A pervasive sense of socio-economic disintegration, institutional breakdown and structural tension can be observed in virtually every country in the world. Some of us may not agree with such a pessimistic perception, after all many of us are doing quite well in life, some even extremely well. These privileged few would have us believe that our systems of governance, our regulatory bodies, our administrative and policing structures were archaic, had outlived their usefulness and needed to be rebuilt, if not destroyed. A new order takes over and intelligent means of human development are created ~ we are going through a phase of constructive destruction! So, am I totally out of step and all is well in the world? I wanted to be. Unfortunately, the optimistic outlook is creating a post-truth world in which fake news gets far greater traction than unpleasant reality.
All truth-telling vehicles have been subjugated by the big bucks and most journalists find greater rewards in gaining power than telling the truth. Fake stories are turned into imaginative news to be swallowed by gullible people who want their information in two-line snippets. With so many dysfunctional institutions around us and a growing sense of inability to correct false narratives, the easiest way is to slip into the comfort of denial. In my many articles published over the past two years, I have covered many of our policy mistakes, but I still don’t know where to start. We need to identify a root cause, which may be responsible for the gradual erosion of democratic frameworks over the past fifty years, particularly over the past two or three decades, when the balance seems to have tipped, seemingly irretrievably.
Law breakers and power brokers have not only taken over nations, they have also subverted peoples’ imaginations to such an extent that increasing numbers of them are unable to understand the consequences of their silence. and their acquiescence. My considered view now is that our problems begin with our understanding of what constitutes “success”. To begin with, it is necessary to fix the inflection point on a date line, when a new definition of success began to destroy societies. I find this point at the fall of the Berlin Wall, when after decades of competitive welfare policies after World War II, we suddenly landed in a unipolar world order. Overnight, there was no need for social security ~ what could people compare themselves to? There was no political alternative because there were no competing ideological perspectives. It was then that a lie of cosmic proportions was forced upon the democratic world – nations must allow the rich to become even richer for the benefits to trickle down to the common man.
In addition to tax cuts, the best bits of our national assets had to be sold. Big business has demonized the public sector and pushed for austerity in governance and cuts in spending on education, housing and health care. The biggest crime was that they also taught us to believe that they were doing it for our good. The super-rich were successfully defining a new “success”. The symbiotic relationship between the big bucks and the representatives of the peoples has begun to grow stronger and there are now omens that we could be close to the eventual death of liberal democracies. How? With the economic situation of the common man worsening, trade union activity weakened and political opposition weakened, we are already witnessing increasing levels of conflict and unrest in many parts of the world. Educated people in some countries are still trying to push back, but there are few signs of backtracking. There doesn’t seem to be traction to reverse the rot and entrenched leaders are instead conspiring to use the growing anxieties and unrest to stoke hatred and fear, ethnic and religious divisions as part of their strategy to stay in power.
The relentless plunder of nations by a handful of “successful” people is driving the rise of right-wing political stranglehold around the world. A good education, a stable job, raising a family and contributing to the development of the community, the region, the country and the world are traditionally the markers of a successful life. Laws were made by the people through their elected representatives and citizens respected them, believing them to be good and necessary for the development of their societies. Institutions were created that provided a degree of autonomy to ensure compliance without fear or favour. These bodies were a bulwark against the politicization of law and order, and everyone had come to trust the fairness of the system. Over the past half-century, that confidence has been shaken. Today, if I can overturn the law of the land and destroy competition using money and political clout, I have arrived and I have succeeded. I have often written that education is the foundation for sustaining democracies.
Public, universal and liberal education had to develop a critical spirit and a scientific temperament capable of resisting the first signs of abuse of power. Multiple democratic institutions, isolated from religion, parochialism and communalism had autonomous and independent roles to ensure that no one could gain absolute control. With the bribery of public education and the degradation of the quality of education, the uneducated masses have now been made to accept that they are indeed incapable of understanding the complex issues of nation building. They conceded their power to demand probity and transparency in public life. They don’t know what questions to ask. The game has changed. Corporate funded education encouraged the promotion of students without competitive testing and undeveloped minds were lulled into a survival mode where people lost the will to work hard and achieve excellence. Young people have been conditioned to accept mechanical jobs or occupations that give them a living wage.
Worse still, a growing number of them are learning to live on government handouts and corporate charity. How come the government institutions that are supposed to enforce the laws have failed to stem the rot? Simply put, it started with the normalization of corruption as a prerequisite for economic development. Yes, there were corrupt officers even earlier, but after economic liberalization, the bureaucrat received the political cover to cohabit with the business world. Many forgot their oath of office and started serving the capitalists instead of the common man. Corruption has increased exponentially and the guardians of the nation’s rules and regulations have become complicit in the big bucks. Soon many became vulnerable to blackmail by the same hands that had corrupted them. So, were these “babus”, as the mainstream media began to call them, just babies in the woods? No, most of them knew what was going on but chose to go with the tide instead of using the gray matter they were recruited for.
Leader after leader, worshiping on the altar of big money, deflected criticism of corrupt practices in their countries by claiming that it was a universal phenomenon, some even going so far as to claim that nations and modern businesses could not be run without a degree. of corruption. What was this tolerable degree? Nobody asked and nobody answered. Remember when ill-gotten riches were hidden away in lockers, basements, even mattresses and pillows? Yes, the corruption was there but it was despised. No one had the courage to post tainted money. It was shameful. Slowly we saw a transformation. We began to see increasing numbers of expensive cars on our roads, airport bays crowded with private planes, glitzy malls with high-end luxury goods, and multi-billion dollar homes. Money was displayed like never before. The narrative, however, focused on how the middle class was exploding into prosperity and how millions of poor people were rising out of poverty.
Was this “visible” prosperity the result of the monetization of the country’s national assets and natural wealth? No one questioned. It was as if the brokers had taken over. Nobody wanted to build. They just wanted to trade, buy and create value for shareholders. The worker had been rendered toothless and turned into a commodity to be exploited. As more and more people accepted corruption as a way of life, the stage was set for the exploitation of the growing number of responsible people with their hands in the cash, who could now be easily blackmailed into compliance. to the new masters, who had created the corrupt system in the first place.
Thus, political leaders, bureaucrats, journalists, judiciaries, educational institutions and any social, cultural or security structure could be forced to serve the purposes of the big bucks, on pain of exposure, public humiliation and threat of incarceration. All who had reaped personal benefits from corrupt systems and had taken part in the abundant fountain of ill-gotten wealth, joyfully joined the bandwagon, cheerfully singing hymns to the God of success. A new type of success that was independent of ethical behavior and social responsibility. The definition of success had changed and the world began to change too.
A version of this story appears in the August print edition 302022, number.