January 30, 2015

Social Issues

by Marlon Viloria

Homo homini lupus…man is a wolf to his fellow man!

One early morning last week, I dropped by at a coffee shop to get my second dose of caffeine fix. On my way to the door, a lady in her early 60s, impeccably dressed in winter clothing was on her way out, holding a cup of take-away coffee on one hand while using the other hand to pull the glass door. She beat me into opening it and made a gesture of letting me in first. I had an instant reaction to it, call it the gentleman instinct, that the ‘situation at hand’ was not quite right so I told her to come out first, followed by saying to her that I would feel guilty, embarrassed even, if she was opening and holding the door for me, instead of the other way around - myself giving the courtesy.

She laughed dryly at my comment, thanked me and said that my ‘breed of men’ is few and far between nowadays. I wasn’t quite sure if that was a compliment or an indirect way of telling me that I am stupid…or even naïve that I am still practicing a presumably bygone culture that does not bode well in today’s world of “to each his/her own”. Anyway, we parted our separate ways but still exchanging pleasantries like wishing each other a nice day ahead.

Disclaimer: It’s not a self-serving story and in my view, neither has any element of narcissism into it, but the basis of an opinion borne out of collective thoughts that had been bugging me since.  And I just felt the urge to write it down, so please read on if you will.

Such a small and insignificant event got me thinking how things within the society as a whole have really changed over the years, but have gone unnoticed due to its gradual and transient delivery. I just feel there is something that has gone wrong. How morality in humans seemed to have eroded and how respect for one another seemed to be going down the drain. That the only things that seem to matter these days are the accumulation of wealth, the insatiable quest for fame and grip of power, absolute or relative. People are going selfish and self-centred and there seemed no more time to live a quality life. And one does not need to look far to prove this point: facebook is full of such proliferation of the above, sometimes presented beneath a veiled and pretentious empathy for others, or as do-gooders and God-fearing zealots but with hidden motives. We are now witnessing the exponential growth of narcissism in different forms and guises. Perhaps, I am guilty of such development too and maybe I am just being blinded from the truth, from my own shortcomings until someone is willing to point out to me…for which I would be grateful, even if it hurts my ego.

There has been a lot of analytical thinking that came out from this year’s world economic forum in Davos by the main protagonists, i.e. the rich and powerful. For one, it is no longer disputed that almost half of the entire global wealth is owned by a mere one percent of the world’s population, thereby widening the gulf between the rich and the poor at an unprecedented level.

Much more critical in their analysis, which I agree, is the alarming geopolitical situation spreading around the world such as the worsening conflict in Ukraine, the continuing merciless killings in Syria and Iraq, the inevitable rise of terrorism in the western world, the unpredictability of rogue states like North Korea, the impending nuclearisation of Iran despite their denial, to name but a few.

Furthermore, and although it seems to be slowing down, the astronomical rise of China’s economy redrawing the balance of power that was once a US domination for decades, and of which some sphere of influence has already shifted in many parts of the world, is a hard pill to swallow for some but now a resounding reality. And with such economic superiority and developing closer ties with Russia, both of which have massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, come the unstoppable Chinese build-up of military strength in the Asia-Pacific region - a trump card, no doubt, in leveraging its quest for influence and expansionism. In fact, it has already been flexing its muscles by bullying the small and helpless countries around the Pacific Rim, such as the expansion of its airspace, or its territorial claim of Spratly Islands as well as its dredging activities nearby, creating an artificial island for its military installations such as a runway for its fighter jets.

Here in the west or UK in particular, looking back 30 years earlier then fast-forwarding it to the present time that the occurrences of change in people’s behaviour and attitude have become transparent. We knew back then who the enemies were during the cold war era. They were external foes, and it was simply a matter of communism versus capitalism. Domestically, political issues were mainly focussed on the growing militancy of trade unions. Those were the dominant concern of the population then. Life was just as equally hard to many as today but stable, and respect for one another was still visible regardless of sex, race, creed, religion, etc. There was hardly any outcry about religion, xenophobia or the likes, and I had not heard of terms as disenfranchisement or feelings of alienation from some ethnic members of the community. The tide has turned 180 degrees where ‘simplicity’ has become ‘complexity’ and it is no longer a simple ‘black or white’ perspective. There’s now ‘grey’ in the middle and it seems to occupy a much bigger area than the two combined.

As someone like me whose cellular fabric is moulded and interwoven with progressive politics, I believed then and I still believe now that the causes of decline in human standards such as moral values, culture or tradition, all seemed to have been overtaken by greed which is visibly perpetuating today, was done when privatisation of the state’s wealth was the name of the game. When every national asset like gas, electricity and water supply, and railways, buses, telephone, etc that were all supposed to be considered as public services had all fallen into private ownership. It was the time when Great Britain aligned itself with the US model of economics and capitalism, when profits became more important than public services and looking after the welfare of the majority. Much worse, it was when credit became a necessity and ingrained in people’s attitude towards their personal finances. It was when greed became good, as immortalised by Gordon Gekko in the Wall Street movie.

In that span of 30 years, never did I hear such a thing as food banks here in the UK to provide food and aid to people with low income just to make ends meet. Although it’s a band-aid solution to a much bigger and deeper wound, namely the growing inequality in our society, it may likely become a lasting reality in the lives of many for the foreseeable future. And it’s no-brainer to figure out that hard economic times spawn social problems, increase crime rates and ultimately create instability and lawlessness in the society.

This apparently is now giving discomfort and fear among the minority elites. Ohhh…don’t you just feel ‘sympathy’ towards them?

Though it seems unrealistic and quite a tall order, I have always been an optimist and hopefully this dire global situation would serve as a wake-up call for everyone. Where common sense shall prevail in the end and a collective effort in finding social equilibrium will soon be realised so peace and stability resurface…where our earth’s wealth is spread more fairly to benefit everyone most especially those marginalised ones.

Everyone is accountable and has a role to play. We owe it to the young and future generations. Let’s give them a chance…at least!

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