Monday, May 17, 2004

What About Me?

The election in India, the world's largest democracy, may turn out to be among the most significant events in recent years.  Most assuredly it will be analyzed by many including people who, unlike myself, really know something about the sub-continent.  I see it as sign of possible things to come.  On the simplest level, much ink and many words have been devoted recently to the miracle of the Indian economy, to its brilliant well educated middle class and its aggressive move into technology.  Indians answer the phones when we call tech support representing a major endpoint of all the outsourcing that has become an issue in our Presidential campaign.  But the real story of India is that, despite years of democracy and of economic growth, the vast majority of its citizens remain mired in abject poverty.  This election appears to have been about them, those many left behind, truly left behind.  In bringing back the Congress and other Leftist parties, these people were asking, what about me?

It's an important question and if you put it in a global context, one that can be posed by the majority in most places.  As an American, it's hard these days not to be obsessed with our conflicts, external and internal.  Aside from aggressively flexing our muscle and promoting global trade, we have little time for the world at large.  Even when we venture out; we do so awkwardly without any real conviction about engagement in any substantive way or necessarily assessing the near or long-term consequences of our actions.  Today there are people in Washington and on Wall Street who are ringing their hands about the Indian election results and the potential impact they might have on us.  Interestingly these are the same people who insist that the Almighty wants everyone to live under democracy.  Right, so long as they don't think about exercising it.  Remember the kind words spoken about the Spanish electorate after they translated their opinion into votes?  While I don't think God is its advocate or sponsor, I do believe that democracy is a great thing and truly wish it were more widespread all over the world.

What if that were the case and all the disenfranchised could, and more importantly would, vote?  Contemplate that and you'll see why the election in India was so important, perhaps prescient.  We all talk about the growing disparity between rich and poor, or even middleclass and poor.  We bemoan it, but we don't do all that much about it.  We rightly criticize the Bush Administration for its lack of after-planning in Iraq, which has turned out to be so costly on every level.  The fact is that nobody in any party here or elsewhere around the globe seems to have a strategic plan in place to transform this planet into something that at least puts everyone on the playing field.  In fairness, I don't know that such a plan is even feasible, but don't you think we should be taking a stab at it? 

Go into the neighborhoods of poverty in the United States and in many other places.  Visit the homes and what will you see?  A television set.  Walk the streets and you'll probably see some cell phones which are morphing into post-computer powerhouses of capability and connectivity.  Images and ideas are multiplying faster than the families of fundamentalists.  Perhaps they haven't pulled themselves together yet, but they will and they will most assuredly be asking, what about me?  That shouldn't come as a surprise to us who ask the very same question almost every day.  In fact, what about me is our favorite question, the icon of our times, at the very moment when we should be asking more vigorously, what about you?

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