The video counterpart of this post can be found here.
A few years back, while living in the Maywand District of Kandahar, Afghanistan, I noticed that there were two Western contrivances we tried to force upon the locals: Democracy and the toilet. You probably had at least a passing awareness that we installed a “democratic” government there, but you probably weren’t too familiar with the implementation of toilets because it really only happened on army bases.
So what’s the common thread here? Well, both inventions are things we take for granted in the west. They are ubiquitous and we see them as somehow empirical and eternal. So ingrained are these ideas for example, that many have a knee-jerk reaction to shitting via squatting the same way they have a knee-jerk reaction to ideas like dictatorship. Does this make sense?
I don’t think so. From an evolutionary perspective, shitting while squatting is much more the normal state of affairs and it is still practiced widely around the world, so any aversion to it is actually aberrant. Ditto for democracy. We are born into family units where the rules aren’t voted on. We are told what to do. So whence cometh democracy?
Also, with regards to democracy, we live in a natural world with very clear physical rules like gravity, scarcity and other constants which really don’t change based on popular opinion. So again, whence cometh democracy?
Pretending that toilets or democracy are in any way the natural state of affairs, rather than Western contrivances and fancies, is myopic self-delusion.
In a beautiful action illustrating this point, my interpreters in Maywand unwittingly showed me the folly of trying to shoe-horn Western practices into other parts of the world.
The interpreters, Afghan natives, were accustomed to squatting while shitting. There was no place to squat and shit on the base and they couldn’t leave the base due to safety concerns so they had to use the porta-potties located on-site.
In case you don’t know what a porta-potty looks like.
And they did, but in a decidedly Afghan way: they would stand on the seat and try to shit through the hole. Admirable effort and best intentions notwithstanding, more often than not, they would shit all over the seat. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was actually a profound metaphor for the folly of trying to shoe-horn democracy and other Western ideals onto a people unaccustomed to them.
Now for the record I have no especial esteem for democracy, as I alluded to earlier; nature is a dictatorship and its laws are absolute as opposed to relative. But, assuming democracy did have some especial merit, that doesn’t mean that the world is just gonna accept it any more than they accept the toilet.
So we shouldn’t be surprised when things like toilets and democracy, things which we have, if you think about it, been conditioned to accept as normalcy for our entire lives, don’t catch on like wildfire when transplanted elsewhere. Or if they get shit on so to speak.
We don’t have a monopoly on the right way to do things and we would do well to remember that.