What kind of society do we want?

It is undeniable that there is obviously a great malaise that is affecting our society that knows no boundaries of community, class, or culture

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

This is not a new debate; it has probably been going on ever since human beings started to live in groups. At these beginnings, the groups were likely to be small and the overriding concern must have been sheer survival: finding enough to eat (the hunter-gatherer), looking for shelter (probably a cave), and defending against predators. The latter were most likely animals also looking for food and not other human beings; the latter must have come into the picture much later, when territories had to be ‘instinctively’ delineated so as to protect the limited resources within a given geographical area.

“It is amazing how certain leaders are ignorant about other cultures, let alone be willing to learn or discover at least a few basics about them so as not to make humongous blunders…This was the case when Canadian PM Justin Trudeau when he made a remark about a Canadian MP, Melissa Lantsman, accusing her in Parliament of waving swastikas and standing with the protesters. ‘Reacting to this, the US-based HinduPACT has urged Trudeau and Singh (NB: an activist known to Trudeau) not to conflate the “Swastika”, an ancient and auspicious symbol for Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and many indigenous communities around the world, with the “Hakenkreuz”, a 20th century Nazi symbol of hate,’ which resembles but is NOT the swastika…”

We will have to go back quite far in human history to find out exactly when human societies as we know them today came about, but even if we cannot arrive at a definitive date, it doesn’t matter very much. Enough is known to suggest that the issues were qualitatively similar, but new dimensions came in that went beyond mere physical survival. Humans started asking questions about their place in the world, and the purpose of life, about the nature and forms of human relationships especially as they applied to man-woman, adult/parent-children, collective living and decision making for the common good, and so on. All these emanated from the forces that impel human beings to act, namely the emotions of love, fear, passion, jealousy and hate, the desire to control and affirm oneself – tempered, alas not often enough, by commonsense, reason and experience.

We see the same forces at work today but manifested on a larger scale and forcefully visible right into our living rooms because of all the modern means of communication. Because of the predominance of media groups from the west we tend to see more of their version of happenings around the world, but more and more we are also getting a clearer picture of other countries and cultures. It is amazing how certain leaders are ignorant about other cultures, let alone be willing to learn or discover at least a few basics about them so as not to make humongous blunders, especially when they make profound-sounding statements which are anything but, and in so doing reveal their ignorance to public glare.

This was the case when Canadian PM Justin Trudeau – who was taken into secure hiding when his country was in the thick of protests by truckers – when he made a remark about a Canadian MP, Melissa Lantsman, accusing her in Parliament of waving swastikas and standing with the protesters. According to ‘mail online’ she took him to task, and the speaker reprimanded him and pressed him to make an apology which he refused to do. On the other hand, ‘reacting to this, the US-based HinduPACT (Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective) has urged Trudeau and Singh (NB: an activist known to Trudeau) not to conflate the “Swastika”, an ancient and auspicious symbol for Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and many indigenous communities around the world, with the “Hakenkreuz”, a 20th century Nazi symbol of hate,’ which resembles but is NOT the swastika.

The Canadian MP went on to point out that Trudeau was creating divisions in the country instead of addressing the real problems and concerns facing the people. Indeed, we find that increasingly there are common concerns amongst all people globally: economic growth and the appropriate/acceptable methods of creating and distributing wealth, role that governments should play and the limits of state intervention, generation of jobs, level of unemployment, security of food and housing, behaviour of people towards each other, breakdown of societal/family norms and values and the uphill task of a fresh infusion of these to make living better, the generation gap and how to cope with the growing proportion of the elderly, the damage that human activity is causing to the environment and containment/salvage measures that are urgently required, amongst many others which are however all intertwined.

These are no longer national or regional, but global matters. Correspondingly we have to ponder and search solutions from global sources but adapt the best practices to our situation and take account of resources and scale. It certainly is not about blind copying of models from elsewhere, especially the advanced countries which command much vaster facilities and potential and have the advantage of longer historical timelines which have allowed them to test-try their own solutions.

But an example of the common conundrum can be cited from the British press of a few years ago which as will be seen still resonates in today’s world, especially when we think of the ongoing inequalities and other asymmetries that the Covid pandemic continues to give rise to:

‘Do we want a society where 50% of young people are kept out of work in order to bring the deficit down from 9% of GDP to 3% in three years? A society in which the rich have to be made richer to work harder (at their supposed jobs of investing and creating wealth) while the poor have to be made poorer in order to work harder? Where a tiny minority (often called the 1% but more like the 0.1% or even 0.01%) control a disproportionate, and increasing, share of everything – not just income and wealth but also political power and influence (through control of the media, think tanks, and even academia)?’

These larger questions surely find an echo locally, as they apply to all economies, even ours because of our dependence on the Euro and US markets. Given this reality, we have to be cautious in this country about mega-projects that are planned, and the escalating expenditures which seem always to be associated with them, especially when they are nearing completion. There is a sure need for closer monitoring, but even before we come to this stage, we have to ask ourselves questions about our strategic thinking – is there any such thinking when it comes to national development, or is this more of an ad hoc process driven not by a robust system but by vested interests?The linkage may be indirect, but it undoubtedly impacts the kind of society we want to be.

It is undeniable that there is obviously a great malaise that is affecting our society that knows no boundaries of community, class, or culture. Just think of the many cases of crime and murder that remain unsolved even as new ones keep taking place, and the protracted legal process that makes us despair about whether there will ever be resolution, and closure for the families of the victims. This should be reason enough for national shame and the need for community/religious leaders to focus on giving proper guidance to their respective constituencies, so that we can look forward to a saner and more secure society now and for future generations.

The effort to define what kind of society we want must come from all who care for our common, sustainable (and not only from an economic perspective) future – and we have to find local solutions, though they will perforce have to be inspired by universal principles.


* Published in print edition on 25 February 2022

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