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By Ghassan Karam

So many of the regime apologists in Syria have stumbled on the phrase “evolution and not revolution” and have used it to great effect in scoring points against the critics of the Baath establishment. What is most unfortunate is the almost unanimous refrain that they get from those with whom they are debating, “of course evolution would be the better solution”.

The above, sadly, does not reflect positively on either group since the two words represent completely different ideologies and  since one cannot pretend that both means will reach the same end. If that was the case then there will never ever be any rationale for revolutions in any field and in any area of knowledge anywhere in the world.

Given a certain vision of reality and a set of beliefs in how the world works the practitioners; high priests; proceed to  spread that particular vision or model. Obviously any vision or model can be marginally improved upon, within its broader self imposed constraints of its zeitgeist. Thomas Kuhn, in his highly influential “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” described the epistemological vision that is dominant at any point in time as being a paradigm.  But what is crucially important for this discussion is the idea that as an accepted paradigm is being articulated by its believers it will always run into anomalies and paradoxes that cannot be explained from within the accepted model. The natural reaction of the practitioners is to reject the anomalies as false hoods and to go on with business as usual.

In all fields, these anomalies grow until it becomes impossible to dismiss them as being non essential. It is then that the youth; those that do not have a vested interest in the status quo; will rise and yell the emperor has no clothes. Once that happens then that specific field would have undergone a paradigm shift, a revolution. It is also important is to keep in mind that different paradigms are “incommensurable” since each is based on a totally different vision of reality.

What the, much abbreviated, description of the above means is that once the potential imbedded within a certain understanding of the dynamics required by a certain vision are exhausted then the only possible way to move forward is to reject the past paradigm and adopt a totally different one. This method of explaining the accumulation of knowledge is not linear. It is based on quantum leaps, on discontinuities and on having the courage to adopt a new way of thinking. This is not an evolutionary process but is actually an understanding that we move forward only through revolutions since sooner or later any accepted paradigm, set of values or system of beliefs will fail to explain the inevitable anomalies that arise.  Copernicus and Galileo provided an understanding, a vision if you will, that is not related at all to that of Ptolemy. They posited that the earth revolves around the sun instead of the idea that our planet was the center around which everything revolved. That revolution changed the way that we understand our place in the universe and it was not an evolutionary movement. It was based on a total rejection of all what came before it.

The same process is true when one views social, political and economic evolutions. Feudalism does not evolve into capitalism just as much as capitalism will not evolve into ecological societies. Dictatorships and authoritarian rule will never evolve into democratic structures based on the idea of human rights and personal liberty. These ideas are diametrically opposite and to pretend that one can evolve into that which is its antithesis is groundless. The only way to shift from one phase to the other is to have a revolution. It is also crucial to stress that a revolution does not mean violence to individuals but it must mean violence to old established ideas that serve only the interests of the high priests. Revolutions will not cease until we get to the end of history.

The current regional applications of the above simply mean that no dictatorship will ever evolve into a democracy since that means evolving into its negation, into what it is not. Another relevant example of the above is the impossibility of transforming Lebanon into a modern democratic state without getting rid of all its traditional tribal leaders. Revolution means an abrupt change that anchors a system on principles and ideas that would never be acceptable under the current paradigm. You cannot evolve a system into a revolution since they simply represent the antithesis of each other and since a revolution is called for only once the current dominant paradigm has totally failed. It has both in Syria and in Lebanon regionally, and so has the obsession with economic growth globally.

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