We live in a turbulent age.
The democratic system of the world’s most powerful country, the United States, is being trumped up by a dangerous demagogue. A continental community ushered in to unite a continent ravaged by two world wars is being torn asunder. We have the highest ever number of refugees sequestered in camps because the countries they wish to enter have shut their doors on them. We have a terrorist group that wields state power in terms of – the territory it holds,the scale of violence it can unleash, and the identity it provides to its adherents. And we have a fragile environment that is breaking down to the point of no return, thanks to human depredations and excesses.
First, the United States. To imagine Donald Trump having access to the nuclear button is a most fearful exercise. And this concerns the whole world, not just his country. The world’s most powerful democracy, the place where the world’s best intellects choose to live and work; this very place has seen the rise of a dangerous and manipulative demagogue. The world’s best universities, it’s biggest enterprises, the smartest think-tanks, the most uninhibited media, the most cutting-edge technology. And who does such a magnificent habitat throw up as a presidential contender?
The European Union is a glowing example of human conciousness evolving to the level of a global community. If humanity is going to flourish in peace and harmony, the one template it has available for study and adoption is the European Union. And now, one seminal nation, always uneasy about its role in One Europe has decided to break away. And this could have a domino effect for all member nations. There are many anti-EU groups in many EU nations who actively stoke public sentiment against the EU because they believe their countries are better off being on their own. How can they take for granted the unprecedented peace and prosperity that being a continental union has brought about?
Never before have there been so many refugees fleeing war and persecution and creating a mass exodus towards the shores of Europe. The developed world and especially the permanent members of the United Nations security council have shot themselves in the foot. When crises brew, countries and groupings cannot rise above their petty and narrow strategic agenda. They ignore, hector, blame, do everything but face the problem and their role in giving rise to it in the first place. Power games erupt. The so-called great powers choose to support opposing forces and make a bad situation worse. They play with fire. Earlier they did not get burnt. Now, they do.
Terrorist forces now boast of a global support-network that is harder to pin down and neutralise. Terrorists have evolved a global consciousness in perpetrating acts of violence anywhere in the name of the causes they support. When they strike at international airports, they are attacking the whole world. And when the airports are in developed countries, terror strikes home. This whips up xenophobia and stirs up anti-immigrant sentiments; tendencies that canot now be reconciled with the interconnectedness of a a much espoused global community.
And as if these violent and disruptive forces were not enough, we have the slow boil of an environmental catastrophe that has been simmering on since the days of the Industrial revolution. A capitalist system geared towards profits as an end in itself does not think twice about resource-depletion and environmental damage. Growth has limits that are real but imperceptible on the scale of time. Stock-market indices are made more real and appear limitless. Our notions of success and profits, our desire for wealth and riches, all combine to make us collectively deluded. We are damaging our environment beyond repair and creating delusions that make us postpone facing upto what we are doing.
If we were to search for one theme that can unite all these unfolding narratives, the one that comes to mind is that of a world where leadership is lost at sea.
Leaders are of course, responsible. And so are followers, the ones who have reposed too much of trust and faith in them. We cannot let ourselves as followers off the hook. Followers got convinced that they should let the leaders do the thinking for them, not just the deciding. And once that happens, leaders have no-one vigilantly watching over them. A constitution, no matter how well-envisioned will always be undone by the actions of petty people. Eternal vigilance is indeed the price of liberty. The ones who consent to being governed must continually emphasise the conditionality and the limitations of their consent. A good constitution provides the structure and process for both. It is the spirit of people that sparks this arrangement into the live-wire of a vibrant democracy.
Leaders offer simplistic solutions for complex challenges. To reassure followers of instant change. Followers buy into this folly because it is easier and more convenient to accept the simplistic solutions. Far more difficult is it to think through the complex challenges and get to the root causes that invariably point the finger at us and our unwise choices.
Leaders focus on the short-term and the time-frame agrees with followers as well. It is easier to erect a new scaffolding than build a new structure. In a short time, we can make a big splash that lulls us into the expectation of ongoing progress. The big splash is meant to delude us and we wilfully fall for it, hook, line and sinker. The long-term is where the lasting consequences are being played out, whether we like it or not. The long-term is where one needs to focus if one wants to make a lasting difference.
Accepting that the challenge is complex and focussing on the long-term requires us to take a lot of responsibility, both as leaders and followers. Be it wondering how Trump got to where he is, asking why the EU is at risk, finding a solution to the refugee crisis, resolving how to safeguard the environment, or reflecting on the effects of a profit-enshrining captialist system; we must begin by acknowledging our own responsibility.
The world we live in is being shaped by a million little choices made everyday by the billions of human-beings who now inhabit it. Starting with ourselves, we can make a better choice.