Storm and stress, bread and circus

Asia is a continent under siege. It has some four billion souls, being 60 per cent of the world population. Two of its most populous countries, India and China, account for more than one-third of human beings on the planet – with all the attendant heartache that this brings home to town and city.

To its west, the so-called Middle East is experiencing no little socio-political turmoil following several tumultuous weeks of revolutionary fervour in North Africa: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya. Countries like Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia specialize so much in the sex trade that children as young as five fall prey to the darker lusts of the flesh. Following the El Niño phase of a global weather pattern known as ENSO, La Niña is now making the doldrums between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn close contenders to natural-disaster hell on earth by dint of cyclones, heavy rainfall, and earthquake-landslide-flashflood cycles.

Some, in superstition-driven or supernatural-explanation-prone circles, say that it is the judgment of the gods, demons, or other spiritual beings. Others maintain a man-made rationale for the retaliation of nature red in tooth and claw, compounded by the egregious excesses of the earth’s human populace. A few hold that a combination of heavenly and hellish factors has caused the present concerns of disaster, disease, and death. Whoever’s right, there’s no doubt that Asia is facing a prolonged period of storm and stress.

In response to the attacks by earth and sky and land and sea, Asia’s resilient populations have responded variously. Inclement weather and overpopulated metropolises have contributed in no small measure to the first of a series of mass migrations in search of greener pastures and safer shelters. Those who can’t move, stay put – and suffer the vicious verdict of Mother Nature or other foster-fatherly deities on human endeavour in terms of (mis-)managing the environment. Meanwhile, the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow lures this continent’s populace to destinations as diverse as San Francisco, Sao Paulo, and St. Louis. In a seemingly contrapuntal move, wealth is coming to or being manufactured by Asians. Japan, South Korea, India, and China are among the largest-GDP nations. This is to say nothing of the countries with the heftiest foreign reserves being mostly in Asia.

Just add Taiwan and Singapore to the countries named above for a smattering of six such examples of economic powerhouses east of the Ganges. And did I mention that the accumulated wealth of Asia’s high-net-worth individuals totals something like US$ 10 billion, give or take? Also the fact that Asia’s internet population is the largest in cyberspace, with some 750,000,000 of these denizens of the net accounting for the top 20 such aggregations worldwide. Sport is the other major diversion of Asian populations – and the ongoing Cricket World Cup 2011 is proof enough of the currency we invest in circuses of the athletic type. Forget bread for the nonce.

And that brings me to the point of this rambling but reflective piece. Which, despite statistics culled in the abstract and generalizations pounced on more out of anomie than annoyance, seeks to alert readers to this picayune bit of thinking. That while storms, thunder and tectonic plates stress, there is an altogether cleverer species than mere Homo sapiens who is happy to let the fortune cookie crumble, even as they feather their own nest (if you will pardon the awfully mixed metaphor). These creatures are gargoyles in their hideous appearance and have a Gollum-like love of what is precious to them. Namely, the pursuit of life and happiness at other people’s liberty.

They are the gremlins in the engine of all that is good. The griffins who jealously guard the ill-gotten gold that they have acquired at the expense of the general populace. All of them have one thing in common. The greater good they loudly espouse and lovingly serve is focussed entirely on self. I, Me, and My is the motto that unites this crème de la crème of the servants of the people whose sense of self-preservation is outshone only by their exaggerated sense of self. And they will deny the axiomatic privileges of democratic socialist republics among other polities by virtue of an exquisite sense of timing. Which is to say, Carpe diem! Strike while the iron of cricket fever is hot and we can smuggle a local-government election by the people.

Who will not even wonder why a Provincial Council to a conflict-ravaged part of southern Asia is not even on the cards. Nor why high-security zones are abolished on paper, but still exist on the ground. Never how a state of emergency has survived the end of a war by almost two years. This, in a society where terrorism is the hooliganism of sports fans starved of victory or the schoolboy thuggery that passes for tradition. Walls around public spaces may be coming down, but the aggrandized approach of the powers that be to dissent and difference is compromising the fabric of the pluralistic society in which we live. Something’s got to give. Soon.

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