Last week there was a cabinet reshuffle here in Thailand. Hardly newsworthy you would think, and you would be right, except one change did catch my eye. The education minister was replaced, for the third time this year and I think, for the twelfth time in eleven years. And the new minister is also sharing that role with one of deputy prime minister, just in case he should have wished to devote any time to the former.
When we lived in the UK Ploy asked me why we had beggars on the streets. 'Why don't they get a job', she asked. I couldn't really answer. Yes I guess it is possible to fall through the cracks of social security there, especially now it is finally under closer scrutiny, but it is difficult to imagine these people have no friends, no family, no-one who could help them. There was a suggestion when I lived there that it is actually more lucrative to be a beggar than work as a dishwasher in some restaurant, but that could have been people's justification for not giving.
It is the same in Bangkok, the beggars there are just professional scams for the tourists we are told so you don't need to give, even in a country where those social security cracks are very wide indeed.
The fact is society in all countries has haves and have-nots and it is always the haves that rule us. So what should we do with the have nots? If you ask most have nots what they would like, I am guessing they would say they would like to be a have. I am pretty sure there is enough money to go around so we could make that happen. But should we just hand out money to those have nots so they get their wish? That doesn't seem fair to those haves that worked hard all their life and but for a little luck and a lot of endeavour, could have been have nots. So are all these have nots lazy good-for-nothings and if they what should we do with them as a society?
The Republicans approach in the US seems to be to ignore them, after all if you have enough money you won't come across them that often. Romney doesn't seem to have thought the rough that if he currently thinks 47% of the population, the have nots, do not vote for him now, if he creates more of them and that figure rises to 51%, what will he do then. The Democrats seem to be more sympathetic to them, giving a very limited form of wealth distribution through benefits. In the UK it is much the same except over time there is a better support structure for the have nots which is bankrupting the country. The haves are not willing to pay any more for the have nots. The UK government's attitude to the have nots appears to be keeping them quiet with just sufficient benefits which is clearly not (judging by the riots) helping the situation and is indiscriminate between those that just take what they are given and those that wish to actually get themselves out their situation.
I am sure much more intelligent people than I have debated this, but even if some perfect solution were to be found it would be unlikely to be implemented, because as I mentioned, the haves rule us. Overthrows of governments as we have seen in the Middle East replace one have with another, albeit one perhaps slightly more sympathetic to the have nots. But as the haves have the money, even a have not government (and such a thing is most unlikely) will not be able to even the playing field. And there is still the question of whether they should. Not every have is automatically to be despised, some haves are there because of talent and endeavour. And therein lies the problem, it is easy to discriminate between haves and have nots (although the boundary can be argued) but within each group is a disparate mix of people, some that genuinely need help, some that just need a small boost to become a contributor, wealthy people that have worked hard to get to their position and wealthy people that have used others to get where they are (and the latter always seem to become politicians).
Singapore has many faults but its social engineering has given it more haves than have nots. I think one of the reasons for that is its successive governments (or successive ministers) are moderately intelligent. Of course they are haves, very rich haves, and their motivation for any care of the have nots is questionable, but it has resulted in a relatively harmonious society. There is limited freedom of expression, something the West puts great import on, but all I have seen that do is to allow extremist views to be presented. There is an over-reliance on family supporting the elderly which is changing as they embrace the West, but filial piety is still important to most and the government still preach its importance, for obvious reasons. There is also a more critical voice being heard, for change, presumably by those who have never lived in that changed society: be careful what you wish for. And governing a state of 6 million people is little easier than a state of 60 million.
I think the key for Singapore is the education. The people, largely, and the government, uniquely, are reasonably educated people. As education is essential for democracy to work it is somewhat strange that the one country where society works best is largely undemocratic, (or has been).
In the US just under half of people believe in Creationism in some form or other. Clearly that is a huge failure in education in that country. It just so happens that most of these people seem to align with the Republicans, their leader being a Mormon, a fervent believer in sky fairies. It may be just me but I would feel uncomfortable having a leader than could justify his every action because his god spoke to him and I would feel even less comfortable living in a country where half the population would be happy for that to happen. Should Romney win, we can expect further restriction and manipulation of education in that country to favour more 'open' teaching, which is a euphemism for allowing the teaching of Creationism.
It is incredible that 400 years after Newton and Kepler and 150 years after Darwin and Wallace that people should now embrace this nonsense. The haves in most cases have the benefit of better education, especially in the US, yet repeated Republican leaders have shown themselves to be the least educated of men and women and they are allowed to dictate the education of children. The situation can only get worse. In the UK the government is generally educated, they are just morally bankrupt; education does not make you a thinker. The problem with democracy in the UK is the have nots, largely ill-educated, who can be swayed how to vote by a tabloid newspaper having no convictions of their own and being unable to find fault in another's dogma. Again though there is a 50:50 split.
And in Thailand we have the have nots in government (although they are personally haves of course) that change education ministers on a whim and whose sole contribution to the education of our children has been to pay billions of baht for a tablet computer from China, instead of, just as an example, bringing class sizes down from 50 or more.
Education used to be controlled by the church. Keep the people stupid and it is easy to make them compliant and not see through their ulterior motives or the sheer hypocrisy of their 'leaders' status. Successive governments have tried to do the same, successfully it would appear. We have now reached a tipping point where where more than half the population of a country are stupid enough to believe the earth is 6000 years old or that corruption is a healthy thing or that immigration is the only problem stopping them from being a Great Empire again. And in all these countries we have 'true' democracy, (or at least a weighted form of it that favours the incumbent government usually), so we should not expect change anytime soon.
So we are governed by haves who obviously favour their own, even if they were voted in, as in Thailand, by the have nots. The problem we have here is the government are largely ill-educated and dangerously bombastic. The one change they could make to improve things is to educate the people which they are clearly failing to do. In the US we have the problem that education is increasingly controlled, state wise, by people that clearly are a few buttons short of a tunic. As the percentages grow these people will vote for similar thinking people, regardless of the fact they are again haves and they are have nots. In the UK education has been on downward spiral ever since grammar schools were abolished. Education for all is not the same as accepting the fact that some have gifts others do not, and sitting these people in front of a teacher for years will not change that.
The gifted now work in industry or teach at university or hide in cave in Peru. Even if they have some idealism left they will never ever get voted into even the most minor seat in government. We have already reached the point where the stupid are the increasing majority and in a democracy that can only mean one thing.
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