Can we question ourselves?

I am reading a book about the rise of the middle class in Zimbabwe which describes the inevitable emergence of people who wanted to take advantage of the new colonial dispensation to improve their lives.

Often they were derisively called ‘mission natives’ because the Christian missionaries had taught them to ask questions and they were seen by the establishment as irritants to the settled order they desired – one divided neatly into masters and servants.

The book describes the steps taken by the colonial government to hold these people back and ‘keep them in their place.’ Laws concerning land, education, trade, industry, etc, were all enacted to block the advance of this group. Looking back over the period we are left wondering how the rulers could not see they were erecting a puny barricade against a social movement that was inevitable and could not be stopped.

They thought up reasons, which they shared among themselves, to build up convincing arguments about the wisdom of their policies. Anyone who questioned them was dismissed as someone ‘who does not understand the local situation.’ We can easily see now they were building on sand but our human capacity to deceive ourselves for short term gain has not been cured by looking at the long list of similar efforts elsewhere.

To jump to the present, how is it possible that the rulers who are being toppled one by one in the Arab world could not see that the people they ruled would never accept permanent exclusion from running the affairs of their countries. And the turmoil will not end until every dictator is removed.

Experience gives us some wisdom but what of the policies we are wedded to today? There may be things to which we are blind and for which our children will condemn us. This past week President Obama has reversed his policy of promoting a cleaner environment in America because of the pressure he is under to promote jobs.

The belief is that you can either have a cleaner environment or more jobs. You can’t have both. But history may deal harshly with our generation for our lack of courage in dealing with the seemingly unstoppable advance of global warming.

Another issue that countries scramble to find short term solutions for is immigration. There is growing frustration, anger and fear in some countries in Europe about the number of immigrants they receive from Africa and Asia. They seem unable to come up with policies that promote stability and development in the countries where the immigrants come from.

No one willingly leaves the land of their birth. People are driven to migrate because they cannot survive in their own countries. Yet with all the might of the major world economies they cannot come up with solutions that could make our world a fairer and better place to live.

We cannot stand aside from these issues and say it is for the politicians to decide. A change of mind begins with individuals and if it is sound it will become contagious and grow into a consensus that enables politicians to make generous decisions that can eventually lead to a better world for all.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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