Thursday, 5 April 2012

Connecting the Dots

There have been a lot of events in the world recently that are food for thought: Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi finally killed by his own people after being hunted down for two months and cornered like a rat in a drainage pipe, and his body dragged through the streets. A two-year old got ran over twice in China and 18 people passed by without as much as a second glance. The toddler is now dead. And all over the world people are occupying financial institutions that they no longer have much faith in. While this weekend, they say that meteors will shower the earth.

These are random events in different parts of the world and trying to connect the dots seems to be stretching it a bit. Events happen all the time, some for no obvious reasons, others because they are inevitable and long due. But still, it’s interesting to try and find the meaning in why things happen. After all, having and creating meaning to our lives is an important part in our desire to exist and survive in an inexorable world. Humans are the only creatures on the planet who obsess about the past and who want to impact the future. And somewhere in the process, to discover who we truly are.

To do this we need to look beneath the events, to the cause why they happen. In the case of people murdering their former leader, it is behaviour responding to another behaviour. People can only put up with a certain amount of cruelty, a certain amount of injustice and hardships, before the situation becomes intolerable and the push for change inevitable. A government based on fear and oppression carries within it its own seed of destruction. Our history of the world has shown that over and over again.

Similarly, a country that is based on the unfettered rule and unchecked power of its financial overlords, would sooner or later have their authority and legitimacy challenged by those deprived of the fruits of its financial system. The Occupy WallStreet movement that started in New York is now spreading all over the globe as excessive greed is no longer seen as just and tolerable behaviour. It has become the 1% of the superrich versus the 99% of the ordinary citizen trying to find a job, pay their mortgage and making ends meet.

As we dig deeper to find the cause that promoted such behaviour to begin with, we see that it’s the underlying system that had given rise to it. Why is it that a helpless child be left injured in the middle of the road without anybody even thinking of doing anything about it? Is it that the child’s life has little or no value in a society where the people’s sense of humanity and respect for every individual life has long been robbed, and where the quest of material rights is seen to be a nobler pursuit than the quest for human rights? No doubt this incident would have gone unnoticed had it not been captured by video and prompted outrage all over the world.

The dots connect better when we pry even further, beneath the systems that we ourselves, as human societies, have created and lived by. In an indifferent universe, the earth is just another planet subject to meteor showers and cosmic turbulence throughout its six billion years of existence. But human beings are not indifferent creatures. We are creators of stories and of histories, dreamers of the future and masters of change. We are builders of systems and yet we are also destroyers of systems, especially when those systems are no longer tenable.

A system after all can only sustain itself when it produces the result that we set it out to do. Those in the financial institutions, cushioned from the crisis that they themselves created, must realise that the system that has supported them all this time, no longer work. A system designed solely for the pursuit of wealth can only lose legitimacy when it merely enriches the rich few at the expense and impoverishment of the many. The Occupy WallStreet movement is not so much against rich people as against a system that in practice, has turned out to be grossly unfair.

This global shift in mental model, the old way of thinking giving way to the new, is becoming more and more audible as global conversations. Sooner or later, institutions and those who fail to listen to them or to misunderstand what are being communicated, will find themselves caught by surprise. Such as the autocratic regimes in the Middle East, toppled one by one like dominoes, or the sudden riots and looting by feral Facebookers in London recently.

And the place to listen to these conversations is not in the traditional media, the big business-backed mass media like televisions with their string of experts, pundits and analysts airing stale opinions and narrow perspectives. Nor amongst the politicians caught up in their vested interest and deaf to anything but their own short term gains. Because their audience, the public and the people they purport to speak for, are no longer listening.

Instead, the public is creating their own discussion, their own policies and implementing their own actions through the most democratic of all communication channel, the social media - a media where communication is not one way or top down, but where every voice belongs to somebody and is heard by everybody. And where their new mindset and collective action can bring down age-old systems.

Those whose legitimacy lies in the validity of the system, would do well to start joining the conversations.

(Desi Anwar: first published in The Jakarta Globe)

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