By Anil Netto
Jan 23 2021
I was shocked to read that, in India, some people are even ‘venerating’ the killer of Mahatma Gandhi — a right-wing religious extremist, who felt that the independence leader was making too many concessions.
No matter what you may think of Gandhi, for some people to treat his killer as some kind of hero goes beyond the pale.
It is clear that many politicians around the world are making use of insecurities over race and religion for political ends. Conservative politicians and religious leaders have done us no favours. They have condoned a divisive brand of politics that has worked up the masses.
In the US, we witnessed the mob attack on the Capitol after Trump lost the election. In other countries too, the rise of fascist tendencies and demagoguery has worried many.
This is happening at a time when many ordinary people, especially workers, have suffered from the effects of neoliberalism, which has enriched a smaller and smaller group at the top.
“The level of discontent and alienation with neoliberalism was already very high in the global North before the coronavirus hit, owing to the established elites’ inability to reverse the decline in living standards and skyrocketing inequality in the dreary decade that followed the financial crisis,” observed Walden Bello, one of the leading critics of neoliberal globalisation.
Conditions were ripe for charismatic leaders and demagogues around the world to step up and manipulate this public disaffection for their own political ends while serving the elite and corporate class.
They have skilfully diverted public attention from the declining living standards, ecological destruction, and the gulf between the rich and poor. They have capitalised on people’s ethnic and religious insecurities by demonising The Other – whether migrants, the LGBT community or ethnic and religious minorities.
All the while, they have relentlessly trimmed income taxes, shunned wealth taxes and loosened labour and environmental regulations, making it easier for businesses to exploit workers and degrade the ecosystem.
Faced with the resulting disenchantment and loss of support from the masses, some leaders have resorted to draconian powers and oppressive laws to stifle dissent and entrench their shaky positions.
Even with Trump’s departure in the US, this won’t end. ‘Liberal’ politicians might tinker with the system to give it a friendlier and more sober face, but many of the excesses of the system will remain. Big Tech, Big Pharma, regressive taxes, excessive military spending, curbs on unions and workers’ rights, cheap labour…
Many of us can’t wait for the pandemic to be over so that our lives can go back to ‘normal’. But wait, what was normal? The wide income gap, the concentration of wealth, ecological destruction?
Or are we perhaps hoping for a “new normal”? Just some minor tinkering to the system here and there?
But the system, the present economic model of unlimited growth, is itself, the problem. It has perpetuated and widened inequalities and polluted and degraded the ecosystem while concentrating wealth in fewer hands.
We need deep, wide-ranging reforms, if not a total revamp of the system.
We must move away from an economic model premised on unlimited growth. Our present economic system is plagued by deep socioeconomic and political inequalities and is harming the planet.
We need to explore potential solutions: ecological sustainability, degrowth, a greater role for women, food sovereignty, sustainable mobility, political empowerment, genuine participatory democracy.
The Bishop of Rome’s most recent messages, Laudato Si on Care for Creation and Fratelli Tutti on broad social love, offer a welcome framework. The recent global crisis has shown us that “no one can face life in isolation” and we must “dream, then, as a single human family” where we are “brothers and sisters all” (para 8). All of us are interconnected, not just the human population but all of Creation, including Brother Sun and Sister Moon.
This will be a world where the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth will be heard. This will be a world where no one will be sent away hungry (Matthew 14:15). This will be a world where people will “hammer their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, no longer will they learn how to make war” (Isaiah 2:4).
This is the new Creation we must cast our sights on – instead of business as usual or a “new normal” with minor tinkering. – Herald Malaysia