How much more rotten can our society get?

There must something terribly wrong that so many people have to frequent the health points and the courts of justice every day!

 By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

After the presentation of the Budget as usual attention is now polarized on the debates going on in the National Assembly and as in the past, given the numerical strength of the ruling alliance, the budget will be voted through. How much of the concerns arising out of the debates, especially from the opposition side, will be addressed is anybody’s guess. Many could not feel a sense of direction amidst the plethora of measures announced and, being laymen, have preferred to leave it to the experts to analyse in detail all the facts and figures of the budget and present the same in an understandable form to the public, leaving the latter to judge for themselves. And again, depending on whether they go after the head or the tail, analysts will present their points of view accordingly, some justifying the budget measures all the way and others finding gaps and deficiencies.

But not far removed from the sparring that is taking place in the National Assembly the drama of life keeps playing on in its multitudinous forms at all levels and in all sectors of activity in our society, and more often than not it is not a very pretty picture that emerges. How much the grandiose schemes announced in the Budget will contribute towards ameliorating the quality of our life ever remains an unanswered question year in year out – as the budget exercise is heavily skewed towards quantity, and quality gets short shrift as the figures roll out. For a while we are mesmerized by the sheer numbers of measures and projects announced, not to speak of the enormous amounts of money that are mentioned all along, but soon enough we go back to the ground realities and face bitter truths.

Our overcrowded courts and health points

Oftentimes I have told myself that our society seems to be really sick. This is an impression that has trailed me for many years now. There are two places that scare me. One is the health centres and hospitals. Not only are they always full, but the number of visits which is several times our population count of about 1.3 million keeps increasing all the time. About two decades ago the number of patients in the orthopaedic consultations at hospitals used to be about 50-60; now my colleagues tell me that it’s around 100. That means 100 patients to be seen in three hours; readers may figure out for themselves how much time each patient will get to be examined, diagnosed and given treatment. And in all major specialities the same situation prevails. So too the emergency services, including SAMU which has never stopped struggling to cope with its workload.

The other place is the courts. In the past I have had to attend as expert witness in District Courts and the Intermediate Court, less often at the Supreme Court. The District Courts and Intermediate Court are always teeming with people, and as I drive past the Curepipe District Court practically every day frankly the crowd frightens me! I mean, there must something terribly wrong that so many people have to frequent the health points and the courts of justice every day! And if Saturday and Sunday were not off days for the courts, I am sure the crowds would not be less.

Education sector: point of no return?

But then, as we all are witness daily, things are not much better elsewhere either. A couple of days ago I met a primary school teacher whom I have known for several years, when he was a headmaster, and I must say a highly appreciated one for the discipline that he managed to inculcate and maintain among his students and staff, but also for the humane approach that he adopted towards the problems that surfaced among the pupils.

Since then, he had been promoted to Inspector grade, and he told me that the degradation that he has seen is, simply, frightening. Among students, among teachers too. He told me about a few cases of school violence of the type that have made headlines regularly for quite a while, and asked himself whether the Discipline Masters that are soon to be recruited will be able to fulfil their role properly or will be subjected to all kinds of unbearable pressures.

He recalled the time when a teacher preferred to go hide in the toilet and declare sick rather than going to replace in a class – he did not want to face that bunch of ruffians! And that kind of situation is what he apprehended – for the Discipline Masters, the real possibility that they may also cower and give up in the face of unbridled violence. Anyway, this and some other issues were matters of great concern to him, but what was his greatest worry was that the state of affairs in a number of our educational institutions may have reached a point of no return.

 The driver: consumerism gone wild

The fact that we are living in the consumerist society is the fundamental driving force that is making us lose our minds and our way. Consumerism has gone berserk, whetting appetites to beyond normal satiety levels. This pathological social trend is also largely responsible for most of the bodily and mental ailments that are on an upswing, as what we don’t realize is that in the process we may consume ourselves.

A similar rot currently affects the modern world. People have come to measure success by the amount they possess or consume, and the trends and habits of adults have at first gradually and then in an accelerated mode filtered down to the youth, and worryingly even to children. And all kinds of items are involved, from what goes in the mouth to what comes out of it and gadgetry that diverts attention from everything and everybody else, generating selfishness and why, violence as well with the advent of social media that is probably becoming more misused than properly used.

Day and night we are bombarded with messages which stare at us from billboards and are thrust into the privacy of our homes via TV and radio, and which promote a restless craving for more by portraying the high consumption lifestyle as a model to be emulated. We associate social status with whatever is bigger and gaudily brighter. In particular, advertisers play on the insecurities and self-doubt of people to propose many goods of doubtful worth, let alone the prices! Even children are not left out, being targeted in various ads which are aimed at the pockets of the parents, alas often too obliging. This cultivation of needs is in fact a cultivation of wants: whether YOU want it or not, YOU must have it! It is all right if one can afford (up to a point: for just because you can does not mean that you must), but what if one cannot? Then you chase, maim, destroy, steal, kill if need be to satisfy your artificially aroused appetite.

There is a failure to realise that after a point, more consumption does not equal more fulfillment, as our expanding appetites for the artefacts of society do not help us to find purpose and meaning in life. We are chasing a kind of synthetic salvation, as opposed to the true salvation which is about finding peace of mind and peace in the heart – and these, as we very well know, have got nothing to do with what we eat or drink, how many objects we possess, how much we can show off and so on. And from the sterile pursuit of synthetic salvation to synthetic drugs, particularly when they have become more easily available and accessible, is but one step.

Social boundaries have crumbled. In society, everyone has got certain duties and responsibilities. In the pursuit of rights, these have been forgotten. Children are turned into little adults, and adults beget childish tantrums. 70-year olds want to look and behave as if they were half the age. One has only to watch some of the programmes featured on TV to appreciate what kind of distortions of the natural cycle of life are being peddled as the norms of so-called civilized living.

All the social ills, symptoms of a profound social disease, that we are victims of are the result of this sustained and excessive cultivation of excessive desires: drugs, prostitution, rape, theft, breakdown of families, divorces, murders… an endless list. To cap it all, in many a case criminals are made to appear as martyrs and instant heroes.

If businesses have to advertise to sell, so be it. But it is our duty to educate ourselves and our children so that we maintain a balance when we go out to act on what the TV ads or the billboards try to tempt us with.

It is an interesting phenomenon of our times that the views of scientific thinkers are converging with those of traditional philosophers and thinkers in condemning most vehemently the fallacy that more consumption equals happiness. A reasonable amount of work, adequate leisure and harmonious social relationships are the foundations of a stable and happy life. Our needs can be met by levels of consumption that do not dig oversize holes in our pockets or devalue our lives and that of generations to come. Let us choose not to kill ourselves through consumptive overdose before we have even lived.

* Published in print edition on 21 June 2019

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