News from London

Joseph F.X Zahra's article on Newsbook

My frequent visits to London give me an opportunity to connect with the numerous friends that I made there over the years. It is a “plugging in” experience to what is happening and bound to happen around the globe in the future. London, like New York and Hong Kong, is the home of the famous (or infamous) one per cent of the world’s population who have accumulated wealth and income. This has resonance in new thinking about power and influence, as well as the way we are and where we are going in society.

During last week’s visit I met senior politicians, academics and City lawyers in separate meetings. It is remarkable how their thinking process on politics and society converge. This was the week of the Queen’s speech during the State Opening of parliament. A good point to start any conversation on this side of the city. The main concern is the propagation of populism in politics not only reflected by the iconic personalities of Nigel Farage and Beppe Grillo, but also in the mainstream parties. In its last year in office, the governing coalition in the United Kingdom is proposing the enactment of just eleven bills which are a mishmash of Conservative and Lib-dem ideas, a few of them in contradiction to each other. The key phrase there (like here in Malta) is satisfying the needs and (more strongly) the demands of minorities, knowing very well that the summation of all these needs and wants do not make up one whole. Two things are conveniently put aside – long termism, and ideological principles. What are we leaving for posterity? What is being done concretely to achieve the Common Good?

This is the result of the fact that we are living in a “consumerist society”, perhaps a better label than a “materialist society”. A consumerist society measures everything on the basis of what you own, and what you possess… but also on the basis of brands and logos and what they provoke in people’s minds. This consumerism is accompanied by an urge to want things now, because “tomorrow never comes”. It is a desperate state of humanity that is fearful and anxious that it can never achieve what it wants now. News and information today as channelled through the social media has a life duration of less than five hours. Nothing has permanence, everything is transitory.

But the discussions moved further with a debate whether we should go for young or elderly leaders. There is an obsession with youth – because it is the market of the future. However, demographics in the western world show otherwise. We seek political and business leaders who are in their thirties because they have a better understanding of the world we are living in. We all know however that society is getting older and we are losing out therefore on satisfying and fulfilling the needs of a large proportion of society – a proportion which is getting even larger. We are losing out not only in experience, but also in the quality of their values – including sacrifice, struggle and sanctity (in the sense that you do not compromise in what you believe in).

In London today I could sense a slight touch of nostalgia for strong ideals and principles. This could be the genesis of new ideologies that cherish morality. There is hope that this will pave the way for mature and determined leadership.

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