iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
MP Nunan

GET UPDATES FROM MP Nunan
 

Burma -- Or Is it Myanmar? -- Goes to See Its Shrink

Posted: 04/ 3/2012 1:48 pm

The nation of Burma shuffles into its psychologist's office, and plops down heavily in a chair.

"Thanks for seeing me outside our regular appointment," Burma says. "I had a really bad weekend."

"Or a really good one," says the shrink. "The first reasonably free-and-fair election since 1990?"

Burma looks up but says nothing. It gives a slight shrug to its shoulders.

"Remember, a lot of these things are about changing your perception," the psychologist says.

Burma puts its face in its hands.

"Are you regretting what you've done?" asks the shrink. "Wait -- don't answer that yet. What am I calling you today? 'Burma' or 'Myanmar'?'"

"Honestly, either one is fine." Burma says, slouching in its chair. "Although I'm feeling in a slightly more Myanmar mood."

"Okay, Myanmar," the shrink says. "The military's held power since 1962 when it took over in a coup. They reigned with impunity for decades -- hitting all the demagoguery hallmarks -- locking up dissidents, refusing elections, forbidding a free press and more.

The last time you held a free election in 1990, the National League for Democracy swept to power. But you refused to acknowledge the defeat at the polls -- and locked up democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in house arrest or jail for most of the next 20 years."

Myanmar looks up and exhales. "And I changed my name."

"But 1990 is where the self-loathing really set in."

Myanmar just stares at the floor.

"Let's go over again what you didn't like about yourself," says the shrink.

"I didn't like how everyone began shunning me," Myanmar says. "The U.S., the U.K., a lot of Europe and a bunch of my own people -- they don't call me by my new name. Everyone keeps insisting on 'Burma.'"

"China and ASEAN call you by your new name."

"They just wanted me for trade reasons. For my natural resources -- teak, gemstones, access to my ports. It wasn't really about me."

"What else?" asks the psychologist.

"And I don't like being so near the top of the Failed States Index. Did you know the Democratic Republic of Congo scores better than me?"

"Remember, there's a simple cause and effect here. Your border wars represent the world's longest-running civil war," the psychologist says.

"It doesn't mean I have to like it."

"All these things make you angry -- and remember, what's the addiction pattern you fall into when you're angry?"

Myanmar looks down at the floor. It mumbles something.

"What's that?" says his shrink.

"I use absolute power to hurt others," Myanmar says.

"That's right. Arresting and re-arresting Aung San Suu Kyi? Refusing aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis? The bloody crackdown on monks -- monks, for heaven's sake, during the Saffron Revolution? How did that make you feel?"

"It felt really good -- for a little while. Ii was... ecstatic!" Myanmar says, suddenly lost in an excited revelry. "Oh my god, I love that feeling of, of -- omnipotence."

The shrink looks at Myanmar steadily. "But we've talked about this. When that buzz from absolute power wears off, how do you feel?"

"Worse." Myanmar catches its shrink's eye. Its tone is like a dejected teenager's. "Worse than when I started."

There's a pause.

"But I'm really proud of you," the shrink says.

"You are?

"What you did this past weekend? The first more-or-less free and fair election since 1990? Even if it was just a by-election, that was a giant step forward!"

"You keep saying, but then why do I feel so awful?" Myanmar asks.

"Because the election and reforming parliament -- those are just first steps. Of course you're feeling unsteady."

The shrink stops and leans forward. "Look at me. This is where you were in 1990. You've got to take responsibility for your actions, without relying on absolute power. If the NLD's 40-some-odd parliamentary seats add up to more influence than you thought? No locking anyone up, no disbanding parliament, no falling back on your addiction pattern."

"But how do I know what comes next?" Myanmar asks.

"You don't," says the shrink. "Giving up absolute power is about being brave. In a democracy, the fact that you don't know doesn't matter."

Myanmar scoffs. "Sounds a little utopian, if you ask me."

The shrink leans back in his chair again. He thinks for a moment.

"You know how you'll know it's working? Everyone will start calling you 'Myanmar.'"

"They will?"

"Once you start acting like you deserve to be called by the name you want, people will start calling you by the name you want," the shrink says. "Not just China and ASEAN. Your own people. Everyone."

"Even Hillary Clinton?"

"Even Hillary Clinton." The psychologist smiles. "They'll even start calling you 'Myanmar' on the Failed States Index."

Myanmar tries not to -- but lets out a short laugh.

"See that? I made you smile. You have got a sense of humor!"

Myanmar's trying to be mad, but it's still smiling.

"Okay," says the shrink. "When do you have to ratify the results of the election?"

"Later this week, maybe," Myanmar says.

"Okay -- I want you to call me if you're having any second thoughts. Any time, day or night. You have my cell and my home number."

Myanmar stands up, preparing to go. "Okay." It's back to sounding unconvinced.

"You've got a lot of people counting on you," the shrink says. "You can do it this time."

"I know, I know," Myanmar says. "It's my decision."