Is it possible to make sense of this world?

With hope against hope, I am willing to accept that perhaps there is more good than bad happening around the world. The puzzle remains, though, that when we can both individually and collectively do so much good, why do we choose to do harm, and very often extreme harm?

This is a question that I increasingly ask myself. And, increasingly too, more often than not I despair about our world.

Whether there is a better world elsewhere will probably remain a matter of conjecture for ever, unless someday we are able to travel at many times the speed of light and can take a tour of the universe to go and find out such a world. More science fiction than reality, but there you are, as the freemasons say: ‘j’ai dit’.

But to come back to terra firma, the fact – and problem – is that we are bombarded with so much of information in all manner of print, electronic and social media, with graphics to reinforce the messages, that it is impossible to escape from coming to know about what is happening all over the place. Starting from our own country of course, since charity begins at home. From thefts petty and major, to illicit means of obtaining money from drug trafficking by drug peddlers and even by officers of the law, to sexual violence which does not spare the young or the old, to witchcraft that leads to murder, and plain murder for a variety of untenable reasons – what are we to make of all these?

If we take a look at the world at large, equally disturbing incidents and events stare at us, with their rawness, fierceness, contradictions, hypocrisies to name but a few qualifying factors. In Thailand, after months of street level confrontations, the Thai army finally takes over after the ousting of the Prime Minister Yinkuck Shinawatra, whose brother Yaksin is still in exile after a brief period as Prime Minister himself. What next is anybody’s guess. In Ukraine, the marching in of Russia and the detachment of Crimea is a saga that does not look like it is going to end any time soon, and certainly not peacefully. Violence has been present from the beginning of the conflict and continues unabated.

In Libya, it was hoped that after the demise of Colonel Gaddafi there would be a return to normal, which seemed to be happening for a while – until last week’s military coup. In Syria, the non-stop carnage is too deep for tears. I literally close my eyes when images of child and other victims of violence, all covered with blood and doctors not even able to each to them – and if they do, with so little means at their disposal to relieve suffering or to save lives.

When I saw the shelled skeletons of buildings and the ravaged streets in the towns of Aleppo and Homs on TV a few days ago, I had the same reaction that I had when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 and the Buddha monolithic carvings in Bamiyan were destroyed: that monuments which are the hard work of men, and a testimony of man’s intelligence and sense of aesthetics, of man’s love for the beautiful were being so wantonly destroyed by no less than the hatred of other men. An overwhelming feeling of sadness, and inevitably a sense of despair cannot help assail one.

A couple of days ago, it was reported that, with regard to the US decision to leave Afghanistan soon, President Barrack Obama has said that they are leaving it less than perfect, but that it’s not the responsibility of the US to make it so. With its fractured history, will Afghanistan take the road towards that responsibility? Such a beautiful land, so many beautiful people too: one has only to read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (who is a surgeon, now settled in the US) to better appreciate a lot of things about the country. Memories of Kabuli anar (pomegrenate) and enjoying huge Afghani nan studded with all manner of grains and nuts for which the country is famous come to mind.

The over 200 girls abducted in Nigeria by the group Boko Haram are still untraceable, despite international assistance to locate them. On the other hand, the disappearance of Malaysian Airways flight MH 370 along with all its crew and passengers is still an unresolved mystery nearly two months after the tragedy took place. Will it ever remain unsolved?

In India, the spectacular victory of the BJP and the installation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done nothing to stop the propensity of those who seem to specialize in the gang rape of hapless women in a land where the image of the woman as goddess has no match elsewhere. And other forms of violence against women abound too: only yesterday a railway ticket examiner has been arrested for throwing a woman passenger out of a train, resulting in her death.

In the US, last week there was a spree killing that ‘took place in Isla Vista, California by 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, and his rantings, where he eviscerates women and promises retribution, are available on YouTube for the world to see.’ The Australian website ‘The Conversation’ goes on, ‘Mass shootings are becoming increasingly common in the United States and at a glance they appear to be random acts of violence. In explaining the perpetrator’s act, the media often focuses on the individual’s psychology. References are sometimes made to mental illnesses such as Asperger’s syndrome or depression, or a failure to treat these illnesses through medication.

But we continue to miss one crucial, much larger social factor: these crimes are almost always committed by men. What’s more, many of these men are well-spoken, white, educated and many are heterosexual.

Prior to the shootings, Rodger wrote in a chilling “manifesto”, since posted online, that he was going to kill all the blonde and beautiful girls because they had rejected him sexually:

Women have more power in human society than they deserve… There is no creature more evil and depraved than the human female. If I can’t have them, no one will.’

With hope against hope, I am willing to accept that perhaps there is more good than bad happening around the world. The puzzle remains, though, that when we can both individually and collectively do so much good, why do we choose to do harm, and very often extreme harm? I would love to have an answer…


* Published in print edition on 30 May 2014

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