By Michael De Gale
January 09, 2008
Though some may beg to differ, there is ample evidence to conclude that human beings are fundamentally evil. For any number of reasons, we almost instinctively oppress each other in the most brutal fashion. History is replete with genocide, slavery, ethnic cleansing, religious persecution, gender discrimination, economic and political oppression and the list goes on. Far from being exhausted, this does not even begin to scratch the surface of human savagery. According to Columbus’ own account, he received an enthusiastic welcome by native people who came bearing gifts. In response, he unleashed a reign of terror including rape, murder, pillage and enslavement.
In the scramble for Africa, European countries most notably the British, Dutch, Portuguese, Belgians and French divided the continent among themselves raping the land of its resources, turning neighbours into deadly enemies and implementing brutal systems of domination. The noxious influence of those parasites is so entrenched in the African fabric that even as independent nations, the essence of Africa’s liberation is yet to be experienced. Collusion between an increasing African elite and their European counterparts, leave the great majority of Africans living on the fringes of society -virtual unwelcome strangers in their fathers land and the land of their birth.
Multiple similar examples can be found everywhere around the globe. In attempting to impose his will no one is exempt including friends, relations and nature itself. Essentially, civilization was built on the backs of others but only a relative few enjoy its full benefits. It is painfully evident that the great majority of the world’s population is becoming increasingly poor. Corporations and private individuals control most of the world’s resources as nature is threatening to reap havoc on all of us. Progress, a relative term, is no relative to nature nor the vast majority of the world’s population.
Recognizing our common humanity and having the vision to see that the traditional way of doing business is not sustainable in the long run, we should become increasing aware that man cannot live by bread alone. A number of groups and individuals are waging an uphill battle to stop the destruction and reduce oppressive behaviour. Courageous people the world over have raised their individual and collective voices on all fronts, often at great peril and personal expense. History shows that power never relents without a struggle and we have ample evidence which proves that eventually the people triumph. However, the cost in pain and human suffering on both sides should give us reason to pause and consider other options.
In a bold and unprecedented move, His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan voluntarily abdicated his throne and opted for a system of democratic government much to the chagrin of the majority of Bhutanese. He opined that Gross National Happiness – a term he coined in 1972, is as important as the Gross National Product. The four pillars of GNH he pointed out are the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.
Bhutan is far from being a Utopia and undoubtedly, a number of criticisms can be raised regarding subjective interpretation of happiness, culture, population, religion, global economics to mention a few. However, the very concept of GNH stands in stark contrast to the narrowly defined Classical Liberal Economic theory where happiness is measured through consumption and profits.
It is foolish to believe that after hundreds of years of oppression and privilege, a ruling class will voluntarily surrender its position in favour of redistribution of wealth and power sharing. It will be even more foolhardy to expect most governments to consider the GNH of their respective countries in the same manner that is being advocated in Bhutan. Hundreds of years of oppression and gross opportunism cannot be washed away so easily. The increasing lust for wealth, power and prestige would never voluntarily give way to a concept that embraces GNH to measure the overall health of a country. Under the present political system, they would receive only a failing grade. However, a step in that direction could ease the tensions in a society that is under siege by criminal elements, plagued by increasing poverty, social dysfunction and environmental concerns.
As politicians continue to invoke race in their quest for power, it is only a matter of time before the fragile democracy enjoyed by the people of T&T degenerate into violence and increased aggression. The disparity in wealth will add yet another layer of tension as many will feel the negative effects of political alienation. Given such a scenario, the land we refer to as sweet T&T would become increasingly inhospitable for every class and race, making it virtually impossible to enjoy the benefits of the much sort after wealth and power. It is therefore incumbent upon any progressive government to foresee the troubles that lie ahead and to take corrective action to prevent the social breakdown that at the present time seems almost inevitable.
There will be those who will resist progressive change if it threatens to disrupt their exalted status or negatively impact their sources of income. The transition to a just and fair society, therefore, would require moral fortitude and is not a task for the politically feeble or the narrow-minded. The world is changing around us and petty tribal politics could only divide us further. It will not effectively push forward a progressive national agenda to serve the greater good. If we want to create a society that is fair and just unlike the present structure, we must begin by rethinking the current first past the post system and choose one that allows diverse interest and voices to be represented. The present system works in favour of those who have prestige, political power and their financial supporters. It leaves great numbers still crying in the wilderness. It is now time to consider the possibility of the more progressive and inclusive system of Proportional Representation. For many years different versions of PR have been working well in Australia and many Scandinavian countries. This issue is currently gaining momentum among progressive forces in Canadian politics. Local politicians interested in making a difference may be well advised to seriously consider revising the current electoral system.