As we stand at the threshold of 2014, it is a good time to reflect on major issues, socially, politically, economically and culturally. It is so easy to get trapped in certain mindsets; we so easily follow what is ‘in’ and ‘mainstream’. But shouldn’t we step back and reflect on how we think, and indeed, how we can change the elitist and technocratic thinking to make the world better for all?
When Norway held the Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer in 1994, it was all just a great feast. I would have hoped it could have been the same when this year’s games will open in Sochi in Russia in a month’s time. Unfortunately, the games have already been marred by debate about social and political issues, especially Russia’s old-fashioned attitude toward same sex relations, and recently, several bomb explosions. Part of the negative propaganda may have to do with the West seemingly still fearing the rise of the world’s largest country, with the enormous natural resources it possesses. The Cold War is over, but the competition for geo-political domination goes on in many parts of the world; that we know well in Afghanistan, Iran and the Arab World, and many other areas. As for the Olympic Games, perhaps one day we can again begin to see them as games, yes, as games where athletes compete, not countries. The athletes’ nationality as shown by passport shouldn’t be an issue.
Having said that, and since I am a Norwegian, let me recall that my home country has won most gold medals of any country in the Olympic Winter Games; 303, with USA on second place, with 253. Considering that Norway has a population of 5 million people only, and USA 313 million, Norway’s results become even more impressive.
But then I have already stated that I don’t believe in sports competitions between countries, and I also don’t think that we should be so obsessed with top sports competitions. We should not cultivate elitism. We should rather be concerned about sports as games for the broad masses, where you and I, and indeed the young boys and girls, men and women, should have fun competing and playing with each other. We should try to be good, but there is no need to be at the top. Actually, it is quite ridiculous, isn’t it - even in cricket, even for Pakistanis?
In education, too, I believe its wrong to focus on excellence the way we do. We should aim at being good, maybe very good. Poor students may be better human beings than the clever ones. If a school or college aims at being best in some field or the other, or overall, they are likely to take resources from other sectors and other levels of education. And usually, we wouldn’t have defined what ‘excellent’ is, except for doing well at exams. We need good, competent and committed people. To be good has as much to do with values as with technical competence. Sports and education shouldn’t be about elitism. It should be about Sports for All and Education for All.
We are just in the second week of year 2014. If I could wish for something good to happen, to benefit people everywhere, it would be that we could rid ourselves of the elitist mindset. Part of which would also be to work for the reduction of the technocratic mindset, which we also have. We measure and weigh each other, we grade students, we compare schools and companies, and so on, not on how relevant and useful they are in society, but on how good they are at making money and getting results at exams. Alas, often the results, the knowledge and the business products, are irrelevant in creating a better world.
But not everything is wrong. Not all developments in recent years and decades have been wrong. The modern information and communication technology (ICT) has had many positive effects, with emails, mobile phones and Internet. Today, an email from Pakistan will reach Norway in the blink of an eye, and the reply will come back as swiftly. When I first began working abroad, in Africa, in the 1980s, a letter home would take a couple of weeks, and the reply as long - and sometimes letters got lost. The telephone costs were so high that we could only call if it was an emergency or a special occasion.
ICT has made the world more democratic and the powerful more careful. Julian Assange of WikiLeaks did a service, mostly, with his leaks of secret and illegal activities of governments. Edward Snowden, too, has mostly done a service to us all when releasing information about illegal activities of USA’s National Security Agency (NSA), or put more generically, how the rich and powerful states, institutions and people collect or withhold secret information all in their own interest. In many ways, it was not entirely different from how people gained more democratic rights one or two hundred years ago. But the methods Assagne and Snowden used are questionable. Assagne is hiding in an embassy in London and Snowden is in exile in Russia. They pay a high price for their idealistic actions.
In the last few decades, we have been fascinated with internationalization, the free movement of goods and capital around the world, but less with free movement of people. Internationalization is said to have benefitted development everywhere, including in poor countries. Somehow, I question that. I believe it has mainly benefitted the multinational companies and the wealthy countries. Besides, why do we have to send goods all over the world? Why can we not make most of the goods we need locally, where people who need them actually live? I am glad that there now seems to be a decrease in global trade. It is a costly exercise, based on technocratic thinking and profit, where the ‘smart’ betray us all.
Economists and politicians still see economic growth as a requirement even in America and Europe, where they should realize that there is more need for reduction of consumption of resources, and more equal distribution within and between countries. The stagnation in Europe should be seen as an opportunity to consume less and share more. In developing countries, though, growth is needed, with far better distribution of wealth.
In 2014, it is one hundred years since the First World War broke out. The century that followed has been a ‘war century’, but we speak as if we have had peace. Today, Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan need peace, and many other areas with internal or external conflicts. In spite of the high number of experts on development issues, we seem to be unable or unwilling, to find development paths that benefit all people. Even the world’s advanced democracies, yes, like Norway and the other Nordic countries, now allow greater economic differences, higher military costs, and less focus on non-technocratic thinking. We seem trapped in our own, unreal mindset.
In religious, cultural and social fields, we are also often stuck in old ways – in spite of realizing that we need to change. Religions teach us that we are all equal before God. And if God sees us as equal, why cannot we human beings do the same? But it would lead to major change in the world’s power structures, the socioeconomic, military, cultural and religious systems, yes, even in sports. Maybe that is what we don’t want, being trapped in elitist and technocratic mindsets.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from research, diplomacy and development aid.

Email: atlehetland@yahoo.com