This article is an edited version of one I wrote six years ago about those who are marginalised in the world; but, more specifically, it was about the plight of Greece and its people as well as those of other EEC countries, particularly Italy, Spain and Portugal, who were facing a similar, albeit not quite so serious a plight; not forgetting that it wasn’t so long ago that the Republic of Ireland was plunged into economic gloom and bust! But is there any reason why we should not begin to worry about the core countries of Europe, Germany, France and the UK, particularly in the face of Brexit?
Who can foretell.
This has a lot to do not only with entrepreneurs, adventurers and leaders; people who stick their necks on the block for civilisation, to solve great human challenges, resolve seemingly irresolvable issues, achieve the impossible, lift us from darkness and create order out of chaos; but it also has to do with how they rise to preeminence, how they deal with it; and how they fall… or rather when the powerful effects of wealth and fame can turn them into bullies and control-freaks! Or cause them to ally themselves with people of such character, in order to retain control and grow their wealth!
I once recounted the lesson I learned from an inspiring geography teacher – that “the solution to the problems of the world lies in harmony with the distribution of raw materials”; very relevant to this debate, but I just remembered another memorable fact he taught us: about the rise and fall of civilisations, of empires. We in the ‘West’, notably in Britain, whose Empire once painted much of the world’s map pink, are now in the declining phase of civilisation. So too other European powers as well as the USA. All are desperate to keep a hold on their access to the World’s ‘vital’ raw materials, against the rising powers … the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), some of whose resources may well lend truth to my geography teacher’s insight.
Watch this space!
Never more was there a need for significant enlightenment, and leadership, in World politics and economics, than right now.
The trouble with any kind of ‘progress’, howsoever forged by great minds; the inherent fault built into the human condition is that even for those, who have the greatest integrity, may be the most philanthropic and have the highest motives at the outset, it seems to me that we are programmed to fail; that very few human beings are perfect or capable of resisting the drug of wealth and power, which always turns so called ‘progress’ into a commercial crusade of self interest. And this will be true at whatever level of society, be it political, religious, commercial, military or social; global, national or local. I can think of few exceptions.
And so it is …
Whether you are the billionaire owner of a multi-national corporation, general manager of a medium sized company or Chair of the committee at your local Club. That deeply rooted human survival instinct to get more and more of it with the inevitability of its desire for supremacy, driven by the desire to rise above the rest, to eliminate challengers, is ever present. Competition is healthy. Yes, I agree. But what is happening to political democracy, to which, I think, the same rules apply as to the world of invention, trade and commerce? They big get bigger on the backs of the small; those in power constantly assay to eliminate their main rivals, sometimes with the help of small minorities.
Let me say this about myself …
In every walk of both my working and social life, I thought I’d seen it all. Democratic team players and delegators at one pole; control freaks and extreme control freaks – or bullies and dictators at the other. In between, a whole array of personality types that bridge the spectrum of humanity, each one of which is a unique representation of its genes and environment. There are other spectra that cross this one; one of them is what I’d call the ‘lucky-unlucky’ spectrum. So much depends on where, when and to whom you were born, as to where you might get to in life.
Ah, but …
I know, you could give me any number of examples of people born into lowly circumstances, who subsequently clawed their way to success and wealth, using what God-given intelligence they had along with hard work and prudent risk management – most likely with a bit of luck every now and again.
These are exceptional – and maybe exceptionally lucky – people. However, I am talking about the general majority of populations, the ordinary hard working people, like me, who are not wired in such a way. We are not all born equal; that is, with the same wiring, brains and intelligence – the X-Factor if you like – to enable that kind of success. If we were all born with equal brains into equal environments, with equal opportunities, then, I ask, what would the world be like?
For the world to change; for there to be an alteration to a fairer distribution of its assets; to enfranchise people and give them a sense of ‘ownership’ and therefore responsibility, there will firstly have to be a seed change in the attitude to ‘human rights’.
What does this mean?
What is a human being, from birth onwards, entitled to? What are their rights? How much of their privilege, or lack of it, of their inherited wealth, or lack of it, are they entitled to? How much can they reasonably ‘earn’ by merit; how can we define ‘merit’. Is a Premiership footballer a one hundred and fifty or two hundred times ‘better’ player than a professional footballer in National League 2; but not just as a player, as a human being too? I say not; it is marketing and merchandising that achieves this disparity. Is the CEO of a huge multi national company as many times better, harder working and dedicated human being, manager, director, creative organiser, motivator.. as his salary bears in multiples of that of the lowest paid in society? I suspect the answer is no! How often is the CEO and highest paid management of companies of such stature born into poverty? And when they do rise from lowly backgrounds, how much of the way they were wired at birth influenced their ability to achieve such high office. Not an easy question to answer, but I still suspect it is ultimately greed, along with creative marketing (and accounting) that is at the root of this disparity and the primary fuel of all ambition when they get to a certain level.
We will always need exceptional individuals, the best and most talented people, to be leaders; to rise and take the greatest responsibilities in the world. But if the posts they fill and the motivations that drive them end up being self-serving; if they are only to generate as much personal wealth for themselves as possible, then where is the justice in that? We all of us need to try our hardest to be the best we can be, given our environment, genetic heritage and opportunities, and there should always be recognition of endeavour.
If materialism and consumerism aren’t going to go away any time soon, how do you motivate the majority of people to be the best they can be, when the best they are likely to achieve is to become some kind of slave to their corporate masters, as well as becoming a slave to debt! As the gap between the rich and poor keeps on widening, so too will the aspirations of these individuals become strained to breaking point, in mind as well as purse. At the moment, particularly in the age of materialism – and maybe for the duration of human existence on earth – this seems to be because they become increasingly driven by material greed. We would all like to be rich, but some of us, including me, would prefer not to have to be a slave to another master; prefer not to break our banks as well as our minds.
All of this has been grist to the mill of political debate over the years: socialism vs capitalism; the market economy vs the (perhaps more difficult but not impossible to finance) caring and equitable welfare society. Or perhaps, more achievable, a combination of both?
Ah, but you see …
I hear voices retort, but it’s about perceived market value, merchandising, image, branding … but this is utter bullsh**. These are purely the tools of consumerism, the means of wealth creation, to worship at the alter of the great God, ‘profit’, at the expense of the consumers and tax-payers! These are all pointless jobs! Be human, try to get a handle on an alternative reality, because, unless you are amongst the top 1% of the world’s rich – and if you were, you wouldn’t be reading this – then you have the same motives as the rest of us. We all aspire to be better off, but, beware of being a sycophant; allying and associating yourself with a grouping you are unlikely to join in reality, but merely aspire to be associated with. You may be very capable and able to articulate the arguments of the ‘successful’ wealthy, but you won’t get rich by association, unless you are extremely lucky. The rich never get rich by giving their money away. In fact, they – certainly the super-rich – never get rich by investing their own money.
Woah, steady on!
To some, this may sound a bit radical. Be that as it may, but I certainly wasn’t born a radical and I’m not particularly radical now! In fact I was born into the traditional aspiring, privately educated middle class and was brought up always to believe in taking personal responsibility for my actions and achievements and not blaming someone else for my woes.
However, there comes a time when one’s perspective changes as a result of experience; observations of injustice and a sensitivity to the enormous inequality in the world and, perhaps most important, an ability to think more clearly about what is really important about our lives on this earth, plays its part in moulding a new perspective. So it has with me.
We all need desperately to think, think and think again, in spite of the temptation to say “what on earth can I do” and then bury our heads in the sand, which I have been tempted to do from time to time.
Without thought and subsequent conviction and, most important of all, a commitment to vote at every democratically devised opportunity that develops as a result of careful thought and research, our democracy will ebb away. At the time of writing this original essay, it was already looking like it was doing so on the fringes of Europe in the cradle of European civilisation and democracy, Greece, which, in 2011, had been plunged into huge economic crisis following the collapse of the world’s financial sector in 2009. We know there were economic and somewhat sinister forces at work there that were not altogether altruistic and this is what brought me to write this in the first place.
If you wish to see the full text of this original article, including a piece, apparently about widespread corruption in that country, that was circulating at the time, along with an alternative view given to me by a Greek friend, then you will find it here.
Briefly it poured some light on what is now commonly referred to as ‘fake news’; also know as misinformation, which might have resulted genuinely from being misinformed and too eager to air such ‘knowledge’ or as unadulterated propaganda! In the case of the widely circulated email, referred to in my original article, it was, I prefer to think, the former. Six years on, the trials of Greece have faded from media front pages, even if the troubles, for the majority of its population, have not.
In the meantime, inequality in the world, between the richest and the poorest, is still worsening. This fact is not questionable. More and more of the world’s resources lies in the hands of fewer and fewer super-rich individuals. This is a frightening prospect, because it threatens the roots of democracy. We should, therefore continue to take to the pen and the paper and social media; whatever peaceful means are at our disposal to share, debate, lobby and shout from every hilltop … AND, above all, exercise our democratic rights by voting at every opportunity; exercise our electoral rights… whilst we still have them!
Finally, we should spare a thought and a prayer for the poorest people of the world, as well as those in Greece, a majority of whose population is probably amongst the poorest in Europe, for whom it may already be too late; whose freedoms have already been eroded. Take a closer look at who in that country (and elsewhere) has profited from all this, because you can be sure there are a few who have… enormously … on the backs of the many.
Post Script …
I would also like to take this opportunity at this time of year to remember those whose lives have been forever affected by war.
(Original article was first published in ‘Forty-Two‘ in December 2011)
© 2011, John Anstie