A man should not be judged by the nature of his duties but by the manner in which he does them.
– Swami Chinmayananda
In other words, it is not by his position but by his character – which is reflected in his actions – that a man (or woman) is judged. It follows that the more these actions are visible in the public domain, the more those responsible for them will be critically viewed. This applies to all those whose calling pitches them into the public arena, and politicians are perhaps the ones who are the prime example in this category. This flows directly from the manner by which they get into business – no pun intended –, which is election by popular, that is, public mandate.
To win the public’s vote, they are almost bound to make electoral promises, many of which they know may not be able to materialize: a phenomenon known as political rhetoric. It exists in all countries where democracy is the mode of choosing one’s representatives, from the poorest to the richest. Right now for example it is playing out in the US following the election of Donald Trump as President-elect, which has now been confirmed by the Electoral College there – which has its own internal politicking.
We assume that everyone who takes up a job will perform it to the best of his ability and according to standards and rules that apply to the sector concerned. In the case of politicians, the overarching standard that is applied to them is that of the national interest. And all over the world, political heads – along with others as well – are rolling because their actions were not seen to be in the national interest: what is called corruption. Only a few days ago, ex-President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina and a South Korean leader were indicted by their respective judiciaries for alleged corrupt practice when they were in office. That is why people become cynical vis-à-vis politicians and their promises. And some wisecrack then comes along to express this cynicism more pithily in the form of jokes.
Courtesy the internet, one of them fell into my box recently, and I am sure it will be enjoyed by everyone at this time of joy and festivities, before we begin to take things seriously again. So here goes (NB: it carries an X rating):
A little boy goes to see his Dad and asks, ‘Dad, What is politics?’ His Dad says: ‘Well son, let me try to explain it this way: I’m the breadwinner of the family, so let’s call me the Treasury. Your Mum, she’s the administrator of the money, so we’ll call her the Government. We’re here to take care of your needs, so we’ll call you The People. The nanny, we’ll consider her the Working Class. And your baby brother, we’ll call him the Future. Now, think about that and see if that makes sense.’
So the little boy goes off to bed thinking about what Dad had said.
Later that night, he hears his baby brother crying, so he gets up to check on him. He finds that the baby has severely soiled his nappy. So the little boy goes to his parents’ room and finds his mother sound asleep. Not wanting to wake her, he goes to the nanny’s room. Finding the door locked, he peeks in the keyhole and sees his father in bed with the nanny. He gives up and goes back to bed.
The next morning, the little boy says to his father, ‘Dad, I think I understand the concept of politics now!’
The father says, ‘That’s great son! Tell me in your own words what you think politics is all about.’
The little boy replies: ‘Well, while the Treasury is screwing the Working Class, the Government is sound asleep, the People are being ignored and the Future is in deep shit.’
But we need not despair, for apparently the future has been getting better and better overall for mankind. To appreciate this, we have to take a long term view, not the short- term one that politicians usually resort to, hoping to produce miracles which, again, fall into the category of rhetoric. Only the Divine is capable of performing miracles and politicians – like most of those who vote them in for that matter! – are far from being divine, let alone Divine…
So: Are living conditions getting better or worse?
A survey carried out recently put this question to people in different developed countries, and it showed that not a lot of people think that the world is getting better.
However, another school of thought was that we need to look at it from a historical perspective, at least over the past 200 years, and at global level. Ourworldindata looked at how poverty, literacy, health, freedom, and education have changed over the last two centuries, and came up with the opposite conclusion, namely that things were improving, though not at the pace that was desirable. Although we know that statistics do no tell the whole story, it was felt that they were the only tool that could answer the question, and this is what came up.
As regards poverty, it was pointed out that rich countries today were very poor in the past and were in fact a lot worse off than the poor countries of today’s world. Taking poverty as living with less than $1.90 per day, charts showed that in 1820 only a small percentage had high standards of living, while nearly everyone else lived in conditions that would be considered as extreme poverty today. But since then, the percentage of extremely poor people has decreased continuously: from 75% in 1950 to 44% in 1981, and is now below 10%.
For literacy, the figure is 1 person in 10 in 1820 compared to 8 in 10 today. However, we will have to get used to a new form of what we could call online literacy, which afflicts the smartphone generation and is characterized by shorthand which people of a certain age cannot fathom. But fortunately I was able to decipher, for example, that ‘cousin/e’ is now ‘kuz’. Cool ain’t it?
As regards health, the metric used is the child mortality rate, which is down to 4.3%: 100 times lower than two centuries ago, thanks to a vast improvement in modern medicine, science, housing, sanitation and diets (made possible through an increase in agricultural productivity and oversea trade). This gain is, however, being offset by the licence people have given themselves to splurge and get addicted – a particular risk in this end of year period — , which makes them end up with the scourges of modern times, the non-communicable diseases which show no signs of abating.
For freedom, judged by living under democratic rule, with the colonial empires having ended, and more and more countries having turned towards democracy, now every second person in the world lives under democratic rule. But democracy produced Hitler, and post Brexit and the recent US elections, there is a wail rising about the ills of democracy. Can there be too much of a good thing? We may not have long to wait before an answer comes up.
Where education is concerned, Ourworldindata is categorical: none of the human race’s achievements over the last two centuries would have been achieved without the expansion of education and knowledge, and is pretty certain that education is on track to continue improving globally. By 2100, there will be only a very small percentage of people without formal education, and there will be more than 7 billion people with at least secondary education. In our case, the education sector is about to be convulsed with the nine-year schooling project that will be inflicted upon it starting 2017. Palpable uncertainty about the outcome is felt by players in the sector, and the greatest prayer is that the students come out winners rather than losers.
But we must hope against hope, as the saying goes. This thought came to me a couple of nights ago, when I was listening to a replay of the song ‘Edelweisss’ (NB: edelweiss is a small star like white flower found high in the Alps) from the musical The Sound of Music, as it ended with ‘Edelweiss, Edelweiss, Bless My Homeland Forever.’ But the words are so beautiful and touching that they deserve to be shown in full – and pondered upon:
Every morning you greet me
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Bless my homeland forever.
That our homeland be blessed in the coming and future years, for the sake of our children who deserve to be equally blessed and to live in peace and friendship forever, that is what we must hope and work towards.
Happy New Year to all.