The State or the People: who’s to blame?

people300We often like to put people into categories: liberals and conservatives, doers and thinkers, Islamists and secularists, those who like dark chocolate and those who favor milk chocolate, those who like cats and those who prefer dogs, and so on. It is very often two antipodal partitions and no middle ground. It is a simplistic analysis for it makes it simpler for people to have a quick take on things. People are just not interested to dwell upon confusing gray areas. To this list of opposing attitudes, I recently discovered one more differentiation: people who blame the State for all that has happened to them, and those who always place the blame on the bad faith of people. The state, here, represents the regime, the president, and whoever is in power. This observation is the fruit of my experience with tedious debates mainly on Algeria’s current affairs. Incidentally, debating Algeria’s current affairs, by Algerians, very often, if not always, turns into a festival of distributing blames. In fact, there is debate if and only if there are state blamers and people blamers. At the end, this blame game is really about establishing accountability and responsibility in the face of the country’s current state.

In general, the state blamers often think that the state is the one holding enough power to do the right things and make a difference, and that if the country is in shitty state, it is because of the regime’s bad decisions and incompetence. I myself kind of relate to that. Isn’t it the state’s responsibility for setting policies, managing the economy and controlling how wealth is distributed? As a matter of fact, the more control is in the hands of the state, the more established is its accountability before its constituencies. The Algerian regime accumulates power more than most regimes in the world. It is the archetype for the Leninist centralism and power concentration so much so that the people is left with nothing to be accountable for. Unfortunately, with all that power, and for fifty years now, the Algerian regime has not been doing greatly. The longer this regime stayed in power, the worst it got, with Bouteflika’s era being the worsest ever. With that regard, I grant this regime no extenuating circumstances.

Yet there are those who will always find ways to exonerate the state. They’d go on highlighting its largesse on its people by granting them free education, free medication, free housing, and so on. My mother is one of them. She’d always argue that it is the state that has educated me, dressed me, and fed me, ..etc. Coming from my mother leaves me speechless. Is it because my father is a Chahid? But I can understand her confusion about the loyalty towards a regime as opposed to that to the country. Some people go further in this attitude thinking that, on the contrary, it is the people who is selfish, irresponsible and not worthy for the bliss that was bestowed on him. By directing the blame to the people, which they do with a certain malice, they hope to be seen as siding by the regime. Others they do it simply in despair. Who else to blame if not the poor people. How many time have we heard that the Algerian people is dirty and could not care less if its cities turn into dumpsters, that he is dishonest, uneducated, unruly, spoiled, lazy and does not like to work, with lousy driving habits, edgy and picks a fight for less than nothing, …etc.  Well, it is very hard to disagree with all that, except that I think all that is, again, the regime’s fault. Yes I do blame the regime for all of it. The Algerian people has not always been like that; well certainly not all of that, and not to that degree. Call me naive but I really believe that the regime, has had adequate power and certainly plenty of opportunities since 1962 to shape this people and groom it for a better destiny. I always have in mind the example of emerging nations like the US and Canada which were initially populated by ruthless uneducated and adventurous people arriving from all around Europe, and with pasts for the least doubtful. Yet a handful of leaders with a tenacious will and a clear vision managed to make out of them a great people that built a great nation.

So, for me, it is very simple. If people are throwing their garbage on the streets, it is not because they are attached to the smell of it, but because the state has failed to take the standard measures for managing the garbage collection. And if people are edgy and lousy in their driving, it is because the state has created a lousy network of roads and highways with substandard quality; a transportation network that is often the direct cause for many car accidents. Moreover, It is certainly a reflection of the state’s incompetence to see that many students graduating from the universities, institutes and schools, come out unqualified and unfit for the national job market. It is senseless to watch the discrepancy between the universities curriculum and the market requirement and do nothing about it. For twenty years, Algeria has witnessed a shocking and unprecedented increase in the acts of car theft and domestic burglary. The main strategy of the government was to lay the blame on the parents for mis-educating their kids.

In conclusion, I have no doubt about the responsibility of the state and the innocence of the people. Therefore, whatever is the blame, I am Ok finding myself in the category of the state blamers.

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3 thoughts on “The State or the People: who’s to blame?

  1. It is an endogenous relationship. The blame can be put on the state, and is also shared by the people. But what is interesting in delineating who is “most” responsible of our plight is to try to find the causal argument or chain or arrow. There is no doubt that institutions shape actors’ behavior (this is well-established by a tremendous amount of literature in almost all social science fields), but it also well-established that actors shape institutions. This endogenous relationship is extremely important in the beginning of the emergence of any institutions. Values, norms and standards that we set at the onset of an institutions tend to influence the behavior of all the actors that interaction with and/or in that institution in the future. In our case, our institutions were set or built in the early days of our republic on nefarious values: mistrust, political assassination, corruption, nepotism, demagoguery, coups, clientelism, patronage, absence of the rule of law, ad-hoc norms and values, etc etc. Hense, at the heart of our problem is a total bankruptcy of all our state institutions. So, all the future generations that have interacted with all those ill-conceived institutions got shaped by them, and that gets us to what we have now, and what you are talking about in your post.

  2. Your comment is a very nice analysis of the causal relationship between institutions and actors, and of the evolution of this relationship. I am glad to learn about its science, and how it applies to our country. The concluding paragraph in your comment confirms the extremely negative impact that this decaying and irresponsible regime is having on current and future generations, and therefore the urgency of change in Algeria. My only hope is that change would happen soon, and that it’d be driven by an enlightened vision.

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