Most people, certainly in the various societies where I have lived over the last decades, base their lives and their feelings on what they see directly around them and, more especially, on what directly effects them and their way of life, their lifestyle, their leisure hours, and what they perceive as being the Rights to freedom of movement, speech and religious belief. And if you ask anyone, from within these various stable and settled societies, what those Rights, what those demands on society are, you will get as many different answers as people you ask, but with one clear point: they place themselves and their immediate family in the centre of a circle whereby everyone on the periphery is of considerably lesser interest to them. Their interests are in themselves – which is understandable from a certain perspective – and not necessarily based upon the equally important welfare of those around them. Once they have ensured they can achieve, or have achieved, the highest possible quality of life, they might just take a look at the lives of others. Unless, of course, a certain level of guilt is brought into their sheltered lives, and they are forced to accept a certain moral stance by helping others with a small donation or, more likely, a word or two of support. Seasonal feelings and immediately following a major tragedy are the times of giving, for many, and at no other time of the year. These are also the times when thoughts are given to the welfare of others, mental or physical, because unless events are brought right before their eyes, or unless they experience them first hand, matters are of little personal importance.
An earthquake somewhere in the world, a hurricane which wrests all means of civilised living from a population, a mass shooting will all provoke reactions, but they are short-lived and tend to be erased from personal memory, from a feeling of moral or religious duty, as soon as the hand returns to their pocket, or the front door closes to keep them within their safe and secure environments. Constant reminders of problems elsewhere, of a continuing need for assistance, tend to be pushed back and diminished in their minds the more they see of an event. The modern person, it can safely be said, deletes the level of importance of those living through an event after that event has been covered several times; it becomes old news; there are other problems in the world demanding attention; we are fine, so that is good. Placing yourself in someone else’s shoes, in their life and situation, is practically impossible, unless you have lived it yourself. And even then, once a person is back within a safe and relatively secure environment, the level of importance, of personal feeling or recognition, falls.
So a war which took place in some distant land a decade ago, which might still be continuing on a smaller but equally devastating scale today, is of lesser importance to some than a new escalation of violence in a previously peaceful place. And things which happen on their own doorstep – and I can name many events right down from the refugee camps on Calais through to the mass murders in American cities – tend to be seen as a problem created by others which should also be solved by others. They are a brief antagonism, and then become old news which can be filed away as something still happening, but being dealt with by the appropriate authorities, whosoever that might be.
What we also see, and this should surprise no one since it is a facet of modern industrialised society going back centuries, is a level of wealth created on the backs of others, by the labour of others, which enriches the few, but does not raise their moral conscience in any perceivable manner. The richest man in the world, recently, complained that he did not know what to do with the billions of dollars he is worth, which he has banked and saved. Despite many people drawing his attention to the plight of his own workers, who receive minimal pay for their hours and work in appalling conditions, and the good his otherwise useless wealth could bring to tens of thousands of people in need worldwide, his stance remains the same, and his wealth grows. As with many others who either created their own wealth and should, therefore, know better, or inherited both wealth and a sense of being above and beyond ordinary people.
People who do travel and see the plight of others, and I did this in my youthful years, tend to be written off as Good Samaritans, or hippies, as libtards (an insult meaning liberal retard) and lefties without any true sense of how society operates today. They have, it is claimed, Communist thoughts and will make the world a better place without any real knowledge of the world, and by using means and riches available or belonging to other people, rather than their own. This is, of course, rarely true, but the movement to denigrate a person, an organisation, a line of thought, is ingrained in some parts of society today, in some news and social media, and in the attitudes of those who are brought up in relative comfort with almost everything their heart desires, and certainly more than their body needs. As is the use of sidelines, of distracting stories to change to narrative and distract from reality. Any society, as one example, which actively destroys the medical and health facilities available to those of lesser means, the poor and needful, is not going to be interested in taking notice of those in real need elsewhere, they are too busy creating their own major levels of poverty at home, and then finding people to blame for their tricks and crimes.
Our society today is one where people will complain and feel hardship if their favourite brand of peanut butter has sold out at the store, but overlook the homeless person outside that store who cannot even afford peanut butter, let alone bread.
There are countries which try to alleviate the problems, and I am pleased to live in a society that is at least trying. We need, however, to take the example of poorer countries to heart, though, such as Uganda who have a completely different refugee solution in place. I read today that they take refugees in and give them a small parcel of land, integrate them into local society, and let them maintain a lifestyle in keeping with local society as best they can through work and sustainable assistance. In industrialised nations the equivalent would be to allow them to train and to work and become useful members of society, those who are willing and able, and support themselves without detriment, but it is rare and not without detractors who claim, for some reason, that the uneducated, the untrained who cannot speak their own language, are taking jobs from them. What does that make of those making the claims? It is hardly an encouraging image. I know from personal experience that it can work, having been through the process myself: I arrived here in Germany without any knowledge of the language and without a trade, according to the German standards of learning; taught myself how to speak German and took the trade examinations. Given the chance, and motivation, anyone can follow this same path.
A world without books would be a very poor world indeed. Ray Bradbury envisioned it in 1953 with his work Fahrenheit 451, a society where books and the printed word were banned and actively sought out for destruction. The spread of knowledge, the means of learning are based around the printed medium, the ability to access books by a wide range of authors worldwide, and to learn from the past as much as from the present. Books are not just a means of learning, of course, but one of the finest inventions for relaxation, for leisure hours. They build interests and advance learning as much as inspire conversation and further education. They take people out of one world and place them in another, for good or bad, and spark the imagination beyond all measure.
Many people seem to think that the era of the book, much the same as with letter writing, has come to an end or that it will be ending very soon; the advance of electronic books and other mediums taking its toll on sales and the possibility of being published to any success. I feel it is the other way about: the advent of the electronic book will merely enhance the level of reading, through a new medium, and bring more people to owning books, to using libraries, to the great pleasures of literature and learning. It was often said that television would kill radio, that magazines and periodicals would kill newspapers, that the internet would kill everything, but this has proven to be false. Rather, the new mediums have enhanced what was there and added to them, not always with great success, but as an additional rather than a replacement. And by saying not with great success, I am referring more to the internet than anything else, which has managed to not only bring much good, as far as learning and communication are concerned, but also much that is bad, with conspiracy theories, hate and false information.
Of course, it has also brought people much closer and provided a means for those who wish to know to learn, and to see what is happening in the world rather than relying exclusively on the information provided by the press. The idea, though, that the internet, or anything else, will destroy the power of the book, as with the power of personal communication through letter writing, has been shown as a fallacy; all can live in relative harmony next to one another, each used according to the desires of the people involved, and without any real rivalry. In fact, it is fair to say that the internet has enhanced letter writing and book reading, by making them more available to the general public. We can find the book we desire, the letter writer who interests us, by searching through the internet, and then take up our own pen and paper, our own copy of a publication, and correspond or read in the manner we are used to. And whether we use the internet in the comfort of our own homes, or in an internet café makes little difference: the main thing is that it is there for everyone, and everyone has the same opportunities to use and take advantage of it.
This, I appreciate, is difficult and depends on the infrastructure of a country, on whether a person is living in a city or the country, often on income but, I hope, such things will be levelled out so that all have access, should they desire it. Much the same as with books: if there are libraries they should be open to all, not just as a refuge to read in, but as a meeting place, as a social haven and hub for a community. That is the way it was in my youth, growing up in the centre of London, and that is what I hope for future generations, regardless of which country they may live in, regardless of the regime which rules that land.
Of course, I also hope for many other things in life too, not least that we can fight and win against the strife and troubles of the world and finally seek out some manner in which all can live happily together regardless of race, nationality or belief. At the same time, I know how unlikely it is that this wish will ever become reality: too many individuals who demand their place in the highest echelons, and then exploit all beneath them, rather than working for the greater good, and for all. Even the greatest countries which profess democracy suffer from such individuals, and people who follow them blindly.