Interests and Values

As Socrates said: “Knowledge is the only good, and ignorance is the only evil.” It is also the case that knowledge and being are two sides of the same coin, and knowledge is innate to being, but knowledge is then brought to the fore of one’s being through book learning and experience. Because being is both finite and eternal, it follows that knowledge is also finite and eternal, hence the paradox. 

And at the heart of both being and knowledge is a balance or moderation between power and legitimacy on one hand and interests and values on the other hand, as evinced by our previous discussion on the concept of Dharma. In turn, communication and dialogue are key in communicating one’s interests and values, and the keys to effective communication of one’s basic interests and values are straightforwardness and truth in addition to the clear and concise expression of one’s basic interests and values. 

The more clear, concise, straightforward, and truthful one is in the communication of one’s interests and values, the more effective one can be in aligning one’s interests and values with the interests and values of others. That is if one assumes that one is dealing with rational actors who know what their interests and values actually are. And in a sense, this assumption or thought brings us to what are perhaps the two most important questions that we can ask ourselves, namely: who are the ones who have had and still have common sense and a rational way of thinking, and who are the ones who did not and still do not have common sense and a rational way of thinking? And who are the ones who have been pursuing self-interest all this time rather than the national interest? We must also take culture into consideration, which in turn determines all other dimensions and issues of society. One side has been imposing their culture on others all this time, while the other side neither had the means nor the interest to impose their culture on others. 

In a sense, Eastern governments have gained the edge over Western governments in recent decades when it comes to the clear and effective communication of interests and values. For instance, even though there is turmoil in Russia, Iran, and China as a result of Ukraine, hijab restrictions, and COVID measures respectively, the governments in these countries have become adroit and intuitive when it comes to explaining and justifying their responses to the chaos and turmoil through public relations and strategic communications with the broader world. Whereas American basic or “core” interests and “red lines” are unclear, countries like Russia, Iran, and China do not budge or compromise when it comes to their basic or “core interests” or “red lines.” 

For instance, Ukraine’s flirtation with NATO membership was enough to determine Russia’s course of action, and other countries heed an ear and maintain basic cordiality when Russia communicates and explains its course of action to others. For Iran, social order, security, and threats from the outside world have long been both the raison d’état and the raison dêtre of the government in Iran. Western governments, Western media, and the Iranian diaspora are mere bystanders and onlookers with no skin in a game whereby a government that has been through the current situation is going up against a youth generation that is now going through the situation which the elders of the society have already gone through. Some of these elders once told the Americans after their country’s 1979 revolution: “We are not Afghanistan.” 

And China’s response to the COVID-related protests has also been interesting, as conveyed by China’s ambassador to the United Nations, in the sense that China’s COVID measures have been framed as a choice or a tradeoff between freedom and death. Chinese reasoning and logic dictates that if you choose “freedom” and no COVID restrictions, then you end up dying by the hundreds of thousands as was the case in the United States, which is perhaps a legitimate and reasonable line of reasoning and logic. Those who are tasked with running a country, in most cases, know their country better than others.

In an age of social disorder and turmoil – or the Kali Yuga as the Hindus have called it –communication and knowledge are then essential and key in not only overcoming the social disorder and turmoil, but communication and knowledge are also essential and key when it comes to basic self-preservation and survival. Moreover, the global economy in this day and age is largely a knowledge and information-based economy. The more knowledge and information, the better it is in this day and age from both an economic and human security standpoint. The key for all governments now is internalizing, processing, and prioritizing amidst the sheer volume and speed of communication and knowledge, and then we will see which governments are better able to withstand the social disorder and turmoil based on their ability and their judgment in terms of internalizing, processing, and prioritizing amidst all the communication and all the knowledge that is now in our ever-growing ‘infosphere.’ As one Afghan proverb put it: “If you have the power, keep your own hat on your own head amidst the whirlwind.”

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