Things seldom fall apart suddenly. A leak in the roof of a house will drip by drip gradually weaken the structural walls. A country’s slide into authoritarian rule comes with many small repressive laws. A divorce is preceded by many hurts, insults, and betrayals. A company’s bankruptcy comes after years of poor management and missed opportunities.
Traveling through my home country South Africa during the past few days, I have been wondering how the ruling African National Congress (ANC) government could so utterly lose its moral compass and ruin every major state-run enterprise through corruption and mismanagement.
When Nelson Mandela steered the country to democracy in 1994, South Africa was hailed as an example to the world. A race war was averted. A new “rainbow nation” of diverse cultures was born. Mandela and his compatriots sacrificed their best years in prison for this ideal. I covered the elections of 1994 as a journalist for a major news agency and visited the country again in 1997 and 1998. There was a sense of optimism and euphoria among all race groups. Foreign investment and tourism flourished.
A serving culture is turned upside down
It wasn’t to last. The ANC always had a dark underbelly of hardened ideologues and self-serving opportunists. During the presidency of Jakob Zuma (2009-2018) the ANC elites turned from serving a country to looting a country. Literally, every municipality, hospital, school, postal service, energy supply company, and public transport system run by the ruling party today is malfunctioning, or not working at all.
The rot can be seen in derelict railway lines, potholed roads, collapsing bridges, and lack of basic services in once-pristine rural towns. I was aghast to learn from old friends in my hometown Dundee in the eastern KwaZulu Natal province that the water supply is switched off for most of the day because pumps have not been maintained for years. Electricity outages are almost a daily occurrence.
A culture of entitlement
What is happening in South Africa has its roots in a culture of entitlement that is a growing global phenomenon. Mankind has experienced an exceptional period of material upliftment, luxury, and comfort that previous generations could never have dreamed of. It has, unfortunately, come with a huge cost to the environment, physical and mental health. When a society is indoctrinated with a “happiness recipe” of material gain and immediate gratification, the hangover comes with addiction, depression, and fanaticism in the form of extremist political movements.
Instead of being grateful for what we have, we are constantly comparing ourselves with the happier, wealthier, younger, and more beautiful people we see in the tabloids. Instead of cherishing the present moment the mind constantly wanders to some distant future when we will be happily enjoying life with the million dollars we are earning annually.
A fertile field for dictators and demagogues
The entitlement culture is a fertile field for demagogues of all persuasions. In South Africa, influential politicians are demanding the seizure of private property and farms for redistribution to the poor – in effect meaning redistribution to themselves. Demagogues always find an external enemy to deflect from their own failures. As a result the ANC still enjoys massive support.
In Russia, a majority of people continue to support President Vladimir Putin’s horrific invasion of a sovereign nation. They seem to believe in the prosperity dream of a new Russian empire. In the United States a populist demagogue, calling Putin “smart” and “savvy”, is filling his war chest with donations from millions of supporters still believing that a democratic election was rigged. His chances of again winning the next U.S. presidential election are not unrealistic.
Tunnel vision: the hallmark of an entitlement culture
A hallmark of an entitlement culture is tunnel vision of the ego-mind. When in tunnel vision there is no evolution or progress of mind and spirit. The head-mind or “ego-mind” is caught in a belief. Its mind is made up of what is right and wrong in the world.
Head-Mind is incapable of listening to the alternative argument and will interrupt you before you have finished your sentence. They will tell you that 1+1 = 4. Nothing will persuade them otherwise. Their lives have been taken over by an alternate reality and they will be reaffirming their belief daily with similar believers in social media bubbles. Once entrenched in a tunnel-vision bubble it is virtually impossible to break down the walls the person has surrounded himself with.
What is the solution?
The worst thing you can do is try to convince a person that he or she is wrong. The ego-mind will never admit a mistake. Realization and humility mostly come after a painful process of catharsis. This is a path that only an individual will have to walk. Addiction to an ideology is comparable to the alcohol addict who will only seek help when everything has fallen apart.
The realization might come that a life of bliss is a perception. Material comforts and the satisfaction of basic needs are important elements but will never be a replacement for good health, a sense of purpose and meaning, friendships, and community. We, humans, are innately social beings and spiritual in nature. Where we feel a connection to something larger than the self, nationality, gender, and race, the journey to joy begins.
Reino Gevers – Author – Mentor – Speaker
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