Signs of Our Times

When I was young I used to enjoy a good “Western” yarn. The gunslinging heroes, saloon scraps, and endless cattle herds filled the imagination. A scene often repeated, with variations, was that of a protagonist locked up in a cell, with a baying Lynch mob outside demanding summary execution. Often, the local sheriff would round up a posse to chase down a bad guy. The outlaw, brought to heal, was dealt short justice; timing was determined by the proximity of a suitable tree. The posse would return to town, and head for the saloon to wash the blood down. In the outside scene tumble weed blow across the town, and dust settles on all that hive of activity.

What has not changed? We still go crazy in a herd situation. The mob may not string up poets of bad verses, but they easily overlook niceties when properly warmed up for the occasion. I sit at Liberty’s feet and ponder: “ Lady, your lamp is lamp no longer; it’s a torch in the hands of anarchists.” Simple, good, well-intended people may set out on intended peaceful expressions civic rights. But, their aspirations and motives can be overwhelmed when sympathetic groups join their number. The voice and placards is amplified, raising passions and bravado. Simple words turn to missiles: property becomes the object of vented fury. When Law enforcements try to push the people back in line, violence erupts, amid accusations and counter accusation. In the chaos, it becomes a free for all – all grievances smothering  intent for reform.

Some would resolutely call this an expression of a “healthy democracy”. People have become desensitised enough to label disrespectful verbal abuse as “robust debate”. We are all beneficiaries ( hence also defenders ) of our fragile democratic principles. Some are chosen for greater responsibility – hence with authority to bring about greater good. Unfortunately, spoilt by privilege, they prefer to sit in comfort. It turns farce when some join the protesters outside, effectively protesting their own impotences. In every structure people would rather point fingers rather than exert themselves to act as change agents. Every day, across the country, hosts of investigations and enquiries are being funded by the innocent citizens. Unabashedly, politicians, and even administrators, entrusted with governance, call for Royal Commissions or Inquiry of some name – the accused turned accuser!

Tennyson said, a good custom can corrupt the world. So it is with Democracy. We may have over-indulged on Freedom. Little acts of social action and broadsheets, conscientiously printed off letterpress machines, have been devoured by insatiable monsters that are getting hard to handle. Our temple to Liberty is tottering, toxins corroding its foundations and the structures. Like arrant kids we frolic ignoring the shaky walls.