Is there a way to fix the complex social problems that plague our society to really be a developed nation by 2040?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Bangladesh keeps trying to achieve first world dreams with third world policies. The reason why this is problematic, minus the obvious is that our goal is quantity not quality. For instance, we have more than 165 million people (quantity/easy slave labour) who are being marked literate based just on their ability to write their name, or when they added a “special provision” in the Child Marriage Act that will essentially allow a rapist to marry their underage survivor without her consent but just with her parents’ or a judge (let’s not even begin the conversation on women or their consent because these are too “foreign” a concept round these parts).
We have mastered the art of fudging the numbers. Scamming the system to meet our “development” goals, but to what end? In the end, the ridiculously large volume of humans living in a tiny New York apartment size country is going to spill over, either like chaos theory or like crabs in a bucket; your pick. Our “leaders” have figured it out; slaves to capitalism that’s eating the West alive right now, they’re paying workers $50 a month and pocketing the rest to buy homes in “better” countries for their children to live in.
If the national policy is to take the money and run, then there is nobody left to focus on reinvesting in the country, which is precisely why we have never returned to a post-war societal status. The real challenge is putting our money where our mouth is. For example the constitution that believes in equity, has never been taught at a primary level as a guiding principle of civil life.
Things like social contract, that underline everything from waiting at a traffic light to paying tax, are so alien that everyone fights to run through the red light never understanding that it would be better to wait your turn than to take from someone else’s, leading to state sanctioned acceptance of the tragedy of commons.
The governing idea of democracy’s consent to rule has never been understood or institutionalized and as a result, we have forever supplanted national identity with religious identity misappropriating it with cultural and social norms to act like freewheeling thugs without repercussions.
So how do we even remotely attempt to solve this seemingly intractable problem? First adopt a “yes” culture. It sounds simple enough but Bangladesh is full of negative reinforcement. Everywhere you look, it’s all about control and negative reinforcement. We are always confronted with a “you can’t do this” attitude from people with acute arrested development issues. What the “yes we can” attitude teaches us, is learning, learning from failure and encouragement to aim higher.
This is important because we must first acknowledge our limitations but also innovate around them. Just like we did with our RMG industry back then, we must see our limitations now-a lack of skilled labour, capacity building and critical thinking skills and innovate to instill them. Because these are the skills that will help us understand our role in society better, that will lead to functioning in society better, which in turn will let society serve us better. It is the same circular logic that explains why negative reinforcement has been feeding this cycle of toxic culture.
But how do we get there? We could have to give up control. This trickle down policy implementation doesn’t work, neither in economics nor for social change. The powers that be should understand that laws like the draconian NGO Act harm them more than it helps. Let the people whose jobs are to instill skills and the understanding of how to function in a democracy, freely implement their programs.
We must let people have freedom, agency and a sense of accomplishment. Our grassroots projects need to be more than meeting UN goals, these projects must help internalizing good governance principles. Our women must have equal social and economic freedom, our inability to recognize them as humans first and gender second is robbing the society of a crucial balancing power that keeps toxic masculinity and male entitlement in check.
Ultimately, the first step in fixing our complex social problems is for the government to stop parenting and patronizing our people. It needs to stop fearing that once individual rights and human agency is realized, it will start acting against them. They will not, if people have the freedom to explore their own potential, if resources are made available to live out their lives, not in abject intellectual and economic poverty. It exists, in small pockets in Dhaka city, but it needs to be decentralized and sent flying all over the country. The most important thing we can do to solve what seems to be an intractable problem is to get to the core and untangle it. Ours just happens to be fear, fear of the people.
Esha Aurora is a Staff Sub-Editor, Dhaka Tribune