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Why are people so angry?

Every time you open a newspaper or turn on the television these days, you invariably come across reports of demonstrations and sometimes violent protests somewhere.

In recent weeks, demonstrations have broken out in Moscow, Montreal, Yangon, Tbilisi, Chicago, Jerusalem, Cairo, Manama, Madrid, Frankfurt, Athens, Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi, Karachi, Manchester, Manila, Jakarta, London, Lhasa, Khartoum, Luanda, Harare, Dakar, Mexico City and Santiago, to name just a few.

As one contemplates the vast sea of protesting humanity, the question that comes to mind is why are so many people in so many places so angry today?

To be sure, the reasons that drive people to the streets differ from place to place but there might well be a sense of common frustration behind much of the anger – the bewildering pace of change, the confusing complexity of life and a gnawing sense of their own helplessness. It’s a sort of system failure on a grand scale.

In an age of political emancipation, for example, people feel increasingly impotent politically. They are told that their votes count, that they get to choose who rules them and how. They cast  their ballots but does it really make a difference?

Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Liberal, or whatever else politicians call themselves, in the end they all come out smelling the same.

They make promises they cannot keep, they say one thing and do something else, they commit their nations to wars that nobody wants, they have more ideology than common sense, they brag about their economic prowess but make a mess of the economy and abuse their power whenever they think they can get away with it.

It is no different on the economic front.

The American economy is struggling, the Eurozone might fall apart and growth is slowing in the rest of the world. World leaders gather for great summits and conferences but they don’t have any real answers. One day they tout the wisdom of austerity, the next they brag about stimulus packages. They spend lavishly and then demand that the people tighten their belts. In the meantime, jobs are disappearing, taxes are going up, standards of living are falling and future prospects are dimming.

If leaders and economists are having such a hard time managing the economy, think how difficult and helpless ordinary people must feel.

Can it be that the global financial system has become so complex that we no longer know how to even manage it anymore? Can it be that the system has become so corrupt and open to manipulation that ordinary people no longer stand a fair chance of prospering from it?

Across the world, the rich are getting richer and the rest are getting poorer.  The top 1% of the world’s population already accounts for about 40% of the world’s total net worth, while the bottom half of the population owns merely 1.1 % of global wealth.

And what does it say of a system that rewards the CEO of a failing company more than $30 million (US) a year? Can any man’s labour be worth $30 million a year when a huge  chunk of the world has to get by on a few dollars a day?

Whatever our citizenship, we were all brought up to believe that if we worked hard, saved and played by the rules, we could someday look forward to a better life, that our children would go further than us. People in many countries, including industrialized ones, are now discovering that such dreams can quickly turn into nightmares.

Clearly, it is not as much about hard work, thrift, and careful personal economy but about power, influence and connections. We are all just serfs now in a global plantation  manipulated by ruling elites.

The system reeks and the serfs are rising up.

And its not just politics or economics; the uncertainty touches almost everything these days.

One moment doctors and scientists say that vitamins are good for you, the next moment they conclude that it is really not necessary for most people. One paper extols the virtues of testing for prostate-specific antigens, another says it makes no difference. Eggs are good for you one day and bad for you the next. Latest reports indicate that researchers are now baffled by data suggesting that exercise might be bad for you.

If they are baffled, what about us?

Who and what are we to believe? How do you make decisions when the science keeps changing all the time? Have we become too smart for our own good?

When the world moves beyond the grasp of the common man, when he concludes that he’s up against forces beyond his control, when he knows his voice doesn’t count anymore, when he sees his hopes and dreams recede, the streets become his parliament and his shouts become his vote.

In different forms, in different shades, expect to see more and more people all over the world take to the streets to shout and scream their rage. It may be all that’s left to them. And who knows, they might just get lucky and bring down an overbearing leader or two.

© Dennis Ignatius / The Star