Annual retreat
LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - December 29, 2019 - 12:00am

In Siem Reap, I was speaking to a Danish couple about the world in general. For some reason, the conversation veered towards the increasing polarization we were observing.

I remarked how intolerant people were becoming. There seems to be an increasing refusal to listen to a different perspective, another viewpoint, the opposite view. People don’t want to dialogue - their view is theirs, period. No need to persuade them or even dissuade them. (Sometimes, I’m like that too, but I always thought it was because I was getting advanced in years).

And what’s worse is, if another person held a different view, not only could that person end up being shut out, but he could actually also be attacked as well. Cyber-bullying or viral posts could be on the horizon. So not only would there be disagreement, there would also be a tendency to eliminate or destroy the dissident just for holding that belief, as if it was too dangerous to allow a person with that belief to even exist. (Same as what religion does sometimes.)

Was this polarization a function of the increasing inequality that we are seeing, where the haves are lording it over the have-nots, and the have-nots are seething and rising up in response?

Or is it the fault of social media, that has promoted echo chambers that drum the same perspectives ad infinitum, and hence, no other divergent view is heard or encountered? (And when the encounter happens, the shock is too great to bear?)

Or is it electronic gadgets that are creating or triggering physiological or emotional responses that can’t quite be predicted or analyzed yet? (My theory is some sort of short-circuiting is happening, and kids’ brains are getting fried by all those electronic games they’re playing. Please don’t sue me for gifting my nephews with Nintendos.)

The Danish couple relayed to me their dismay at encountering a young Cambodian, whose worldview was quite “refreshing”. The kid’s only source of news, apparently, was Facebook, and he believed everything he read in it. Including the interesting tidbits that a third of his country was already occupied by Vietnam, and all that the press conveyed was fake news. What to do, indeed.

Just when we thought that the world was becoming a better, safer place, the rug is pulled out from under our feet, and it is back to staying on our toes.

What to do in 2020. Aside from campaigning against the deranged man in the White House, there are still many challenges ahead. Just in our small corner of the world, there are still the extra-judicial killings that are happening, albeit with less sensational coverage as before. Hopefully, with less frequency, although I’m not holding my breath.

There is the economic inequality that persists, the infrastructure mess (wherein we shall lump in the traffic situation) that we have inherited and is still failing to solve, the deteriorating peace and order, and the political circus that surrounds us - all of those should make 2020 interesting.

This off the top-of-my-head list brings to mind that famous Chinese curse - “May you live in interesting times.” Is that why they’re showing up at our shores (and our office buildings and our streets and our condos)? To curse us? Or, as they package it, to bless us with their munificence and beneficence? Yes, that’s another problem - the Chinese invasion.

End of the year ruminations can be quite enlightening. Or frightening. It’s enough to make one want to hide in one’s shell. Wake me up when the show is over!

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