Thursday, 5 April 2012

Musings on Life and Death

Sitting in the waiting lounge at the airport watching people hang around for their flight to be announced invariably conjures up in me metaphors for our human existence. For here, in this limbo state of neither coming nor going, in that transient moment of waiting, the pause within a series of movements, is usually the time when I find myself confronted with thoughts about life being a journey of sorts and other profound existential musings that cross my mind when anticipation turns to boredom and the wait interminable.

Caught in the threshold between coming and going, between the bidding of farewells and the welcoming of a new adventure or a homecoming, this is the space where all are bereft of status and identity, having only the generic appellation of Traveller. The person in the waiting room is a person without a past nor a future but one who experiences a true state of life: that of Being. A rare state these days as our lives are measured less by the pauses we make during our journey than by how fast we move our feet even when we're heading nowhere in particular.

Thus, waiting forces one to reflect. On the things left behind and on what lie ahead. On the things that are dying and on those about to be born. This in-between mood is felt even keener as we approach the moment when time shifts visibly, during the counting down of the seconds as we wave goodbye to the passing old year and usher in the coming new year. Adios 2011, hello 2012! So what exactly are we letting go? For letting go we must, to make room to allow new things to enter. Overall, it has been an eventful and tumultuous year, and perhaps one that we're relieved to see the back of. But then again, perhaps a sign of more turbulence to come.

2011 saw the final death throes of the old ways of governing as democracy enters those parts of the world that have only known dictatorship and oppression. It is the year of The Protester, a mass awakening sparked by rallies in Tunisia that ousted longtime president Ben Ali who fled to Saudi Arabia, that led to the Arab Spring and the ignominious ends of decades-old dictators, such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Ghadafi in Libya. A movement that inspired other citizen-led protests across the other side of the globe in the form of the Occupy movements of financial centres in the US by ordinary citizens protesting against economic hardships and financial injustices.. To cap it all, the year closes with the death of North Korea's Kim Jong-Il, one of the world's last remaining weird and cultish leaders with the strange hair and the outlandish attire.

Does this portend the shape of things to come, where the world is truly becoming flatter and government and policies succumb to the pervasive and yet inchoate power of the netizens of Twitter and Facebook?

It is not only the old ways of governing that are changing, the Old World is also changing as the old rulers of the worlds, namely the European countries, have to face a changing reality - a growing national debt and a people increasingly unhappy with their new poverty and forced austerity, in an economic zone that is fast losing its reason for being. Classical economic theories can no longer provide the answer to the current economic and financial problems that have never before been dealt with in text books. For the solution lies not in the past but in the future, if only we can open our mind to it.

Unfortunately this is a process that proves to be a lot more painful than the closing of the mind, as we see how narrowmindedness and knee-jerk primordialism is increasingly the shrill tune that is being played by politicians in the US in their desperate attempt to wield influence in a public increasingly disenchanted and disheartened by the way their leaders run the country. So far, this attitude has only resulted in a shameful political failure and inability to reach a compromise on any issue that is a threat to the prosperity of the nation as a whole, such as reducing the deficit.

In a flat world, future struggles will likely be between those who are open minded and embrace the future against those who cling to the past and find comfort in shallow beliefs and narrowly defined identities. Between those who see the world as a common responsibility that must be taken care of for the sake of the future generation and those who see the planet as the property of the privileged few. Between those who view humanity as one big, diverse family and those that find differences frightening and other fellow humans a threat to their existence.

2011 is the year when American special forces managed to track down and kill number one terrorist Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and also the year when blue-eyed Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Breivik set off a carbomb in Oslo and went on a shooting rampage killing 69 youths taking part in a Labour Party camp.

It is the year when nature unleashed her power in Japan with a powerful earthquake generating a Tsunami that swept away towns and villages and caused a meltdown of nuclear reactors in Fukushima, reminding us once again that when it comes to the question of who is really in charge of the planet, humans are merely playthings in the face of Mother Nature's power and unpredictability.

2011 is also the year of saying goodbye to the man whose technological innovation has not only changed the way we communicate and do things but also has made our life and our world a fun playground to be in. Someone who brought and will always bring the future within our grasp, even long after he ceased to walk the planet. Happy 2012!

(Desi Anwar: First Published in The Jakarta Globe)

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