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October 15, 2011 / Lukasz Cerazy

What Do You Aspire To?

Image: renjith krishnan /

Good moral values have reached a low after being attacked by a general adoration of ignorance. I feel it is worrying that the number of leaders that are evidently irresponsible or unintelligent keeps getting larger. The individuals on whom these leaders rely on apparently let them get away with their incompetence or are otherwise not bothered with who they are. Our social fabric is controlled by both formal and informal rules that form customs, norms and mores. They are exercised by praising certain behaviours and ridiculing others, ultimately leading to conformity and common social patterns. These human interactions have created the new black, which appears to be futility.

What is worrying about our current situation is the general degradation of ambition and moral!

Image: xedos4 /

Evolution has taught us that through development and a constant strive towards becoming better equipped to suit our surroundings, we as people can survive and evolve. That can best be achieved by improving our understanding of how the world works and come up with improved solutions to our problems. Not only is our world changing ever faster due to globalisation, but so is our climate and environment. Being able to better adapt to these changes requires more complicated solutions that derive from wealthier knowledge. Social and economic prosperity has developed very rapidly over the last 200 years, mainly due to technological and scientific advances. These have occasionally come in bursts, like the industrial- or Internet revolutions, and are a result of our intellectual heritage. Never have so many people had such good living standards – but there is still room for significant improvement. Pursuing ambitious aims and widening our understanding of the world is not only a noble onus, but an essential one. This view has increasingly been challenged by individuals in society that pay no attention to aesthetics or moral values and are perversely driven by primitive incentives. Their behaviours have unfortunately gained acceptance from large parts of society and created new conformities. These include shame, ridicule, sarcasm, criticism and disapproval when it comes to championing knowledge, righteousness or honesty and have increasingly been replaced by ignorance, corruption and dishonesty.

Image: Master isolated images /

I want my leaders to be visionary, intelligent and honest – features that are largely based on merit and achievement. A leader like that is better placed and also more likely to make decisions that create social benefits and guide a nation towards a bright future. Personal drive to achieve a better life has always existed; however, what we now see is a much wider acceptance of short termed incentives with a high focus on money and promotion. This drive takes focus away from what a position within the state entitles and has created a perverse favor-based system, where leaders are chosen for posts they clearly do qualify for, mainly because they have earned enough favors. In most cases these leaders do not fulfill their formal or informal obligations and set a very poor example for society. This is a significant reason why the state has a big responsibility when it comes to social conformities. People look up to and follow their leaders and in many cases emulate their behaviors. A statesman should have strong moral values and be highly qualified to lead society along the right track. Unfortunately, it is not difficult to list political leaders that should not hold their positions. Villy Søvndal, Sarah Palin and Silvio Berlusconi quickly string to mind, not to mention all the self-elected despots.

Image: xedos4 /

The trend is also evident across most media where there is a wealth of channels and shows that feature people with a lacking capability of abstract thought. These somehow become great hits! What is the attraction of watching reality-shows with individuals that have non-existing ambitions or, to put it bluntly, who are stupid? Is it to make us feel less miserable with our own lives? It has the unfortunate side effect of sending out the unambiguous message that it is acceptable to be ignorant and is that really what we want to aspire to? One of the reasons behind why it might be so wide spread is due to the changes in which we filter news and events. In our modern thrill-seeking, one-stop society, we increasingly distance ourselves from the severity of events as the amount of continuous information is hugely overwhelming. Significant news events get toned down because they appear to happen with a high frequency and do not concern us. It has unfortunately become everyday life to hear about a corporate or political scandal without really thinking about how it affects our lives or how to deal with it.

Image: Keattikorn /

The symptoms mentioned above are a result of a more profound unrest in societies across developed as well as developing countries. The Credit Crunch and following debt crisis has made the world a more volatile and uncertain place to live in. Governments have reacted by contracting fiscal budgets or introducing outright austerity measures. These tend to have a significantly negative impact on society. The measures are unfortunately necessary because of accumulated debt created by unsustainable spending, corruption and waste in the public sector. This means that very hard times lay ahead. When the economies were growing and interest rates were kept low, few paid attention to the rising public debts and unsustainable spending levels. However, when the markets crashed and governments tightened their belts, it hit the average worker very hard leaving them with a feeling of injustice. And rightly so! Heads of governments, national banks and international agencies were too optimistic about the growth prospects and too lax about regulating the financial system. Now, when prospects look gloomy and many cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, uncertainty rises. When uncertainty rises, social unrest rises and manifests itself across society. It has most prominently manifested itself in the revolutions, civil wars and riots that have been raging across the globe recently. The BBC wrote an interesting article about the riots in England that shocked many across the globe. The article illustrates very clearly that it is not just one factor that plays a part in this social meltdown and testifies to the fact that society still faces serious challenges in the future.

Governments in heavily indebted countries are currently in a very difficult position, not only because of the mounting fiscal pressure, but because of the effects their measures will have on society. Young people may very well be worse off than their parents in certain parts of the world. Youth unemployment is at a very high level and is unlikely to improve with tightening fiscal policies. The opposite is actually more likely and this creates a very serious structural problem for most developed nations. In these countries the baby-boomers are about to retire, with fewer young people to pay for their earned retirements. This will inevitably create an even bigger strain on the public budget. In times of fiscal tightening the young are the most likely to suffer and with education costs rising this might very well create a divide in society that will lead to even more unrest. There is even the risk of losing a generation of young people to high unemployment and slow growth. The fiscal regulation is therefore likely to make the situation even worse. It is painful to think that parts of this economic and social crisis could have been avoided if our leaders had more fiscal discipline and bigger determination to perform reforms, which could have flattened the severity of the crisis. In many of the most indebted countries structural reforms were long overdue; especially labour market and taxation reforms that now appear very painful.

Image: Maggie Smith /

There is a bigger need now than ever for visionary, capable and inspirational people to lead us in a common direction that is both sustainable and beneficial. Irresponsible spending and lending will inevitably leave our children with fewer opportunities, which is both immoral and unsustainable. Creating a coherent society must therefore also be a target for our leaders so that history does not repeat itself.

I believe that it is easy to argue for having ambitious aspirations. I also think that individuals who think otherwise are free to have that opinion, but I cannot see how they should be praised for it.

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One Comment

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  1. Marcin / Oct 15 2011 20:47

    Good article, have you already started writing for FT, heh ? I like the last sentence and I share your opinion. Serdeczne pozdrowienia from “the green island” on the EU map after the elections in which Polish society quite wisely voted for further difficult reforms and for political stablity giving the next credit of trust for upcoming 4 years to the governing party in these uncertain and “interesting” times.. Will Poland stiil be, in the upcoming hard years, the proud exception for the whole EU having extemely so far a sound banking system, full control on the public debt and about 4% GDP growth? Look at facts! How do you think?

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