Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Lessons in the dangers of elitist detachment

By Aussiegirl

A very interesting journey back into history with Peggy Noonan. Sometimes the people on top get disengaged from reality, with disastrous consequences. Peggy Noonan makes a sobering comparison with the current situation in the Middle East and Iraq. Years ago PBS ran a fascinating drama produced by the BBC that depicted the end of the Raj, complete with all the players.

OpinionJournal - Peggy Noonan

What Nobodies Know -- From India to Iraq, lessons in the dangers of elitist detachment.

I have been reading "Freedom at Midnight," the popular classic of 30 years ago that recounted the coming of democracy to India. The authors, journalists Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, capture the end of the Raj with sweep and drama, and manage to make even the dividing of India and Pakistan--I mean the literal drawing of the lines between the two countries, by a British civil servant--riveting. But the sobering lesson of this history, the big thing you bring away, is this: They didn't know.

Mountbatten and Nehru and Jinnah were brilliant men who'd not only experienced a great deal; they'd done a great deal, and yet they did not know that the Subcontinent--which each in his own way, and sometimes it was an odd way, loved--would explode in violence, that bloodlust would rule as soon as the Union Jack was lowered.

[...] The savagery spread, and turned the Subcontinent into a charnel house. In the end hundreds of thousands were dead.
And yet Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India; Jawaharlal Nehru, one of India's founding fathers, and its first prime minister; and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, head of the Muslim League and first governor-general of Pakistan, and many other leaders in the movement for independence--most of them--were shocked and horrified by the scale and bloodiness of the fighting.

How could this be?

One can infer a great deal from the book. Everyone in a position of authority seems to have been blinded, in part, by the Mission.
So they were all driven by their mission. And by personal ambition, which tends to narrow one's focus, or rather train one's focus on oneself, and away from more important things.

And there was something else.

The leaders of the day did not know that terrible violence was coming because of what I think is a classic and structural problem of leadership: It distances. Each of these men was to varying degrees detached from facts on the ground. They were by virtue of their position and accomplishments an elite. They no longer knew what was beating within the hearts of those who lived quite literally on the ground.

Each of these leaders had been removed by his own history from facts on the ground. "Elitism" doesn't always speak of where you went to school or what caste, as it were, you came from. You can wind up one of the elites simply by rising. Simply by being separated for a certain amount of time from those you seek to lead.

People who know most intimately, and through most recent experience, what is happening on the ground, and in the hearts of men, are usually not in the inner councils. They have not fought their way or earned their way in yet. Sometimes they're called in and listened to, at least for a moment, but in the end they tend to be ignored. They're nobodies, after all.


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