What kind of society do we want?

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

For us, and even more for our children. All of us of course know the answer: it is one where everybody has enough healthy food to eat and potable water for drinking along with clean water for other purposes such as washing and cleaning. One where the air is pure and fresh, there is little or no soil pollution, where everybody has a roof over their head and a job for earning a living, where children have access to good basic education and equal opportunities to pursue higher studies and training that open the doors for them according to their interests and aptitudes whether in the vocational, professional or academic streams. A society where peace and harmony prevail – this is perhaps the most fundamental of requirements which enables everything else to follow. It implies a society grounded in universal human values that transcend cultural diversities and religions, where the rule of law prevails and no one is above the law.

The problem is getting from here to there, from the manifestly dysfunctional state of fierce antagonisms, rapacious competiveness, global belligerence that thrive on vested interests and are driving the growing economic inequalities and disparities that have been talked about and analysed ad nauseam. To a land and a future frequently promised by political leaders but that never materialize – save for them.

Everywhere we look there are contradictions: talk of peace but make war, take pledges to seriously tackle climate change and then go back to or increase dependence on coal – as the war in Ukraine has forced some countries e.g. Germany to do. The sustainable climate targets recede further as a result, and everyday in some part of the world the results are being seen in the form of more frequent floods or droughts, of soaring temperatures and forest wildfires.

Initially these phenomena used to take place in different geographies at different times. Now they are practically concurrent, and one sees twin phenomena in the same country or continent. In the US wildfires rage in California but there are floods down south in Arizona; in China the Yangtze river is drying up exposing islands in the river bed – on one there was a small Buddha temple – but elsewhere floods are taking place. In India there are floods in the north east; as regards the heat, well that’s nothing to talk about there – I myself have been in Delhi decades ago in the summer, standing outside my hospital waiting for a transport, with the temperature touching 47 degrees Celsius and the shoes sticking to melting tar on the road. 

In our island we cannot really complain about catastrophic climate change effects – yet, but logically we cannot escape them at some point in the future. Meanwhile we are just coming out by leaps and bounds out of erratic bouts of extreme cold and heavy rainfall especially in the highlands with Curepipe as the, shall I say epicentre! Those poor old, creaking bones!

While we may consider ourselves relatively fortunate in terms of the climatic environment, we cannot say the same about the political environment on which the social and economic environments are dependent to a large extent. It is true that the Covid pandemic has strained everybody’s nerves; it is no less the case, however, that the way in which the issues and problems that have come up in tackling it has given rise to much criticism and raised many questions that to this day remain unanswered. For all we know, it’s the sequelae that are rattling the polity currently.

Even while all this was going there has been an explosion of drug trafficking such that not a single day goes by that a drug related crime is not reported. Some cases occupy so much of energies at official level that one is left wondering if any is left to deal adequately with the real problems that the people are facing. We can add to that the cases of sexual exploitation and harassment especially on the part of those who have the responsibility of handling innocent children (the young therapist assigned to handicapped children, the mature teacher showing pornography to girl students), all this along with the multifarious other common crimes such as theft and frequent killings.

Consequence: the ideal society we would wish to be in is ever a distant dream.

Taking a global look we find that there are common concerns which all countries are experiencing: economic growth and the appropriate/acceptable methods of creating and distributing wealth, the role that governments should play and the limits of state intervention, breakdown of the separation of powers that impacts effective functioning of institutions resulting from undue and unwarranted political interference, 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 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.

Since 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.

All this adds up to reason enough for national shame and the need for community/religious leaders to focus on giving proper guidance to their respective constituencies rather than debating endlessly matters in which they have no special competence or ground-based knowledge of harsh realities. 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, that is take the high road instead of the low road.

One of the greatest global thinkers of our times is Dr Karan Singh, former Prince Regent of Kashmir who gave up princehood to dedicate his life to bettering the lot of humankind, inspired by Mahayogi Shri Aurobindo. He earned a doctorate on the latter’s integral philosophy, and came to Mauritius for the first time in 1975 when he was the Union Minister of Health. He has authored nearly 25 books and numerous articles. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years ago in Delhi, still very lucid at his ripe old age of nearly 85. His main source of inspiration is the Vedanta, the philosophical essence of the Vedas, India’s source of Higher Knowledge. In fact, in a small booklet of his published in 1996, he set down the five key concepts of Vedanta, which I consider make up the universal principles I have alluded to above:

  1. The all pervasiveness of the Divine, Brahman – ‘that which, shining, causes everything else to shine’;
  2. The potential divinity, Atman, present in every human being;
  3. The vision of the entire human race as a single extended family – Vasudaiva kutumbakam;
  4. That there are many paths to the Divine – Ekam sad viprah bahudha vadanti; and
  5. That we must all work for the welfare of all beings and the environment.

He concluded by affirming that these concepts, ‘taken together, represent a global holistic philosophy which can sustain us in this tremendously important period of transition and turmoil through which humankind is passing. It is a philosophy that stresses convergence in place of conflict, cooperation in place of competition, holism in place of hedonism, and an interfaith dialogue in place of inter-religious wars.’ But he also warned that ‘it is not an easy path… that we need a great deal of courage and compassion to reach the goal.’ Alas, how far we are from that!!

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 2 September 2022

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