The Historical Background of the Myanmar Crisis
What Alfred North Whitehead was telling us about foresight and routine in relation to the modern world in 1933 that might be exemplified to Myanmar in 2016. Myanmar has a choice between routine and foresight. The military forces and part of the so called Buddhist monks belong to the routine camp. Some parts of the new government especially those who had been political prisoners under the military government belong to the foresight camp.
"Routine is the god of every social system; it is the seventh heaven of business, the essential component in the success of every factory, the ideal of every statesmen. The social machine should run like clockwork. Every crime should be followed by an arrest, every arrest by a judicial trial, every trial by a conviction, every conviction by a punishment, every punishment by a reformed character. Or, you can conceive an analogous routine concerning the making of a motor car, starting with the iron in the ore, and the coal in the mine, and ending with the car driving out of the factory and with the President of the Corporation signing the dividend warrants, and renewing his contracts with the mining Corporations. In such a routine everyone from the humblest miner to the august president is exactly trained for his special job. Every action of minor or president is the product of conditioned reflexes, according to current physiological phraseology. When the routine is perfect, understanding can be eliminated, except such minor flashes of intelligence as are required to deal with familiar accidents, such as flooded mine, a prolonged drought, or an epidemic of influenza. A system will be the product of intelligence. But when the adequate routine is established, intelligence vanishes, and the system is maintained by a coordination of conditioned reflexes. What is then required from the humans is receptivity of special training. No one, from President to miner, need understand the system as a whole. There will be no foresight, but there will be complete success in the maintenance of the routine. (...)
The two extremes of complete understanding and of complete routine are never realized in human society. But of the two, routine is more fundamental than understanding, that is to say, routine modified by minor flashes of short range intelligence. Indeed the notion of complete understanding controlling action is an ideal in the clouds, grotesquely at variance with practical life. But we have under our eyes countless examples of societies entirely dominated by thoroughgoing examples of routine" (like insect societies). (...)
But these insect societies have one great characteristic in common. They are not progressive. It is exactly this characteristic that discriminates communities of mankind from communities of insects. Further, this great fact of progressiveness, be it from worse to better, or from better to worse, has become of greater and greater importance in Western civilization as welcome to modern times. (...)
It is now time to give some illustrations of assertions already made. Consider our main conclusion that our traditional doctrines of sociology, of political philosophy, of the practical conduct of large business, and of political economy are largely warped and vitiated by the implicit assumption of a stable unchanging social system. (...)
In the present age, the element of novelty which life affords is too prominent to be omitted from our calculation.(...)
But we are faced with a fluid, shifting situation in the immediate future.
Rigid maxims, a rule-of-thumb routine, and caste-iron particular doctrines will spell ruin (...).
I will conclude this chapter by a sketch of the Business Mind of the future. In the first place it is fundamental that there be a power of conforming to routine, of supervising routine, of constructing routine, and of understanding routine both as to ist internal structure and as to ist external purposes. Such a power is the bedrock of all practical efficiency. But for the production of the requisite Foresight, something more is wanted. This extra endowment can only be described as a philosophic power of understanding the complex flux of the varieties of human societies: for instance, the habits of noting varieties of demands on life, of serious purposes, of frivolous amusements. Such instinctive grasp of the relevant features of social currents is of supreme impotence. (...)
Mankind is now in one of ist rare moods of shifting ist outlook. The mere compulsion of tradition has lost ist force. It is our business - philosophers, students, and practical men - to re-create and reenact a vision of the world, including those elements of reverence and order without which society lapses into riot, and penetrated through and through with unflinching rationality."
[Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, First Free Press, New York 1967, pages 87-99]