Nepali Times
Here And There
In the future


It's often hard to believe that this is the 21st century, yet so little have many of our human traits and attitudes evolved. We have technology, communications, and transport that make our world tiny and connected. We have medicines to slay or tame ferocious pandemics. Many of us pay lip service to variations of communitarian values and compassion.

Yet war, violence, pestilence, and poverty persist and become ever more pernicious. Western societies that could be using their vast wealth and influence for good instead use coercion and military might to get their way. They sell arms and wasteful consumer goods to foreign elites and guerrilla groups with access to natural resources. Corruption is deplored abroad and encouraged at home. Human rights, equality, and social justice are empty mantras to be disregarded at the first opportunity for power or profit.

Fundamentalism is on the march across religions and economics. Obscurantists hold undue sway in Washington and Riyadh, Islamabad and Jerusalem. They push false civilisational values that obscure our commonalities and emphasise our differences. They flourish when we're fearful, afraid of them, afraid of death, frightened even of our sexuality.

Free market fire-breathers dominate international institutions, despite decades of proof that unleashing capitalism without checks and balances does more harm than good. Corporate interests have captured so much public space that governing is often little more than making as much room as possible for them. What the World Bank and its ilk refer to as \'good governance\' means stepping aside and letting established private interests have unaccountable access to local resources.

What is most saddening about this is not that some promised utopia hasn't materialised-we're all aware of the ravages wrought by communism and its variants that are themselves little more than religions requiring faith and unbending adherence to overlords. No, it's the missed opportunities, the unrealised potential for good. All it would take is a little imagination and a modicum of defiance.

Imagine a world where the main thrust of pharmaceutical research was to save and enhance lives regardless of ability to pay. What if our drug companies poured their resources into finding cures for cancer, AIDS, malaria, and diseases of poverty, rather than magic pills that make fat people thin and enable erections in middle class beds? What if communications were all about connecting problems with solutions, irrespective of profit potential, so computer giants in Bangalore could enable the spread of literacy in Africa rather than accounting systems for tobacco firms?

What if media told us how we were similar, how many of our problems could be addressed through common approaches, rather than providing a platform for divisiveness, greed and hatred. What if we used television and the internet to truly hold our elites to account, rather than making pornography and soap operas? Why not tackle global hunger, thirst and injustice with same zeal and financial commitment as the \'war on terror\'. That's admittedly a bad example, though, as the whole endeavour has been a profit-driven, power-enhancing farce.

As a father of teenage offspring, I despair that the world my children will inherit is not significantly better than the one I took over a few decades back. It is worse.

There is much more money around. Mobile phones are everywhere. The web reaches into places we didn't know existed. Many of our cities are awash with new construction and air travel has eliminated remoteness. But for much of the planet, relentless toil, illness, and conflict remain daily realities and there's damn all that many of us rich westerners, or developing world elites, have done about it.

I hope my kids do a better job of imaging their futures.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)