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Rainbow Question

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  • Charles Vermont
    ... a.. It is a less developed nation with a GDP per head in the bottom quartile for the world b.. Five families own most of the agricultural and industrial
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 22, 1999
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      On 17th August I outlined the following situation:

      >>>You are General Violet, head of the armed forces of a country called Indigo. Indigo has the following characteristics:

      a.. It is a less developed nation with a GDP per head in the bottom quartile for the world
      b.. Five families own most of the agricultural and industrial companies in the country. These are the Blues, the Greens, the Yellows and the Oranges and your family, the Violets, the richest of the lot.
      c.. The system of government is democratic, but for a member of one of the great five to hold the presidency would upset the delicate power balance between them. Therefore the President is your brother in law, Mr. Red. He has no power base but is also related to all the other four families.
      Indigo is suffering from a period of poor economic performance. This is leading to rioting in the cities. The trade unions are demanding more money and jobs for their members. The President refuses to take any action, afraid of upsetting any one of the five families. As a result the Blues and Greens have formed an alliance against the Oranges and Yellows. Both are training militia men on their estates and have already bought a large amount of weaponry. This rivalry is polarising the country, and even your grandchildren are being jostled at school because they refuse to take sides (as per your instructions). More sinisterly, the various Blues, Greens, Oranges and Yellows who lead the army, navy and air force are plotting against each other.

      The US and British ambassadors have visited. They put pressure on you to act to prevent wide-scale civil unrest. They hint at the possibility of a 'peace-keeping' mission whether you want one or not.

      Overthrowing the democratically elected President and imposing martial law will inevitably mean the detention of hundreds of conspirators and thousands of letters from Amnesty International. Supporting him may mean your ejection from the military high command and the other families ganging up on yours. There is also the possibility of a 'friendly' intervention from Nato.

      Following existentialist principles, what would you choose to do?<<<

      For me this situation is about the companion of freedom, namely responsibility. The Blues, Greens, Oranges and Yellows are all acting in a way which undermines the stability of Indigo's government. Unless General Violet imposes martial law then there is likely to be insurrection, civil war, and a great deal of bloodshed. However, if he does take this action then the result will also be bloodshed, so he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

      If I was General Violet I would reason as follows: The stability of the very fabric of Indigo's society is at risk here. Without that stability there will be a major reduction in the freedom of choice. By this I mean that if civil war occurs there will be shortages of food, water and housing, and the price of life will be very cheap. In such circumstances the mass of the population will have little choice but to search out the necessities of life, a situation which they mostly do not face at the moment. Under martial law there will be a significant reduction in choice over freedom of speech and freedom of association. For many there will also be political detention and very little freedom except the choice to commit suicide. However, there will still be more freedom of choice in Indigo under martial law than if a civil war erupts.

      This line of reasoning leads me to the conclusion that Indigo has tried the freer political atmosphere of democracy but the population has not taken sufficient responsibility for it. In other words, a new system has been tried and the people have been found wanting. Perhaps the problem lies with the five families who control the reigns of power in Indigo, perhaps it lies with their allies and followers, but the stark truth is that democracy has failed this time.

      As someone committed to freedom of choice I want to minimise the effect on Indigo of the failure of democracy so we can try it again as soon as possible and this time succeed. Therefore I would impose martial law.

      Returning to my own thoughts on this situation, I am not entirely happy with my suggestion. It seems to me it is a utilitarian approach since I am saying that what matters is the maximisation of freedom of choice in Indigo. I don't know why I am uncomfortable with this and would appreciate some input from others on the list.

      Charles Vermont
      London, UK
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