BY ANDREW SHENG
THE Paris shootings shocked the world and drew deeply polarised views. Why are views so polarised everywhere?
Polarisation today is more acute than ever in all societies; protests in some, extremism in others. Syria is already in civil war, while 45 per cent of people in Scotland voted for separation from the United Kingdom. Factionalism, fanaticism and nationalism arise when people become insecure about their jobs, health and security.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has identified 10 top trends for 2015. These are:
- deepening income inequality
- persistent jobless growth
- lack of leadership
- rising geopolitical competition
- weakening of representative democracy
- rising pollution in the developing world
- increasing occurrence of severe weather events
- intensifying nationalism
- increasing water stress
- growing health concerns, plus an emerging concern over immigration.
This long list can be simplified into three sets of divisive issues - economic (inequality, unemployment and lack of leadership), climate and environment (pollution, weather change and water stress) and social (geopolitical tension, weakening democracy, nationalism, health and immigration).
Poverty, unemployment, natural disasters and civil strife all give rise to insecurity, which is perhaps why 86 per cent of those polled by the WEF felt that there is a global lack of leadership. After all, when communities are insecure, it is the great statesmen who provide the vision, confidence and trust to pass through difficult times and hold people together.
We get, instead, almost total disconnect between citizens and their governments. The WEF has perceptively noted: "We have 19th-century institutions with 20th-century mindsets, attempting to communicate with 21st-century citizens."
Small wonder that representative democracy is weakened when it is defined as the absolute freedom to elect or reject leaders with short-term agendas, pandering to popular opinion.
Politics is supposed to be the art of the compromise, but in a global society, deeply divided by ideology, culture, religion, class or generation, it is not clear that compromise will work. Occupy Central in Hong Kong and the youth movement is an example where society is so polarised along generational lines that both sides talk past each other. In Bangkok, such protests were ended by a military coup.
Technology has been a major disrupting influence on the status quo. Information is delivered so fast that there is as much disinformation and distortion of public opinion through Twitter and Facebook as manipulation by media channels. But governments cannot provide the leadership when they genuinely do not know better than the latest opinion polls or what Big Data is telling them on the Web.
No less a statesman than former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, in his latest book World Order, bemoans the absence of leadership. Dr Kissinger identifies perceptively that in the Age of the Internet, every netizen thinks that - having access to all kinds of information - justice and freedom can be demanded and will be available instantly on autopilot. The young forget that what exists today is a confluence of history, culture, institutions and geography.
Technology has cut short the time to think, reflect and act. Every decision is evaluated by instant likes and dislikes, making opinions absolute rather than relative.
Humans are social animals. We live in crowded spaces, made tolerable only because we are tolerant of one another. Absolutism and extremism in any religion, creed or culture can lead only to absolute or radical outcomes.
It is an accepted fact in biology and botany that monoculture makes for system fragility. The most stable systems are those which are open, diverse and adaptable, which allow for simultaneous competition and cooperation in ideas, action and pathways.
In technology, as in real life, there are no absolute winners or one single path to God or nirvana. What works is fuzzy logic, the ability to bridge different technical standards, rules or systems. Fuzzy logic is about tolerance - for different standards, values and beliefs.
The need for humility and tolerance is greater than ever, because the familiar path of the past is no longer an adequate guide for an uncertain future.
The Fourth Estate - the media - used to play an important role as the channel through which relatively independent and informed opinions are presented for public debate.
But as the commercial basis of print media is being taken over by the Internet, the Web has become a jungle of commercial or issue-biased information, which, in turn, reinforces extreme views and action, particularly for the innocent young.
An open society is one in which the system and society are tolerant of differences in views and opinions, and moderate and humble in response to such differences.
There are, of course, limits to moderation and tolerance. When someone inflicts violence on others and threatens public security, there will be consequences. Extreme views have a tendency to lead to escalating violence and retaliatory action. No one wins from escalating infliction of violence on each other.
[If I understand the above para correctly... no I don't understand the above paragraph at all. ]
When individuals take the law into their own hands, there is no rule of law. The law and the state can only do so much in restraining individual anti-social behaviour. The heavy hand of the state bureaucracy can have lots of unintended consequences.
Which is why family and community are so important in reinforcing the respect of values of mutual recognition and respect, and tolerance of the fact that we are different, we should be different, and we can and should all live together respecting each other's values and beliefs.
[Easier said than done.]
Inequality has led to the breakdown of family and community values. Parents, busy trying to make money or just living day to day, neglect their young, delegating their education to others, including the Internet.
[That is a leap of logic there. Inequality breaks down family values? I'm sure it doesn't help, but actively breaks down family values?]
Should we be surprised if some of them end up being influenced by extremist views and take anti-social action?
It is time for parents and communities to take ownership and responsibility for their children's and their own future.
[Blame the parents! Blame the Parents! (to the tune of "Blame Canada") this essay started off so well... then it became a parody and a cliche - blame the parents.]
ASIA NEWS NETWORK