“The roots of violence: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principles.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Rather like the state of the world today. We see violence in many forms, of which the latest is the scandal revealed of the ‘expenses bonanza’ of British MPs using public money to maintain their own lifestyle. This at a time when millions of their fellow citizens struggle to cope with the economic meltdown.
Ordinary people lose jobs, their homes, their possessions; children go to bed hungry, their education suffers. After a long period of posturing by the rulers and their clamor to punish ‘benefit cheats’, the day of reckoning has arrived. Britain’s political parties are on the defensive not seen in living memory.
Recent disclosures in the Daily Telegraph newspaper make clear that the ‘benefit regime’ for British MPs, under the rules which they themselves made, had been evolving for almost thirty years. Under the regime, large amounts of state money were claimed for gardening and for food; private homes were frequently bought and sold, in one case three times in a single year, pocketing the money gained and avoiding the capital gains tax; lavish furniture, clothes, pet food, bought at taxpayers’ expense.
In one of the most outspoken attacks, former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, condemns ‘the culture of abuse’ and warns that respect for parliament in Britain has reached a new low.
Of course, the crisis is more serious and widespread. ‘The culture of abuse’ in governance is both self-serving and self-perpetuating. It shows malignant disregard for people outside the political bubble.
The attention of those outside the political bubble is often kept engaged with endless talk of external threats like terrorism, evil dictators and illegal immigrants trying to flood into ‘our country’. Rulers may assume the right to launch ‘pre-emptive attacks’ that cause floods of refugees in other parts of the world. But the refugees may not have the right to asylum in the countries that cause the crises.
Today, warfare has become a business and an instrument to make enormous amounts of money. For private firms like Blackwater in the United States, combat in the battlefield, military training, consulting and personal security for high-ranking officials – the list of what they would do for inflated prices is long. In recent years, it has been official practice to award contracts to firms of choice, without any real competition. Vested interests prosper as a result.
Poverty is a form of violence. When an abusive culture has set in and people in power have become comfortable in their own self-serving environment, their interests fly against the needs of the wider society. The consequence is more acute poverty, disruption and chaos. The cause is rich feeding off poor. The effect a state of failure, as we see today.
The above comment appeared in ZNet and CounterPunch on May 13, 2009.