the art of balance between freedom from basic needs deficits and prevention of ecological degradation that threaten human survival can animate the future in the present. The attendant advances in health, technology, education and material wealth have spread the urgency of redistributive politics. But many politicians of Nepal are in the socket of powerful interest groups who skew the implementation of Constitution for patronage politics. Political morality rests on a special chemistry of individual conscience, moral voice of the community, and Nepali state’s effectiveness in supporting the vitality of citizens’ life. It historicises the role of family and schools because they promote cognitive development of child by means of personality growth, inculcation of democratic values, shaping character and acquiring the wholeness of life.
Moral verve of Nepali community lays the psychic foundation of democracy and helps to create public space for the political expression and participation of diverse citizens in public matters. They provide ownership and empowerment and mediate between individuals and the state. It brings the Nepali state closer to citizens thus leading to their freedom, self-help and social justice so that even the poor can find a hope in dignified life. The core values of empowering Nepali citizens rests on commitment to democracy, mutual respect among sub-groups, their shared productive lives and converting constitutional rights into public policies.
The vices of Nepal society spiral from too many rights and few duties. Democratic desire of Nepalis sits unwell with weak institutions inept to realise Constitutional goal of good life. The discrepancies between private life and public will, citizens’ reasonable needs and their unfair wants and legal equality and demand of excellence have trapped the nation. Breaking this trap through social inclusion, social justice, civility of family, school, media and private sector, new life of civil society and institutions of modernity is vital to achieve common good. Yet, if problems are rooted in patrimonial political culture, the solution will only treat the effect, not the cause. The use of universal culture of human rights can make for rightness enabling Nepalis to overcome the vices. Still, so long as leaders are governed by “bounded rationality” of their own political parties, not the constitutional vision of good life, these vices will linger.
Strengthening the integrity of Nepali polity and its civic institutions and their accountability to popular will can return the positive outcome of politics. Citizens’ art of association in local bodies, civil society, voluntary sectors and business can hurl the resonance of prosperity. Mobilisation of non-represented groups, attentive citizens and political energy to deepen democracy can unbolt public imagination for good life. Politics of Nepal must be animated by power devolution, state funding of elections, curbing the flow of secret funds in politics, cut in the cost of running public office, transparency, rule of law, scaling the representative ability of political parties and sound public service delivery. Nepalis, as social human beings, are concerned for the future, not live a life of pre-social innocence. A sense of cooperation of all actors demands proper cultivation of minds and habits, and appropriate virtues. The promise of good life is the core of politics. There is no reason why economics and business refuse to engage in ecological ethics and a life of free.