Corrosion of Character : A serious social issue

18 May 2015 07:19 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Stable relationships wither away, leaving small networks of selfish individuals engaged in unending consumption

Highly unstable networks of atomised individuals are hardly a substitute for supportive social relationships.

I have written several articles earlier on some of the de-humanising effects of Neo-Liberal Capitalism. Several critical social analysts, one of the most notable among them being Richard Sennet, in his Corrosion of Character, have looked at how unstable work in new capitalism undermines the moral foundation of personality of young people today.

An extreme form of individualism seems to flourish under transient employment- that increasingly characterises modern work places in the transnational space.

Stable social relationships around work and family often tend to weaken or wither away, often leaving small networks of selfish individuals engaged in unending pleasurable consumption.  The service industries that take the lion’s share of the social surplus generated by the toiling masses across the world mop-up youth with modern skills from around the world and employ them in high-tech service industries.

ICT industries have captured the imagination of the younger generations including even small children. Many youths have become slaves to ICT gadgets, often almost totally absorbed by them leaving little space either for enduring human contact or for long established modes of intellectual and moral development such as reading and hands on activities that have long been  part of upbringing in civilized societies. Many children often grow up outside long established modes of socialization and personality development.   The owners of internet based service industries are among the new billionaires cropping up in different parts of the world.

It is true that, despite everything mentioned above, there is an enormous potential to put ICT into numerous applications and uses that can enrich human relations and improve social and economic conditions in all societies. We are yet to exploit this potential to benefit human societies. There are numerous possibilities in the above regard.

The state is no longer the repository of the social surplus generated by people in many countries today.

In fact, most states today are heavily indebted to financial institutions, other countries and even well to do citizens as the demands on the State for social investments far exceed their capacity to generate revenue to meet the expenses involved.

Today, migration to a more prosperous country is the biggest craze among youth in most countries in the developing world. The primary motivation is to find jobs that pay higher wages, no matter what these jobs are. As a result, millions of youth are on the move, across continents. They leave behind their families, long standing, more stable social networks and even elderly parents.

Highly unstable networks of atomised individuals are hardly a substitute for the more stable and supportive social relationships.

Uprooted young men and women try to build up friendship networks in the cyber space using social media but such networks can hardly be a substitute for more meaningful social networks that still exist in more stable rural agricultural communities.

Their constant struggle to connect with other personal acquaintances is more a source of frustration than satisfaction. Yet, more and more youth leave rural communities in favour of urban and overseas destinations, where more money can be made.

Being able to send money home is a big achievement. Those who are left behind wait for regular remittances sent by family members employed in urban centres or overseas.

Education is no longer the basis of intellectual and moral development. People who do well after their education are those who acquire professional skills in medicine, modern technology, commerce, law, business management, international languages and fields and not youths who have excelled in intellectual pursuits in such fields as philosophy, literature and social, political and cultural studies.

In the eyes of the average parent, most politicians and business leaders, the latter fields are worthless, and sooner the children are weaned away from them, better it is.

In this country, Arts graduates have no future because they cannot find employment in the new economy. So, young men are leaving the Arts stream in large numbers and are only a trickle in the Faculties of Arts at our universities today.

Even the few who remain have a bleak future. Their frustration manifests in various ways including violent protests in the streets.

Meanwhile, even those who do non-Arts degrees in such fields as agriculture and general sciences move into positions in private companies and public institutions, where what they do has nothing to do with their subject knowledge. i.e. bank tellers, administrative officers and clerks.

Weaning children and youth away from a broader Liberal Arts education either by design or by default are likely to have long term consequences for moral development and social peace.

The super fast life facilitated by modern technology promotes a tendency for instant gratification rather than a more realistic appreciation of possibilities and their personal and social consequences.

New individualism and mindless consumption are no doubt in keeping with the imperatives of globalised capitalism but their social and environmental consequences are unmistakable.

While media driven mass consumption and travel become cherished life goals, many young people have no time to waste but look for short cuts to success.

Instead of building up a life-long career with patience, respecting long established norms of career advancement, many resort to job hopping or all sorts of insidious manipulation of relationships within and outside organisations.

The tacit silence on the surface by almost everybody allows such behaviour to continue, as the tactic works in most cases.

Personal relationships become superficial and are easily terminated, often with change of jobs or place of work or retirement.

There are no longer enduring human bonds that last for a life time. Human character has been altered irreversibly.

This does not however mean that people do not crave for relatedness. When the make-up of modern capitalist societies becomes devoid of closely knit neighbourhood, work and other social relationships, highly individualistic, consumerist aspirations drive individuals-even within families.

When the private companies take over most of the hitherto socially provided services such as education, healthcare, elderly care, childhood socialisation, leisure, celebration of life events like birthdays, weddings and even funerals, very little is left to the state, neighbourhood, and even family.

Walt Disney and a few other companies have everything that children should read, play with, interact with or relate to. There is nothing intrinsically bad about the substance, but the problem is that the messenger alienates the child from those who are closest to them.

Children easily become addicted and resist any overtures by loving adults, including parents. All that parents have to do is to buy a tablet, produced by another big company, with a fast enough internet connection and even pre-school children these days know how and what to find.

They progress rapidly into higher stages of life with the aid of ever more sophisticated gadgets that take them further and further away from ground realities, into the depths and breath of the cyber world, until a massive earthquake or some other human induced disaster brings them down to the
ground, literally.

But, then it is too late for them to trace their steps back to where it all started. For them, it is time to move on, in search of a place where normal life is possible. So, more and more people become itinerant and are constantly in search of new places to go. This is possible in a world where social surplus in the form of private capital is mobile.  Ever expanding cities and developed countries are the places that promise good life. Elsewhere, it is an eternal struggle for a majority of people, with poverty, disease, crime, violence and poor state services around them.

Thousands of hapless people jump into fishing boats and head towards Europe, Northern Americas or Australia.

While the most talented people are welcomed with open arms, border guards and the Police are deployed to stop
boats carrying people who are fleeing miserable conditions in poorly governed, conflict ridden countries.

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