- No definition of poverty can ever hope to truly fathom with accuracy what it really means to be poor
- Globalisation is the intensification of worldwide links and affects distant, far away, localities
- Globalisation has no space for people-centred ideologies
In his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation, EVANGELII GAUDIUM, Pope Francis, firmly and eloquently drew the attention of all global leaders, big and small, to fight poverty and growing inequality with the sharpest words and phrases ever, on the dominant economic system, which he pointed out derives from “the tyranny of unfettered capitalism and the ideology of money.”
The world is at present mid-way into the second decade of the 21st Century, yet, still lacking the political will and moral courage and resolve, to delve deep into the policies, and structures that perpetuates poverty and inequality; And to conscientiously adopt whatever socio-economic adjustments and policy changes that are imperative, in order to end the scourge affecting the lives of billions of human beings on the face of this earth.
The fact is that no definition of poverty can ever hope to truly fathom with accuracy what it really means to be poor – the misery, the degradation, the squalor, the helplessness, the desperation, the powerlessness, and the callous oppression in many forms experienced. Perhaps, the only way of truly grasping what it actually means to people who are condemned to suffer it, is, to examine with empathy and sensitivity the lives of the poor around us.
Thus, Pope Francis made a point in this context by alluding to the irony of the difference in the manner in which we react to a news item of an elderly homeless man who dies of exposure to the harsh elements, and, the news item of the stock market losing two-points !!
Nearly two decades ago, Anthony Giddens in his celebrated book entitled The Consequences of Modernity, (Cambridge; Polity Press, 1990), described globalization, the twin partner of unfettered Capitalism, as the primary cause of all the socio-economic and political issues that are bedevilling mankind at present.
He defined globalisation, “as the intensification of worldwide social relations which linked distant, far away, localities in such a way, that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice-versa”.
Pope Francis, made a point in this context by alluding to the irony of the difference in the manner in which we react to a news item of an elderly homeless man who dies of exposure to the harsh elements, and, the news item of the stock market losing two-points
As many enlightened people know and remember Globalised Capitalism is quite a different kettle of fish to the wave of internationalism that blew across the globe for many years.
When globalization arrived, it brought with it a trail of different multidimensional agendas, one of which was the integration of real national economies with world capitalism, leading to the latter’s geographical reach spreading within a short period of time.
It not merely confined itself to gripping the local economic sphere, but, more pertinently, impinged on a wide range of existing local socio-economic and political institutions and their policies, no less, on the culture and style of living traditions and values.
These influences gradually became hegemonic, with the ability and strength to force changes in the power structures and balances of societies in decision-making mechanisms and governance.
Following these changes, radical changes came about in the political philosophy, ideological constructs, institutions and processes in society, social organizations, and, far more damagingly, in the way people relate to each other in public, in private and in their personal life, which resulted in the fractured societies and the now chaotic world we live in today.
The print and electronic media present daily, heart-rending scenes of restless youth, frustrated students, underpaid workers, forced workers, abducted workers, wounded young and old women, child-labour and child-soldiers, and alarmingly, oppressed and silenced intellectuals, academics, and civil society activists, mainly Journalists.
Any innovative alternatives to capitalist development can be evolved ONLY when the background and magnitude of the present crises are understood and realised.
Globalisation has no space for people-centred ideologies and socio-economic policies which are challenged, distributed, and emptied of their real relevance. The market and capital must dominate the world of intellectual discourse, not the compelling issues of the vast majority of the global population, even if billions have to go to bed hungry.
“The worship of the ancient biblical Golden Calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and dictatorship of an impersonal economy, lacking a truly human purpose”, wrote Pope Francis; “The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their real concern for Human Beings.”
Poverty alleviation projects with a plethora of high-sounding names have been formulated at huge costs for implementation in response to the widespread evidence of prevailing poverty in practically every country sitting in the United Nations. These are supremely mere palliatives, and considering the magnitude of the global problem they are by no means a substitute for a genuine, determined, and committed fight against poverty and inequality.
The world today, for those who have eyes to see, and ears to hear and for intelligent and objective observers, has sunk into decadence, economically, socially, culturally, morally, ethically, and seems to be immersed in a quagmire of unprecedented superficiality.
There are wars among nations, ethnic and religious groups, social upheavals between haves and have-nots, heinous forms of crimes, domestic violence, political violence, break down of law and order, revolution and counter-revolution; corruption by the mightiest, politicians, bankers, and businessmen, blatant violations of time-honoured principles and codes of conduct and decency; blatant violations of constitutions, democracy, the judiciary and the executive organs of administration. Even religious institutions are not exempt.
All of these have emerged, slowly but surely, as the inevitable consequences of a model of development that harshly treads on all alternative models of development, and imposed itself through-out the world. This model has been intrinsically exploitive of nations and people with little power between nations and of course within nations, and ruthlessly, the environment of our planet as well. That is precisely why Pope Francis was constrained to remark that, “unfettered capitalism is an amoral pursuit where the guiding stars, were not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but only, ‘profit’ and ‘loss’, which will be harder to sustain, sooner than later.”
The world remains in this chaotic state because, we, the people, are now experiencing an “existential vacuum”. We are confused, distracted, uninterested, selfish, self-centred and self-absorbed. It is imperative that all peoples wake-up to this reality before there is some form of universal calamity. Governments, civil society, and religious organizations should actively engage themselves in developing and promoting a more just and sustainable model and style of living, not by rhetoric but by example. It is the bounden duty and responsibility of intellectuals, professionals, businessmen, academics, politicians in particular, and religious leaders to wake-up and comes to the aid of the world and its people that are in a state of anguish.
(This is an updated version of an article which first appeared in the book Prophetic Indictments - The Failed Neoliberal Paradigms of Economics, Politics, Governance, Society and Science in Sri Lanka and Globally: The collected works of Dr Mervyn D. de Silva, published by Tulane Jubilee Publications, Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, 2018. Available now at the VijithaYapa, Godage and Barefoot Bookshops)