Friday, August 12, 2011

Fear, Anger and Power: The End of Ideology

By Dr. Suhaib Riaz.

While the looting continued in London's streets in the last few days, looting of a different type continued across financial markets. The UK has finally asserted that "those people who are responsible for this wrongdoing and criminality: you will feel the full force of the law and if you are old enough to commit these crimes you are old enough to face the punishment" (Prime Minister Cameron). At the same time, the SEC has started investigating who had prior insider knowledge of Standard & Poor's historic downgrade of the US credit rating (at least one thing to come out of this is the much needed focus on Debt underlying the current crisis, that I have been mentioning for a while). There seems little doubt that some had this very specific knowledge and cashed in on it, as seen from recent market behavior, and also as learned from observing recent high profile cases such as Galleon Group, which revealed the level of power abuse by elites having inside knowledge. 

There are strong parallels between the looting elites and the looting downtrodden, and one wonders if one is indeed inspired by the other (I leave it to your imagination: who inspires whom?). Both are driven by base instincts rather than by any clear ideology with political or social goals. Both focus simply on abusing their power as much as they can and appropriating what they can for themselves - the overall society be damned. But despite these similarities, is there any doubt which looters will be caught and which ones will likely escape?

Regardless, these trends reveal something profound about our age. All ideologies have failed and the basest instincts have taken over. Even those purporting to act under any ideology, whether political or religious, use it simply as an excuse for acting on base instincts, rather than for any 
societal benefit based on logical or intellectual conviction. Fear, anger and power-abuse capture the reality of the streets and the markets alike. 

No one is likely to be spared from this bout of base instincts sweeping the world. The problem is no longer a distant or abstract story on news channels, but rather, is crystallized into our everyday experiences, if we bother to think and reflect.

A single personal experience can sometimes help crystallize one's thoughts on where we are headed. Recently, crossing the border from Canada into another country, one is simply confused at the extraordinary power abuse on display. When you're asked what you do, and try to explain, you're met with an angry response shouted at you, "I know what a University professor does, I'm not an idiot!"...and this is just one of a string of similar expressions. Fear, anger and power-abuse feed on each other. Such senseless and out-of-place anger thrives in an environment marked by collective fear, which in turn sanctions such abuse of power. 

It seems everyone is angry at, or in fear of, everyone else, and is out to abuse one's power over others as much as possible. This is the absence of all ideology, and the  triumph of base instincts. Are we all condemned to live in such a world for the near future?

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