opinion : Kapil Sethi

The victory of anger over compassion

Kapil Sethi

OCTOBER 5 — One could be forgiven for not remembering the birthday of that great apostle of non-violence and compassion for fellow human beings — Mahatma Gandhi — on October 2. 

Between the violence of Las Vegas and Rakhine state, the hunger of Venezuela and Sudan, the calamities of Irma and Maria and the unremitting anger of Trump and Duterte, how much can a mind absorb?

If you are feeling a little overwhelmed by the bad news and unable to do anything else except for going about your business with your head a little bowed and trying hard to shut your mind to the outside world; blaming the news media and Trump, in that order may be the correct thing to do.

There seems to be a convergence between the way the mainstream and alternative news media cover global news nowadays. 

First it is the trigger of bad news... shootings, natural disasters, wars, followed by Trump’s tweets revving up the anger, finally followed by commentary slanted according to the specific news outlet’s leanings.

Domestically too, while the political responses to the news may be very different, the news narrative is overwhelmingly negative. 

Racial and religious polarisation, the widening economic gap between the haves and those without, the never-ending stories of official corruption, rising drug abuse and crime dominate headlines across media channels. While the anger is palpable, the commentary depends on the medium.

Though the 24/7 news cycle has become an accepted part of modern life, our responses to what is broadcast seem to be losing their balance. 

It’s almost as if a purely human response to suffering is impossible to imagine, unmediated by the lens of righteous anger. 

Anger at those foreign academics who threaten our religious exclusivity, anger at those that flaunt their liking for beer in public, anger at those who focus on the misery of our poor rather than the successes of our rich and anger at the unbridgeable gap between what we have and what we want.

Anger that is allowed an open, global airing with Trump’s active support and tweeted blessings. From supremacists to dictators, despots to entitled billionaires, all the people who had to previously keep a low profile are now emboldened by the man with a perpetual ulcer.

Authoritarian tendencies among the ruling elites in Asia have always been present, but the new licence to use public anger, even as a fig leaf, to grab or tighten hold on power is now accelerating from Egypt to Thailand, from the Philippines to Myanmar. 

Not only the elites, but when the US president represents the interests only of the rich, the historically privileged and the white in America, the rest of the world can only react with its own anger. 

When his tone is constantly threatening, vicious and divisive, the reaction is equally violent and profane.

Assigning blame is the burning question that bothers the angry, and the media is only too happy to debate it endlessly, because in addition to those wanting to be informed, it brings eyeballs that are committed to hearing vindication of their prejudices, their unrelenting hate and anger. 

In this brave new world, compassion is no longer empathy for the weak, it is a trait of the weak. As the CAF World Giving Index 2017 baldly states, charitable giving this year is “down across the globe.”

Everyone is angry about the state of the world and knows where the fault lies, except the ones who are the actual victims; victims of terrorism, of crime, of escalating prices, of hurricanes, of ethnic cleansing, of hunger and of statelessness. They only have sadness and despair, tears and hopelessness. 

We who used to have compassion, now have anger instead. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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