Issue Date: 4/15/2004
Dr. Bal Ram Singh
It seems the sense of the world's existence is nothing more than a perpetual series of major problems and conflicts. And while solutions to these conflicts mainly have remained violence and military, there is more and more talk of alternatives - diplomatic and political. The dictionary meanings of these words are "the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations" and "the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government," respectively. Even if their meanings sound innocuous at first, it is clear that a diplomatic or political solution is anything but fair, just or virtuous. Most of the public, though, easily gets sucked into the alternatives (military vs. diplomatic or political) provided by those in charge of national and international affairs. It does not seem to matter if the society is democratic or dictatorial. There is no difference in the tactics of Saudis or Saddam on one hand, and Bush and Blair on the other.
Dictators use their power to subvert any critical thinking by the public to develop a just solution, whereas elected politicians use their craft to manipulate the public into watching their political orchestra as the way to world's nirvana. Rulers all over the world have been indulging in deceptive actions designed to keep the public confused, unfocused and unrealistic. Their weapons of mass deception range from whipping of religious passion to democratic demagoguery. Much has been written in recent years about religious fanaticism, be it Wahabism or Southern Baptism. It is perhaps time to look at the so-called free world's trademark-democracy as a tool of public manipulation. The concept of democracy for the people, of the people, and by the people, makes a very fundamental assumption that the people have genuine problems and their representatives must have real-life experience so that fair, just and virtuous solutions can be attempted. However, what we have watched over the past 50 years or so appears to be a slippery slide of basic human values in public discourses on economic, social and family issues.
Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has said time and again that democracy has been a major cause of avoiding famines like the one in 1942 which killed millions of people on the Indian subcontinent. How is democracy then supposed to work so we are not marred with acrimonious arguments over silly things, such as who is telling the truth about the documentation on whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or whether the economy is improving. Stratfor.com, a global intelligence firm, wrote on July 20, 2003, "We see that in a democratic society, politicians frequently lie about their true motives. Instead, they invent acceptable fabrications, so they don't have to state publicly what they think privately." Therein lies the problem with modern democracy. The public is constantly brainwashed about lies being standard operational procedure of the system.
It is perhaps easy to see some value in the arguments of each side, but it is almost impossible to fathom the level of self-trained deception the public encounters in politicians. We are in desperate need of leaders who can practice their own words - role models for the public, young, old, everyone in between. Where do we get our role models in the 21st century? Three major sources - sports, politics, and the reel world. All promote personalities whose claim to fame is based on fake, deceptive portrayals of life. There is a fundamental issue with accepting of sports figures, politicians or film/TV stars as role models. None of these represent the real life which we must encounter on a daily basis. Each represents a mirage which needs to be understood and discarded rather than followed.
Sports figures practice and practice to play games. We must realize that games are just that. No society can reasonably expect to evolve and make progress following role models who are game players. However, sports figures are the third most dangerous role models. Their actions at least involve major physical efforts. Politicians similarly cannot become role models of real people, as they can never tell the truth, nor keep their promises, and stage systematic deceptions to remain in power. Politicians, however, are only the second most dangerous role models, because at least they have to face the people every few years, and thus are forced to face the real world to certain degree. The worst role models are film actors and actresses, because they are not even real sports figures or politicians, they just pretend to be. And so, when we see political parties lining up actors and actresses as role models in the upcoming elections in India (or Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent election in California for that matter), it only reflects on the saddest state of affairs in our society. Of course, the less said of their real lives the better. In the long run, the public must search for real leaders, if global peace is to be achieved.
Bal Ram Singh, director of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth's Center for Indic Studies, may be reached at email@example.com.