Optimal versus stable strategies in the politics of devolution
Posted on June 11th, 2009

R Chandrasoma

In the study of the dynamics of complex systems a distinction is made between outcomes that are “ƒ”¹…”optimal’ and those that are “ƒ”¹…”stable’. The “ƒ”¹…”optimal state’ is that which is most rewarding for all parties concerned. Unfortunately in many realistic situations, optimal states are unstable as they are vulnerable to “ƒ”¹…”attacks’ from competing and potentially destructive options. The good they confer is fragile in the sense that they lower the threshold for organized disruption. Once overthrown, the damaging fall-out can be disastrous. In contrast, a stable strategy confers fewer benefits initially but has the capacity to withstand buffeting from destabilizing influences that threaten to destroy it. It is the preferred option if the long-term well-being of all is the goal.

In essentials, political strategies are no different in dynamical structure from those studied abstractly in such domains as “ƒ”¹…”game theory’ and evolutionary ecology. A political settlement (a strategy in the abstract sense) may be wonderfully acceptable to all communities in that it initially maximizes social benefits while also removing all restrictions on civic freedoms in the name of a truly participatory democracy. The moot question is whether the good times will last. Since dissent can grow unchecked, a “ƒ”¹…”fissiparous’ and undemocratic counterforce will surely usurp the lax democracy that gave birth to it. In brief, the “ƒ”¹…”optimal’ will be destabilized and ousted by an invasive and vigorous “ƒ”¹…”parasitic’ option that is far from desirable.

Let us take the case of the “ƒ”¹…”options’ (or strategies) open in the political settlement of the “ƒ”¹…”ethnic’ North-East imbroglio. The conventional wisdom based on naƒÆ’†’¯ve politico-legal thinking is that the maximum devolution of power within a de-militarized “ƒ”¹…”federal’ set-up is the best option. This is certainly the “ƒ”¹…”optimal’ arrangement = but it has a grave weakness in that it is inherently unstable and defenseless against subversion. Fissiparous tendencies will arise and will develop unchecked. In technical jargon, separatism (or ethnic chauvinism) is an “ƒ”¹…”attractor’ to minorities and goodwill alone has no power to thwart this dangerous tendency. An attractor is a stable state that (in this instance) is far less than optimal but is a “ƒ”¹…”basin’ into which optimal states are perilously prone to fall. Given this ever-present danger, a “ƒ”¹…”stable’ solution for the political problems of the North-East must be resolutely unitary. Federalism must be rejected not because it is intrinsically bad but because the danger of separatism lurks in the background as a potent political attractor = especially so given the sad history of this region. Indeed, it is the very opposite of de-militarization that is the need of the hour. The permanent stationing of troops in strategic locations in the North-East is a sine qua non for long-term political stability. This is a “ƒ”¹…”defensive manoeuvre’ in the sense that it a forced option to ensure political stability.

Needless to say these safeguards must be coupled with a determined effort at national integration based on a shared culture and a consensual history effectuated through education and acculturation. There is no better way of doing this than through the compulsory study of the national language Sinhala (as a second language) in areas where Tamil is the mother tongue. These moves may be seen initially as hegemonic impositions undemocratically forced on the minorities by the victorious Sinhala majority. This is a short term and myopic view. The long term benefits will result in the forging of a single nation within a full and participatory democracy that sees no distinctions between races. More importantly, such political realignments will remove forever the recrudescence of that lethal social pathology associated with the name of Prabhakaran.

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