Tuesday, June 06, 2006
A GLOBAL SOLUTION TO A UNIVERSAL PROBLEM
In the last half of the 20th century, politicians and the media began competing for influence and power at the risk of the electorate – the masses of people who usually determine the outcome of governments or other democratic institutions for that matter. Is that always the case? Does it really matter what the masses say? Do newspapers and television have an enduring influence on our lives? This paper will provide some anecdotal evidence, along with a perspective of expert views on why societies must work with their governing institutions and civic organisations to reduce or remove the inequalities affecting our lives today in a world of plenty. We will confine our discussion to three areas: the political system, economic governance and social justice, all of which are important for progressive and stable environments, deemed to be civilised.
After the two World Wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945) ended, there was much expectation of peaceful co-existence among nation states – large and small. There was hope for a relaxation of tensions involving ideological versus political impositions. There was a stronger desire for tolerance where cultures and ethnicities collide with reason and accept each other’s unique differences. In short, we felt that the culmination of two global conflicts would end humankind’s quest for greed, ignorance and destruction. We might argue that these values reflected too strong an ideal, but in reality the cause of many conflicts today result from the deep resentment people and nations have for each other’s differences. As a system of governance, politics has not always benefited the majority, other than invariably, it has benefited the minority who wield influence, power and decide which policies and programmes fit where, how and when. In short, even democracy by today’s standards, has become a virtual cycle of imposed rule by `paper work’ value systems.
Those us who were born during the turbulent period of the 1920s and 1950s, might have benefited from many worlds – colonisation, pre-independence, actual independence and post-independence. Others born during the 1960s and 1980s might find current global challenges too complex to understand and unpalatable to appreciate because of the confusion and distortion of facts and figures presented by both the media and our political masters and mistresses.
Indeed, it is a well known fact that owning a national flag, with an anthem and a new government, are not sufficient guarantees or safeguards for stability in a world where the majority of ideas are still relatively arcane - reflective of the early 20th century where issues were governed strictly by race, class and other historic creeds. Today most of these still hold true and even in cases where apparent democracy prevails in the form of disrespect for authority, free speech, prejudice, discrimination, poor work ethics, occupational bullying, hooliganism, and other (acceptable excesses), there is still an unspoken norm that the status quo should remain.
Changing of the Guard
With the change of governments and economic recessions in the West, coupled with ideological clashes between Left and Right of the political divide, the middle and latter part of the 20th century, seemed to resemble the onset of the war years, as nations battled to maintain their sovereignty against external interference and the return to colonial rule in other guises. The end of the Cold War, the new-found freedom in Eastern Europe and the new dawn in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, along with the burst of new scientific and technological advances, all gave hope that we had somewhat `turned the corner’, and while market forces dictated our affairs, Western ideologies, coupled with the media’s obsession with them, sparked fresh problems.
It was no surprise therefore that during much of the 1980s, the developing world bore the brunt of external aggression in military, economic, cultural and other subtle ways by industrialised countries in attempts to impose ideas, values and methods of cultural and social conduct, even discourse. The symptoms we therefore experience today in our world result, in part, to the excesses of an international system that has little appetite for curbing its unbridled power by `any means necessary’.
Over the past 20 years there have been routine debates on the `rich and the poor’, `multilateralism versus bilateralism’, the `North’ versus the South’ and `capitalism versus socialism’, and in recent times, the market economy versus the social economy. In several instances, these debates mirror media sound-bites and politicians’ over reaction to adverse media reports. There was a time when mass public opinion meant something to governments and their executive institutions; there was a time when the rights of citizens were taken seriously, but in this century, these traditional values that were once cornerstones of democracy, are fast reversing. The chaos between governments, the media and sections of society must be resolved if we are to dispel voter apathy especially among our young impressionable citizens. The examples we set including the lives we lead today, will certainly determine the way in which our young people carve a future for themselves, us and our world as a whole.
The rapid formation of regional trading blocs in continental Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and elsewhere from the 1950s through to the 1990s, showed that nation-states were eager to strengthen their bargaining positions globally in finance, trade and resource leverage. The variations in economic development within these trading blocs are used by industrialised nations to exploit (comparative) market advantage over the less financially resourced, but more materially rich non-industrialised states. The ongoing negotiations in the World Trade Organisation attract headlines and point scoring for politicians who want to appear `human-centred’ in their approach to global trade. Campaigning groups struggle to get their views across in the flurry of media frenzy – the manipulation of facts and figures and the overall distortion of truth, as one group is played against the other in the media circus. In all of this `Citizen Kane’ is left to wonder how to be released from the temporary and man-made bondage of fear and insecurity in a world gone mad by mounting greed.
Moreover, materially endowed countries in the developing world are yet to have a fair deal in the international trading space that is dominated by multinational corporations and influenced by state-sponsored institutions. The case of sugar, coffee, tobacco, textiles, bananas and wheat are typical examples of this policy, where farmers in the developed world are hugely subsidised for either overproducing or reducing the levels of production of a particular set of commodities. Western institutions’ obsession with market control has almost crippled global trade (balance) and affected the vast market potential of developing and emerging industrialised countries in much of the Caribbean and Latin American Region, Africa and Asia. Only concerted action to deal with these inequalities can heal the divide between rich and poor and reduce the outflow of key skills from the South to the North. There is an abundance of literature on the subject of migration and immigration, but the solutions to these problems require the political will of governments and the widespread support of their institutions and citizens, broadly speaking.
Admittedly, every section of society has a role to play in the issue of governance. The function of government is to govern wisely, responsibly and fairly, striking a balance between those unable to maintain themselves through employment, civic responsibility and social mobility, among other things, and those who can’t. People with varying degrees of disabilities or in unfortunate circumstances and who are unable to support themselves, need assistance; the elderly, the young who are vulnerable and others who are generally excluded and deprived because of their ethnic, cultural, religious, sexual orientation and or other persuasions.
Laws must not only be part of a formal process of control and order, but they must demonstrate fairness and consider the cultural sensitivities and backgrounds of society. They must be debated in various constituencies, tried and tested efficiently, with results widely publicised, rather than the accustomed `race through Parliament’ approach similar to the so-called `food chain’ process involving the mass production of commodities to meet the demands of an increasing number of consumers. People take governments seriously and it is important that politicians and their operatives recognise that theirs is more than a hobby; they are servants of the people and not the other way round.
The proper economic management of a country is very important to all concerned – public, private and community agencies and institutions, or employers, employers and the average citizen. People constantly demand better conditions of work and service (including better public services), business owners require improvement in infrastructure and support to increase their customer base and to improve profit margins. They also seek incentives for enhancing inward investment growth in local and regional economies. Potential and existing firms need support tailored to meet their specific needs. Minority firms in particular, require a range of assistance and support that are based on merit and fairplay and not on the basis of `a face fit’ or `textured by-play’. Large and small companies are not in the business of picking and choosing who should buy their products and services, and even if this situation exists in certain ethnic areas, owners are conscious that this approach can only devalue their business operations and undermine public image. The vulnerable – our young and the elderly – need constant attention, the necessary skills and guidance to ensure that their lives are not unduly affected by society’s ills. In a sense, these two groups are our most precious. One is the key to our uncertain future and the other has an abundance of knowledge and experience that is priceless. The saying that `throwing money at a problem’ will solve it is now out of date. It is the manner in which such investment is allocated, monitored and the type of beneficiaries who benefit, that matters.
As an institution, the media has three cardinal functions; to inform, to education and to entertain. In no way should publishers and their editors feel that their sole duty is to antagonise, deform and exasperate. When they assume these roles, they bring the media, as a respectable institution, into disrepute. Newspapers in particular, have a duty to report accurately, intelligently and fairly news from all sections of world society. The issue of culture, social mores and other human values should be considered, and while the media should remain free from interference, it is equally important that it should not use this as licence to publicise or incite fears of an ethnic, cultural, social, sexual or other kind. Responsible editors and publishers cherish the ideals of their institutions and so do media audiences. Cherry-picking stories and generally, conducting a selective process of news-reporting and information bears no proper reflection of a code of ethical journalism and writing that is expected in a progressive and liberal environment by 21st century standards.
Every nation believes that stability brings about good governance and therefore its image as a civilised society is both an incentive and a morale booster. The breakdown of discipline, the lack of respect for authority and the careless treatment of minorities can all give way to a sense of apathy, lawlessness and gradual disintegration of a society. Taking cue from politicians and other influential figures in society, who by their actions can debase the morals of society, is ill-advised and inappropriate. Can our children resist the temptation of following those they regard as influential and powerful especially when the television is seen as a tool of national instruction in a world of seemingly, endless contradictions? The answer is our children can, if each of us is determined to help change the way things are today. A few progressive steps leading to sustainable actions all-round can do the trick.
· Governments must work for all the people and not for some of the people; they must publicly support and encourage on the setting of high standards in public life by appealing to both majorities and minorities – they must monitor their own performance, not only through manifestos at election time, but by engaging more socially with groups of people who are at the fringes or margins of societies’ decision making process.
· Institutions must work with businesses and civic organisations to ensure justice, fairness and equality and other social considerations are not compromised by ethnicity, class and commercial interests.
· Political Parties must show mature and exemplary leadership in taking steps to protect minority concerns and represent these with vigour, professionalism and competence. Importance must be attached to the contribution every person makes to society – whether large or small.
· The work of minorities should be celebrated in the media and wider public – government should insist that this be done. There should be a genuine effort towards promoting tolerance, stable relations between majorities and minorities and generally, to illustrate the importance and relevance of strict accountability especially in nation-states where there has been a history of conflicting values between host societies and migrant-settler communities in North America and Europe particularly.
· There should be regard for the moral, religious and spiritual values of everyone in world society and the system should protect those who are at the mercy of others who may be misguided, uninformed and uncivil in their conduct and behaviour towards people with different opinions and views. Such differences should in no way be perceived or believed to be a threat to host societies or settler community-nations providing such beliefs are not imposed by force of any sort.
Indeed, while these suggestions are by no means exhausted, they can go a far way in helping us to redeem ourselves and the world in which we live, work, play and tamper with every day.