Saturday, January 03, 2009

2008... a depressing global review and a search for light in 2009

2008 has been rightly described by many commentators as being an "annus horribilus" - what with the once-in-a-century global financial meltdown, the cyclone devastation in Burma, the 7.9 earthquake in China, the continuing genocide in Darfur and the belligerence of Mugabe in his ugly hold on power in Zimbabwe, the assasination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan just before the start of the year and the terrorist attacks in Mumbai towards the end of the year, and then, as the year almost draws to a close, this latest human-made atrocity of the Isrealis' murderous attack on Palestinians in the Gaza strip over the last seven days, with the criminal silence and subsequent undermining of the UN efforts to call for an immediate ceasefire by the U.S. administration and the U.S. media.

Even the occasional bright spots are marred by events before and after - the historic election of Barack Obama as the "hope and change" President-elect, whose actions before and after seem to undermine his credibility as a real agent for change; the spectacular Summer Olympics in Beijing marred by Tibetan protests as well as controversies over its opening ceremony and athlete ages, and where it subsequently emerged that local governments deliberately suppressed stories about its contaminated milk products for the sake of the Olympics, as if China has not hurt its own children enough with poisonous lead-based toys and shoddily-constructed school buildings.

2008 was the year when citizens around the world opened their eyes to the sheer corruption of their political regimes, whether in the West or the East, developed or developing. The U.S. government under George W. Bush has lost all credibility - moral or otherwise - steadily over 8 years of his tenure, but even the most ardent Bush critic could never foresee the new low that his administration could sink to as the sheer scale of corproate mismanagement and outright fraud in the banking sector came to light, aided and abetted by an incompetent administration which derided any sort of regulation as hamstringing entrepreneurship, rather than seeing them rightfully as essential instruments to guarding public interest against unfettered corporate greed. Similarly in Britain, Gordon Brown and his New Labour party was met with derision and despair from a populace horrified at how centuries-old freedoms are being continually whittled away in the name of national security, and especially at his economic mismanagement as a Chancellor and then as a Prime Minister that left a property bubble unchecked whilst allowing the hollowing out of the UK manufacturing sector to occur amid the simultaneous deregulation of the UK financial sector.

The crucial question is, can 2009 be the year in which we, individually and collectively, make a positive difference to the outcome of at least one of the above disastrous events of the past year? Whilst many solutions have been proffered by experts and pundits alike in the media about what we should do in the face of the global financial crisis, it seems that not only do the solutions require significant individual and political will, but there is a danger that what is rational and viable at the individual level (e.g. be financially prudent) may prove disastrous at the collective level (the potential for a global depression brought on by deflationary economics); and indeed, vice versa (humongous economic stimulus package at the taxpayers' expense will lead to further unsustainable borrowing which will fall again on the shoulders of individuals, both this generation and the next).

We are really stuck between a rock and a hard place, as the saying goes. We do need some kind of stimulus package that is both environmentally sustainable and economically viable in the long run, so that the expenses that future generations are being asked to shoulder on our behalf now are not being frittered away into greedy bankers' pockets or used to further fuel our collective dependency on carbon-based fuels, but are actual investment into developing sustainable infrastructure for a global population, within a model of economic organization that future generations can reap benefits from in a much more equitable manner than the current template of Anglo-Saxon neoliberal capitalism can ever realistically accomplish.

But we cannot simply leave it to the so-called "experts" to provide answers to the above. If anything, 2008 should teach us that the sole top-down model in any sphere of human endeavour -- whether political, economic, or social -- is no longer viable. Each of us needs to stay informed and vigilant, for we could no longer naively rely on government officials nor trust the corporate elite to respect, much less safe-guard, the public good. This does not mean that the only model of governance for the future should be sheer anarchy, where everyone looks out only for number one. No, it means all of us need to be active members of an informed citizenry, one that champions universal human rights and advocates for the rule of law, for participatory democracy to work.

So in 2009, perhaps there are a few things we can do, or can do more, if we don't want our collective human race to usher in the new Dark Ages by the end of our first decade of the new millenium:

1. Stay informed. Read a range of newspapers (online or dead-tree) everyday. Read international coverage of events happening in countries far away from yours, because you are a citizen of the world, and globalisation means that none of us can afford to be parochial. Be conscious of editorial bias, whether allegedly leftwing or rightwing (hah, including this post, of course!). The only way to stay broad-minded is to be exposed to opinions very different from your own and recognising where they are coming from. Use reason and logic, and well-researched facts, to combat misconceptions and slander. But choose your battles (as I'm trying to learn to choose mine).

2. Keep engaged in the political process. If you are, like me, lucky enough to be living in a country where there is still a semblance of a functioning democratic governance structure, do not take this privilege for granted. If your instinct is to turn away from politics, spare a thought for the Palestinians or the Zimbabweans, or indeed the Chinese in Mainland China and even, I'm extremely sorry to say, Hong Kong. Fulfil your citizen duty by being informed and engaged, register to vote, and don't fritter away your votes, and don't be scared of opportunities to raise your voice in public domains, and don't be scared of political debates - it's the measure of a mature society that allow its citizens to throw in their tuppence's worth without fear of reprisal; and fear of ridicule should not bar one from expressing one's sincerely-held views.

3. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. This mantra for sustainable living should be manifested as far as possible in our everyday lives. None of us, even the rich, if they have an iota of social conscience, can afford to live in a disposable society anymore. Reduce your consumption of tat, or at least restrict them to those that you could reuse (I was glad that, save for the Christmas crackers, the festive tat I bought for Christmas 07 and 08 could all be reused for future years, and perhaps I should give up on Christmas crackers altogether this year). Choose "naked" or less prepackaged goods (or complain when the product is excessively packaged, or not based on more sustainable materials), try bringing your own coffee mugs to get coffee at coffee chains, and of course, bring your own shopping bags wherever possible; and buy local and buy seasonal where your food purchases are concerned. Spare a thought for those not so lucky with such ready access to food and water - the food and water crisis has not yet really touched us yet.

4. Look out for our fellow men and women, children and the elderly alike. The credit crunch will hit us hard, but it will hit the less fortunate amongst us even harder. If 2009 is going to be bad for all of us, it will be even worse for those among us who struggle desperately even in the so-called good times. Don't shun charities just because it is hard enough to tighten your own belt. If you cannot afford to be charitable with your money, be charitable with your time and talents. Volunteer to help out in meaningful ways, lend your voice to good causes, pay attention even when the last thing you need is a depressing story. You might be inspired by the human spirit to endure, and the fact that you care - even if it means just not turning a blind eye - counts. A lot.

5. Make time for your loved ones. Be there, listen, be present. Everyone will have their own worries, people will get frustrated in bad times, but there is no need to take things personally, and know the important thing is that we're lucky enough to still have each other. Isn't that amazing?

I know a lot of the above is far easier said than done. But I will try even more in 2009. Hope you will, too.

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1 Comments:

At Tue Jan 13, 10:21:00 p.m. GMT, Blogger Yun said...

hey dear,
can you drop me an email? I couldn't find your email in your blog...

 

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