Monday, 29 October 2012

Old Words, Perennial Truths

After reading the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln, delivered on 1863, I was amazed by the wisdom of a person who is considered to be one of the best American Presidents of all time. One of the most quoted lines is the following:
The last high quality photograph of Abraham Lincoln. Source: Wikimedia Commons
"(..) that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth"

Even though it is a phrase of just 19 words, it holds with it the true meaning of politics: governments are elected to represent the people of a nation (of the people), are elected from the votes of the people of the nation (by the people) and are in power to serve the interests of the people who have supported and elected it (for the people). This is the correct form of governance, nevertheless a form which has been forgotten over the course of the years. 

From the 2006, film, V for Vendetta, comes the following quote, uttered by the film's main character, V:

A Guy Fawkes mask. Source: Wikimedia Commons
"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."

It seems as though governments have forgotten about this fact. Or is it just that people nowadays feel that they are powerless against the all-powerful force which governs them, and they can do nothing to change the situation? I would hope that this does not hold. When Aldus Huxley published "Brave New World" in 1932, this was exactly what his fears were. According to social critic Neil Postman,

"What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.(..) Huxley feared those who would give us so much [information] that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism, (...) feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. (...)Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy [terms describing amusement in Brave New World]. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions."

What is evident from today's society is that too much effort is aimed towards providing more and more amusement, or distractions as Huxley would comment, which result in making the public less and less inclined to take up common affairs or issues of much more importance. The term "armchair protest" is more suitable for describing the situation in many states around the world nowadays, as especially people of older age, (fortunately younger persons are less prone to this kind of demonstration) do express their opinions about politics, economics or others, just in the safety of their families or close circle. 

Speaking of opinions and situations, another quote, this time by an anonymous author, slips to mind: 

"A recession is a period during which we have to live without things our grandparents had not even dreamed about."

Although, most of the people out in the street protesting are doing so because they cannot find work to support their families or are worried that their children will not be able to be a productive member of society (or at least that is what I hope they are protesting about!) there are others who are merely protesting for not making enough to support them buying expensive clothes, having the newest edition of smartphones or tablets or any other goods or services they may think. This is not the meaning of recession. A recession, should be an opportunity to re-evaluate what we have done, see where we did wrong and try to fix it. Nevertheless, some people feel they are not obliged to do so, and what is more they believe their standard of living before the bubble burst should be maintained. 

A Cypriot friend of mine told me of a Member of their Parliament, who stated that some colleagues "just" earn their salary and are struggling through life. Given that their salary is around €5,000 a month, I seriously doubt that claim, my friend stated. This is exactly what the above paragraph was stating: an inability to accept that the world has changed and that those who do not change with it are bound to be doomed. It is the politicians who should set the example for the change and not the people, who were struggling to get by even before the recession.

Let's hope that the people can really make their governments change their minds and attitudes as far as extreme austerity measures (and not irrational allowances and over-crowded public sectors) are concerned. A bright example in this case is the President of Uruguay who donates 87% of his salary to charities and drives an old Volkswagen to work every day. How about some of the Presidents of Europe imitate him as well?

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