How Far Will Social Degradation Go?  

 

Currently, every day that goes by in our country is bringing its own lot of unacceptable social behaviour. The latest was about spouses having been murdered. Sometimes a partner in marriage drops a kettle of boiling water over the other in a moment of violent anger. Extreme behaviour is becoming more frequent. There are reported and unreported cases of battered spouses almost regularly now.

Theft is also becoming more frequent. In certain cases, not only is there larceny, but the victim of theft gets attacked, often even killed in the process. There is no respect for life, nor fear of consequences of crime, as it were. The murder of a Scottish woman in Albion by three breakers-in in the presence of her incapacitated child took place only this past week.

Many cases of theft, such as snatching of chains worn by women by motorbike riders, are routinely dismissed as banal, common occurrences. A few weeks ago the snatchers not only took away the gold chain from the unfortunate woman’s neck; they mishandled and killed her while committing their vile act.

Schoolchildren are known to have seriously misbehaved towards each other and teachers of late. In one particular case there was a suspicion that they would have been under the influence of synthetic drugs. Others are “structurally” violent, the assumption being that they come from “families” which have lost a sense of cohesion. These children would simply have become disoriented in public life in the absence of minimum parental supervision.

No doubt such phenomena are found in other societies too. The influences from such bad behaviour travel across frontiers, facilitated by the internet. In the case of Mauritius, however, we’ve been a conservative society, rather, keen to protect our hard-earned gains towards social ascension. Individuals and even families used to benchmark themselves against each other, emulating each other so as to be well seen socially for their good deeds.

This aspiration for higher social recognition disciplined individuals by castigating severely those who crossed what was recognized as the norm for good behaviour. Families would quickly act to bring to order any of their elements that went too far – drinking alcohol, smoking, associating with notorious characters, gambling and betting, being loose in morals, etc.

Despite difficult economic circumstances and the severe competition, a few families managed to get some of their wards admitted in elite secondary schools. Those families were honoured in their respective localities. That was even more so if they managed, by dint of perseverance, to have a “laureate” in the family. No social stigma, such as “elitism”, attached to them at the time for going up the rungs of the social ladder.

There was a self-correcting attitude within families in pursuit of “achievement”. Honour and dishonour were important considerations. Those who departed from the accepted norms were rejected by almost everyone, including by family members. Those who got so rejected did their best to earn back their good credentials and to deserve being readmitted within the family fold.

This sense of values has been changing sharply in recent times. Yet another fatal road accident due to rash driving? Blame the authorities for this situation and the rash driver gets away scot-free or finds consolation in that someone else is also to blame! More children fail their exams than before? Blame the education system and teachers who don’t give enough attention to children in need! Not the parents who, perhaps, no longer live together and have thus inflicted their own sense of irresponsibility and absence of good guidance on the child unable to concentrate on his studies!

Looking to blame the “other party” for each and every misdemeanour or error of omission and commission opens up wide avenues for continuing sub-standard social behaviour and the mischiefs and deprivations which accompany such condoning. Negativity is carried forward. If someone is not able to get out of poverty, it should be because the government – never the private sector – is not assuming its responsibility! As simple as that! Just shift the blame on the scapegoat who is in authority and the job is done!

In the process, a lot of harm is done against improving the social construct where the person requiring to make an effort is turned into a victim and can jolly well carry on with the under-performing status quo! The sense of personal effort and self-discipline that accompanies a progressive society is done away with in such circumstances.

That doesn’t exempt the so-called elite from blame. We’ve seen several cases, of late, of people invested with the duty to ensure respect for the law, allegedly indulging in criminal activity while wearing their duty uniforms. If they themselves set such examples, what do they expect the rest of the people to do? Politicians have also displayed reckless conduct when it comes to setting high standards for the conduct of public affairs. They operate with very short term horizons, maximizing gains while the going is good – for them!

Many want to become rich easily and quickly, even if that involves doing the contrary of what is normally expected of them. They don’t hesitate to indulge in dubious avocations and activities, including cheating in horse racing or shielding themselves from scrutiny for drug dealing and such other business malpractices by coming close to politicians in power.

It should be clear that if we always find someone to blame for the serious disorientation afflicting society, solutions to avert the social degradation that we see every day will be hard to come by. It may be good politics to lay the blame at somebody else’s door but that only aggravates the situation, not arrest the downward spiral into which society is sinking. Those who are perceived to lead society by setting the example should take up afresh a role they’ve been relinquishing in the pursuit of power and temporary gratification.

The responsibility for reversing this state of affairs doesn’t belong to a single individual or entity. It is rather a shared one among all citizens and at all levels of society – individual, family, community, NGOs and all other organisations who must surely be concerned about what kind of society they want for the future generations. And the youth too, why not, for it is their future that is at stake. However, there is no gainsaying that strong role models among those who are thrust into positions of leadership must be the main drivers of this movement for transformation. Are they prepared to assume this role as they should?

M.K.

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