Over the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the real issues affecting our lives that have been silenced by a lack of attention from those who influence public opinion. A clear example of this is that in today’s world not every death is viewed as equal in value nor in attention deserved. It seems to matter more who you are and what you mean to people with the greatest influence. It appears as though some ‘die more’ than others even though all who die are dead and have been equally robbed of the ability to live longer. In contrast, I believe that if we are to build an equal world then every death must be treated with equal gravity; every life must be seen to count and those who tell the story of death must tell it from the lens of appreciating an equal value of existence.
Yesterday, the death of 11 people at the hands of terrorists in France moved several Heads of State to action, whilst the death of thousands in Nigeria at the same time received very minimal global attention. These are the signs of global inequalities in the value given to human life. I argue that the death of a Prime Minister in the United Kingdom is as significant as the death of a 3 month old baby who dies of polio in Niger. In my view, each life represents unlimited unrealised potential, hence the gravity of death should not be ascribed to the remembrance of one’s contribution to humanity but to what greatness could have been achieved if one’s life was fully lived. Building on the analogy of the 3 month old baby and the Prime Minster; the baby, for all intents and purposes, could have lived a more meaningful and beneficial life than the greatest man or woman on earth. So we mourn for both for we never know whose life would have been worth more; both still had potential for goodness and ‘badness’, both died equal; robbed of the ability to achieve their full potential. Hence each death carries equal weight.
Furthermore, we have allowed ourselves to be swayed away from reality to pay attention to lesser evils whilst real killers escape with little mention. Terrorism is evil and war is terrible but HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and the complications of pregnancy and child birth have taken more lives that all terrorist attacks or wars combined. The ‘hard’ casualties of terrorism and war pale in comparison with the ‘soft’ and yet more devastating impacts of unchecked diseases. Diseases and other health complications may be less glamorous to approach or read about in newspapers but they should be our primary concern. Sadly, our governments spend disproportionate amounts of funds to secure weapons and build armies against foreign threats who never really come, whilst paying little budgetary attention to the graver domestic threats of disease, poverty and lack of education. This must stop.
In a similar vain, the world has glamourised certain kinds of violence and neglected the real perverse kinds of violence. States in the United Nations spend more money, time and political energy preventing interstate and intrastate wars; but pay comparatively less attention to the more serious and widespread threat of violence that occurs within the home, between men and women, boys and girls, as well as parents and their children. I believe violence in the home is the single greatest threat to world peace; for as it is allowed to grow it matures into the selfish civil wars and interstate wars the world is forced to endure. Violence as a culture is birthed and affirmed through non-intervention in the home; hence to counter global violence we must target its roots by challenging its legitimacy in the home. When people are able to respect each other in the most intimate of settings, and to value each other as individuals; there is no limit to how far the collective blanket of peace will reach.
It all comes down to the value ascribed to a ‘single’ human life and the appreciation that every human being is first of all, a global citizen; regardless of their position, location, race, sex, religion, age or other differences. Before we divided ourselves into nations with boundaries, or created classes based on the roles people contributed to society; we were essentially one people. Each one subscribed and still subscribes to a somewhat universal notion of the pursuit of happiness. It is that hope that defines our oneness; it is what dismisses all plurality and restores the inherent dignity that each life deserves. Americans are not better than Europeans, Europeans are not better than Asians, Asians are not better than Africans…; people created these differences and it is people who can deconstruct them.
We have the power to dismantle the differences in the value of human life and to construct a world where every life is viewed as equal. There are practical ways to do this, once we have first of all won the battle in our minds. I will highlight three of these solutions, which are in no way exhaustive.
The first is that existing accountability mechanisms must be strengthened to constantly assess the global burden and distribution of deaths and allocate maximum resources to averting future preventable deaths through a global commission of enquiry. All development related resources must be pooled and distributed according to the priority areas identified by such a commission. These commissions of enquiry must be decentralised to the lowest administrative levels and their recommendations supported through pooled resources. Governments must be assessed according to their levels of success in averting preventable deaths and citizens empowered to monitor government performance. Government budgets and development plans must be primarily assessed by ascertaining the the number of deaths averted/ lives saved by every policy. People must be at the centre of policy making; every job created, building constructed, fiscal adjustment or education policy must be based and measured on the foundational principle of saving lives and adding value to human existence.
The second is that there must be fundamental reforms to the global media industry to ensure fair representation of issues without bias. Stories must be told fairly, without the fabricated importance created to ‘sell’ a story to an audience and meet profit targets. Deliberate efforts must be made to introduce more global News Agencies to eliminate some of the bias associated with the existing monopolies of the Associated Press and Reuters. Without such reforms, the true stories of inequality and the real value of each human life regardless of geographic location will remain hidden and distorted when visible; because of profit-centred motives. There needs to be a deliberate balance created between private and public funded media institutions within countries and globally for such reforms to be possible; and this needs political will and people-centred financing.
Thirdly, institutes of education worldwide must integrate content on equality of people and the unifying aspects of the pursuit of happiness that binds us all together into their curriculum. Images of success, education, power, excellence and other positive social aspirations must be presented in a global context free from prejudice on any lines of difference. Children must be taught about the beginning of all humanity in order to understand that every difference that exists in the world today has been constructed by people and hence can be deconstructed by people. Our children and their children need to be raised with the understanding that all men and women are born equal, and that the limits of nationality mean nothing in view of the fundamental unity of humanity.
In closing, to build a better world, every life must be valued. Everyone deserves to live and no one is more deserving of life; for to each one on earth is given one life which is taken by one physical death. What I’ve tried to say in this piece is that we must begin to see the challenges of the world by looking at their root causes, and focusing on the challenges faced by one individual at a time. Pay no attention to the prejudice and false priorities constructed by most of the media and politicians; look instead with an eye that sees each life as equal and each preventable death as undeserved for all. We are the audience and its time we told the writers the true story of human existence, a story of equality.