When the challenges that face us are such as to require the highest possible commitment to a future of peace and harmony, it is a pity that our leaders seem to be stuck in the Hobbesian scenario of ongoing conflict and strife
By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
The Covid-19 pandemic has without doubt been a great disruptor, and has put societies to the test severely, starting with the decisions that had to be made by the leaders of countries faced with the sudden challenges that the pandemic began to pose. All the more so because of the paucity of reliable data as the disease spread and strained the health systems everywhere, including in the most developed countries. Resources available were soon found to be inadequate, and in particular supplies of urgently needed equipment and materials sourced under the emergency umbrella subsequently gave rise to contentious and acrimonious claims and counter claims in national parliaments. Unscrupulous operators were revealed as illegally exploiting this situation to their pecuniary advantage.
Nowhere to the best of our knowledge has this been more visible than in our country, and this attitude of extreme antagonism has prevailed to date. It has given rise to behaviours in the National Assembly that had rarely been seen before, including the use of vulgar and swear words that one would not expect on the part of our elected representatives. If only because they are expected to be a class apart, and better than the rest of us, and therefore to be examplars of polite conduct and language. Of the parliamentary rather than the unparliamentary type. This makes one wonder whether, willy-nilly, such language will also become another ‘new normal’ that we perforce have to live with?
Our recent history shows us that antagonisms are nothing new – there is nothing new under the sun, isn’t it – but routine unparliamentary language on the part of the elected both within and outside Parliament is not. In an interview to this paper, Sir Satcam Boolell once said, ‘It is a pity that our leaders seem to be stuck in a Hobbesian scenario of ongoing conflict and strife. If this mindset does not change, then whatever else changes in terms of electoral arrangement or power distribution at the apex, instability and mistrust will persist…’
This remark to the effect that with the end of ideologies the only aim in politics is to gain and remain in power, whatever gymnastics this involves, is, to say the least, a frightening prospect to the layman. Is it because that when people have no ideal to fight for, they fall back on fighting among and for themselves alone? Imagine that a doctor, for example, decided that he would treat only those known and close to him!! It makes neither ethical nor economic sense, obviously, even less human sense. Che Guevara’s revolutionary struggle was no doubt a failure, but at least he had an ideal and stuck to it: ‘I do not think that you and I are closely related, but if you are capable of trembling with indignation every time that an injustice is committed, we are comrades, and that is more important.’ Perhaps one should not be surprised that Che was a doctor… admittedly from a different era.
Maybe there has been a misreading of Francis Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ thesis, equating it with the end of ideologies. Fukuyama did subsequently clarify that this was indeed not what he had meant. In fact, his view was a more positive one, that with the breakdown of the communist system and the resulting chaos in public life that followed it, history appeared to be vindicating what was increasingly appearing as the only viable political system for the world, irrespective of religious or cultural contexts. And that was democracy with its emphasis on human rights, free and fair elections, the separation of powers, the free market but with state guarantees for social welfare, transparent governance, and so on.
But the pandemic has also exposed the crises in democracies, in several of which concentration of wealth and a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots are present.This makes more relevant Fukuyama’s later elaboration on the ‘social trust’ dimension as an essential underpinning of harmonious life in any country. There has been much debate on this and the related aspect of social capital, which has reminded us that, far from there being a lack of causes to push for and principles to defend and stand up for, there is indeed a lot to fight for still, instead of egoistically tending to one’s greed only.
The issue is one of duties: we have gone so much overboard with the matter of rights that we have forgotten our basic duties to ourselves and to one another. No doubt the struggle for rights is a fundamental one and we are by no means suggesting that it is not of relevance or importance. However, when one goes to the roots of our manifold problems, it would appear that the underlying dilemma is the failure of people to perform the duties that are expected of them by virtue of their position or education and training. And this is a large spectrum, starting with the fundamental unit of society which is the family. Thus, parents who neglect or molest their children are failing in their duty of protection of the latter; conversely, children of a certain age who defy their parents on everything and anything just for the sake of doing so are also failing in their duties as children.
Extend this mentality to society, and we come across working people in all walks of life who fall short of performing properly the duties that are expected of them. Doctors who do not treat humanely, patients who neglect to take their medicines, teachers who do not care much for their pupils, pupils who run away to the cinema or games parlour or otherwise play truant, public officers who exhibit callousness or cause undue delays, bankers who do not safeguard their clients’ money, auditors and accountants who fail to report gaping holes and procedural irregularities, the businessman-corporate-politician nexus that robs the people of assets that the former are supposed to be custodians and stewards of on behalf of the people, presidents and prime ministers who abuse of their status and office…
The latter indeed, represent the level where the impact is greatest, as it represents the failure of those who are in power to take a truly national outlook or, under its garb, to pursue a hidden agenda with public monies while they are elected with the expectation that they will be ou-même- papa-ou-même-mama: looking after everybody’s interests in an equitable manner, probably their foremost duty as far as the citizen is concerned.
It would appear that there has been a significant shift from this paradigm which was perhaps the uniting theme in our pre-Independence days. While the objective, then, was to take everybody on board in such a manner as to ensure the welfare of one and all, a gradual erosion has taken place with narrower interests replacing the larger national one. When the challenges that face us and the opportunities that they throw up are such as to require the highest possible commitment to a future of peace and harmony, especially when lessons of unrest face us starkly from conflict areas in the world, it is a pity that our leaders seem to be stuck in the Hobbesian scenario of ongoing conflict and strife.
To reiterate what Sir Satcam said: If this mindset does not change, then whatever else changes in terms of electoral arrangement or power distribution at the apex, instability and mistrust will persist. It is not the vast chantiers, necessary indeed as they are, that will catapult the country into nationhood: hardware is dead and heartless without software.
And therefore, the strident calls of confrontation must be replaced by calmer appeals to the hearts and to the minds. Solidarity must not remain a vain word. Simply by performing our duties properly, with the example coming from the top, according to what is expected of us in our respective places in society, we will be building the nation surely but steadily. Not a lot to ask for, surely, but this is the only way we will travel the miles ahead…
* Published in print edition on 30 July 2021
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