The International Monetary Fund’s director, Christine Lagarde, caused outrage in May 2012 when she said that what Greeks should do is help themselves collectively by all paying their taxes. Few days after, The Guardian made public that her salary –$467,940 a year plus $83,760 additional allowance– is not subject to any taxes.
Some months later, on July 11th, Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, announced a series of severe budgetary adjustments, which implied a drastic reduction of unemployment benefits in a time where the country counted some 5 millions unemployed, 50,5% of them young people.As if they were celebrating a significant step ahead on the road of social rights and welfare, the members of Parliament of the Spanish ruling party (Partido Popular) stood up to applaud, with evident enthusiasm, the measures that were in fact the hardest cuts ever in the public spending, limiting the access of millions of citizens to education, health and other fundamental public services.During that surprising celebration, Andrea Fabra, member of the ruling party and daughter of an influential politician, shouted from her seat in the Parliament a resounding “f**k them!”
The style of the two ladies is of course different, but the source of their attitude is basically the same: lack of community ties. Many have explored already “the pathological pursuit of profit and power” (to use the subtitle of Joel Bakan’s documentary–The Corporation) and its effect on how people in power simply cut all links with the real life and problems of the people they should lead. Lord David Owen, who served as Navy Minister, Health Minister and Foreign Secretary under UK Labour Government and was co-founder and leader of the Social Democratic Party, produced numerous papers, articles, books and lectures about the hubris syndrome, which intoxicates those in power with ‘exaggerated pride, overwhelming self-confidence and contempt for others.’ It comes to mind the image of Hosni Mubarak’s suit with his name stitched into the pinstripes, one of so too many examples of behavior that would be regarded as ‘insane’ if performed by an ordinary person. But even if we let aside the excess of strong personalities, we still see how both politicians and business people act as if making promises and breaking them unfailingly was good.
Or as if open manipulation were the right way to get electoral gains, like Missouri Republican and US Senate candidate Todd Akin who on August 19th talked about “legitimate rape” and other unlikely biological ideas about women’s body. Sometimes people in power are so far from reality that they are authentically unaware of the life experience of ordinary people, like Guillermo Collarte, a Spanish member of the Parliament who recently declared in an interview that, with a wage of 5,100 €, he and his family are struggling to reach the end of the month. In the current critical economic and social situation, Spain’s unemployment rate reaches 25%, and the average wage hardly comes up to 1,400 €, four times less than Collarte’s.
In a speech on Democracy and social crisis held at the end of August in Madrid for the Economy Commission of the 15M movement, professor Marcos Roitman, a political analyst and sociologist, insisted in the idea that democracy is not a technique but a way of life. In Democracy, civil society is an active subject that builds policies and democratic proposals to preserve the common good on the base of ethics, not morale. While individualism, expressed in the current system by property, clashes with the idea of common good. When an ideology, policy or strategy reduces the human being, ‘the people’, to abstract concepts and numbers that deprive people of their humanity, Democracy is lost. Buddhist Philosopher Daisaku Ikeda reminds in his Peace Proposal 2012 “the philosophical stance that the highest priority of the state must be the well-being and security of ordinary people.”
He previously wrote about the fact that in a time of ramping globalization, it seems fundamental to find a way to maintain and preserve the centrality of a genuine human dimension: “The universality claimed by ideology and currency has a corrosive effect on real people in real society precisely because ideology and currency are external and transcendent, the products of the spirit of abstraction.” The call for an “inner universality” looks, on the contrary, at the roots of concrete realities and can only be developed from within. “The truly important questions are always close at hand, in our tangible and immediate circumstances.”
Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman expresses a similar idea when he says that we should feel ashamed of “having traded off the worry about the public good for the freedom to pursue private satisfaction.” In a recent speech, Spanish activist and anthropologist, Sagrario Herrero, reminded that the system we live in goes against basic natural processes, like the mutual dependence. She reminded that we are born dependent; we get dependent again in the old age and we are dependent from others all our life. We act as if we were isolated from the others any time we overlook the connection between our life, the resources we use, the goods we consume, the services we receive, and of course the people around us. This is what is happening with the financial market, which has lost all links with real goods and productive activities. “Herein lies the particular characteristic, the fateful pathology, of our fixation on currency.” And this is what seems to happen to politicians who have lost the sense of their function, which is to serve the people.