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Dhaka Tribune

What to tell the young about what is happening in the world today?

 Is it possible to imagine a just world? Is our yearning for a better world a futile endeavour, a mere dream? Is the world beyond repair?

Update : 04 Nov 2023, 11:58 AM

What to tell the young people these days about what is happening in the world and why? 

The world is in a moral quandary caused by wars, indiscriminate deaths, and destruction. When a catastrophe unfolds, and lives are lost in a distant corner of the world, our sadness is tempered by pragmatism. 

We understand that tragedies are an unfortunate part of life. Nature remains neutral, alternating between kindness and beauty on some occasions and ruthless destruction on others. For those with religious beliefs, theodicy provides solace. 

But when we know for a fact that wars, violence, destruction, and aerial bombardment upon people who barely have a roof over their heads, are not acts of nature but of humans, that becomes difficult to accept. And yet you read anodyne headlines “an explosion happened” and not, “airplanes bombed which caused explosions and deaths.”

Meanwhile, a certain country acts like the mythical hydra, thumping around the world, preaching conflicting edicts and commands to different people using different heads as it suits it; fuelling destruction and providing weaponry and ammunition somewhere while simultaneously championing human rights and democracy elsewhere.

You know the world has gone mad when even outspoken philosopher Slavoj Žižek faces heckles at the Frankfurt Book Fair for speaking the truth. Žižek expressed his disappointment over the cancellation of an award ceremony for author Adania Shibli for her book Minor Detail, linking it to the spread of cancel culture. Philosopher and gender scholar Judith Butler was lucky, she did not have to endure boos as she expressed her mind boldly to the radio show “Democracy Now” to an agreeable interlocutor in the person of Amy Goodman. 

Why do we feel depressed when civilian people at some distance and unrelated to us are subjected to bombing for no fault of their own? Physical distance cannot always impact one’s moral sensibility? I call this international moral economy when I see people from afar donating to save lives of victims in faraway places. 

People donated generously to famine reliefs when their moral sensibilities were pricked by the images they saw on television and newspapers as intrepid reporters filed those images of starving babies.  

Is the world truly a lawless world? Why do some countries enjoy immunity even after committing crimes against humanity? Why are they not required to comply with international laws? 

And why does the sole superpower facilitate the violation by supplying the means of destruction to the aggressor? And the same superpower on another occasion imposed sanctions against another aggressor? So, are there good aggressors and bad aggressors? 

This part is difficult to understand for the young people. Is it a matter of coordinates, a matter of geography? Or is it the case that all human lives are not equal, some human lives are more valuable than others?

Honesty is preferable to hypocrisy. Maybe the international conventions should be revised so that these additional clauses can be inserted. It appears dropping a bomb to kill a brown man, woman, child, wheelchair-bound person does not count as a violation of human rights. 

Human right is not a right, it is a privilege and must be restricted to people with a certain skin tone (once, the late Carl Sagan scientifically observed that all humans share different shades of brown, dispelling the notion of anyone being truly "white." Let us set aside the great educator Carl Sagan and bring Immanuel Kant to reflect on his thoughts on “perpetual peace.” 

Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher in 1795 advanced the thesis of “perpetual peace” in an essay with the same title. Among other things, he wrote: “For a state is not a property (patrimony), as may be the ground on which its people are settled. It is a society of human beings over whom no one but itself has the right to rule and to dispose. Like the trunk of a tree, it has its own roots, and to graft it on to another state is to do away with its existence as a moral person, and to make of it a thing.” 

With democracy, and respect for sovereignty, perpetual peace may be possible. What would Kant say to all this craziness of our time? 

Are wars and violence rooted in human nature? Seventeenth century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes is a better guide to tackle this question. Hobbes would be both surprised and not surprised at the same time. 

He would say, I told you that in the state of nature life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” But he would quickly add, I also mentioned that a social contract would result in an orderly society, albeit by creating a monstrous authority, Leviathan.

Why do the young feel that the world is unjust? Is it possible to imagine a just world? Is our yearning for a better world a futile endeavour, a mere dream? Is the world beyond repair?

Habibul Haque Khondker is a sociology professor at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi who previously taught at the National University of Singapore.

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