With multiple crises besieging us, we cannot rely on the political elite and their excessive politicking, Sonia Randhawa writes.
Our democratic processes are in regression.
Think of the farcical appointment without recourse to due process of Art Harun, who had manifested such hope as Election Commission chair; the punitive arrest of Rayhan Kabir for shedding some light on our collective treatment of migrant workers; and the clampdown on the media and civil society.
Fear of government is once more trying to take root in our psyche.
The problem today is we just don’t have time for these power games. We are facing emergencies on multiple fronts. The pandemic hasn’t gone away. It is biding time and will be back, with more devastation on the lives of those directly affected by illness and on the ability of countless others to make a daily living.
Sadly, it will probably, once again, be the poorest and most marginalised (like migrant workers and refugees) who bear the brunt of our collective fear and anger.
Yet, the pandemic is a symptom. It is a symptom of our dysfunctional relationship with the rest of nature. It is a symptom of our rushed world that allows an illness to spread like wildfire across the globe in less than three months. It is a symptom of climate crisis, and scientists say there will be more to come.
We should be in emergency mode, not just to tackle this pandemic, but to tackle the underlying root causes of this pandemic: our relationship with the non-human, more-than-human parts of the planet.
I remember a (Malay) friend, now deceased, lamenting the destruction of the Malaysian peninsula’s natural resources as evidence of the desecration of the Malay soul. If the Malays were not disconnected from their inheritance as protectors and guardians of the land, rather than the nation, they would not have allowed development to proceed with so little respect for this patrimony, my friend added.
I would go further: it is the most abiding aspect of colonialism that we see the world divided into us and nature, and that nature is merely a resource for exploitation, rather than being integral to our identity, wellbeing and security.
The need to reform this relationship with nature, as external, as other, is the real crisis. It is an existential threat – which means a threat to all life on this planet. And we’re running out of time, much faster than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts.
The IPCC is a consensus forum, the recommendations that come out of it are what the world’s governments and scientists can agree upon. They are not the best-case scenarios, but they are wildly conservative scenarios, based on conservative science. And they are being challenged by reality.
We have already reached one degree of warming.
At this temperature, coral reefs are on course for extinction, with no more warming.
At this temperature, bushfires are burning for longer, with greater intensity, across more of the planet.
At this temperature, sea level rises are accelerating.
At this temperature, we are faced with a pandemic that has already killed almost 700,000 people across the planet.
With over 18 million having faced the coronavirus, we don’t have statistics yet on how many people’s lives continue to be affected by the long-term illness that affects some survivors of mild Covid-19. And we have no idea of the long-term implications on matters such as fertility, life expectancy or immunity.
What frightens me is now, when we need leadership which can plan a strategy to lead us through the next few decades in ways that build a resilient future for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren, we are being led by a pack of bickering five-year-olds, fighting over sweets in the playground. And threatening the adults who try to resolve the issues.
We don’t have time for this. We don’t have the luxury of politicking: which is not an argument for authoritarianism but an argument to move beyond electoral politics with its winner-takes-all focus on power at the top.
Instead, we need to move towards a participatory, inclusive democratic process rooted in the power at the bottom – such as a citizens’ assembly or something similar.
We don’t have to be at the mercy of career politicians. There are better ways to do democracy.
The problem is we need to act on the crises facing our nation – now, not 10 years in the future. Every minute we fail to act on the climate and ecological crises is a minute wasted.
I don’t know the solutions, but if we all felt that urgency, then perhaps we could come together and discover some ways forward that don’t rely on the political elite.