The year 2016 was a witness to a number of game-changing events across the world. The vote by Britain to leave the European Union, the unexpected victory of Mr. Donald Trump in the race to the Oval office, the collapse of the Italian government as a result of the failed referendum to bring about constitutional changes, and the impeachment of the South Korean President are some of the many events that have cast a shadow of confusion, anxiety and indecision over the people of the major democracies of the world. The authoritarian powers showed an ever increasing series of brazen acts of aggression—illegal occupation of foreign territories, military support for the Syrian dictatorship, flouting of international law, and the possibility of interference in the political process of some big democracies.
These developments may rightly be termed as harbingers of an age where the basic tenets holding up the edifice of a global society of peace and creative co-existence (human rights, human security, principles of democracy and the rule of law) would be transformed and driven by market-based economic rationality—prudent and logical decisions maximising self-interest. In the absence of a counterbalancing consideration of the human element in the pursuit of economic rationality, it is only a matter of time before the situation manifests itself as an age where individual leaders and nations pursue their own narrow interests without any constraints. It would not be long before the responsibility towards and shared benefit from a peaceful, just and inclusive global community, one that has the respect for the dignity of life as its foundation, is overlooked.
The Freedom in the World study shows that 67 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2016, compared with 36 that registered gains.
The grim situation is supported by the findings of the Freedom in the World study. The research shows that 67 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2016, compared with 36 that registered gains. This marked the 11th consecutive year in which declines outnumbered improvements. Furthermore, this decline was dominated by setbacks in political rights, civil liberties, or both, in the countries that were rated "Free" in the report—established democracies like France, Hungary, Poland, South Korea, etc. Nearly one-quarter of the countries experiencing the decline were European. Of the 195 countries assessed, 87 (45%) were rated "Free", 59 (30%) "Partly Free", and 49 (25%) "Not Free."
The findings further indicate that apart from forming loose coalitions to neutralise the efforts of the democratic nations to enforce global standards on democracy and human rights, authoritarian powers have reached out to various parties, movements and figures from democracies all the world. Alarmingly, such a move has people questioning the very basis of democracy. They have started harbouring the perspective that sovereign states are better equipped to address problems of economic inequality, rising immigration and various humanitarian crises. Citing the examples of authoritarian powers, people have started backing the idea of market-based economic rationality—rooting for the bucking of international commitments and maximisation of their self-interest. Such trends, coupled with the growing stagnation of the world economy have led to the strengthening of xenophobic impulses and political discourse in many parts across the world. Migrants and their families are finding the situation increasingly difficult.
Citing the examples of authoritarian powers, people have started backing the idea of market-based economic rationality—rooting for the bucking of international commitments and maximisation of their self-interest.
In light of such disturbing events, one is bound to be pessimistic about humanity's future. Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, in his 2017 peace proposal to the United Nations, has addressed this growing problem of xenophobia and the drive of maximisation of self-interest. Taking the example of the economist Dr. Amartya Sen, Dr. Ikeda points out that in his writings on social justice, Dr. Sen offers some important guideposts for thinking about the issue. Dr. Sen focuses on the distinction between two words used to convey the idea of justice in ancient Sanskrit literature—niti and nyaya. The propriety of institutions, rules and organisations refers to niti, whereas nyaya concerns what emerges and how, and in particular the lives people are actually able to lead. Sen points out that while niti occupies an important part of society, it focuses on the numeric—the growth rate and maximisation of profit. The vulnerable in society, because their interests are difficult to quantify, are hence neglected or even discarded. However, an inclusion of the concept of nyaya in society would indicate a constant and conscientious attention to one's actions, and the impact those would have on others, with human happiness and respect for the dignity of others serving as the foundational tenet.
On the basis of this approach, the strong connection between people would prove instrumental in serving as the social anchoring to help counter xenophobia and crumbing democratic scenarios. This connection would help us outweigh the distortion of the rich realities of individuals caused by viewing them on the basis of religion and ethnicity. Deep appreciation of each other's uniqueness, differences of ethnicity or religion, would in turn be illuminated by the dignity and worth of that person.
History shows that the key to dealing with even the most seemingly intractable challenges is when people come together and continue to do all in their power for the sake of others.
History shows that the key to dealing with even the most seemingly intractable challenges is when people come together and continue to do all in their power for the sake of others. With the belief that the ability to solve problems is not something reserved for people in power, friendship provides a basis to resist the currents of hatred and incitement at times of heightened tensions between countries or deepened conflict between religious traditions. Envisaging the faces of individual friends, determined not to allow society to become a place where they would feel unwelcome, we can work to create a society where diversity is defended and celebrated. Starting with our immediate environment, a rising tide of friendship, particularly among the youth, cannot fail to transform society to one of peace, with human dignity as its foundation.