Welfare State to Failed State [Part II]

On Democratic Delusion,
Psychological Reform and
Escapism

Steak of Kuwait (2011) by Mohammad Sharaf

Kuwait is a relatively small country where everything is approximately a 20 minute drive. Going outside has become a constant reminder of ridiculously obvious levels of corruption, which have penetrated all layers of government and society. The roads are falling apart and the youth are loud, rude and disgruntled. It only takes a few minutes of sitting in a public place to experience the general frustration and unruly behavior that has become a hallmark of a day out in Kuwait. Last winter it only took a few weeks of rain to expose how contractors are taking advantage of everything from roads to roofs. Cutting corners, hiring the unqualified, and dancing around building guidelines is all business as usual in Kuwait. Local jokes and memes—exchanged on social media—mostly revolve around the laughable levels of nation-building failure and spiral into expected trolling.

Spoiled Rotten

While family controlled companies manipulate Kuwait’s commerce, infrastructure and financial future, young adults and teenagers immerse themselves deeper in escapism. Toxic social media consumption, addictive video games, synthetic drugs, black market alcohol, coffee shop hopping, and unrealistic body goals are all vehicles the current generation is using to escape facing the cultural calamity they are destined to inherit.

Conglomerates playing the global game have figured out how to make money independent of the nation state and don’t care about what happens locally. A lot of influential people masquerade as good samaritans when they need to sway the minds of the kind and vulnerable—further increasing their arms-length control. When playing the financial game in the upper echelons of the invitation only global dark markets, whales and tycoons become disillusioned with the local market share and abandon their roles and responsibilities in their country of duty. Globalization doesn’t respect regional culture or speak the local language and is obsessed with scale and the bottom line. This problem is not localized to Kuwait but has internally reached a simmering level of instability where any slight increase in heat or pressure could explode the rice pot and its hidden contents — injuring all parties. The side effects of living with so much uncertainty and unchecked hidden players leave a cloud of doubt and skepticism in an arena where the youth don’t trust the elders and elders don’t trust the youth. Someone needs to build a bridge between these two gulfs so trade and constructive dialogue can continue unobstructed.

Joking about the system is not the way to solve the problem and the sooner that the youth realize that no one is coming to save them, the sooner the poorly built facade will drop. We are not short of engineers, business executives, PhDs and MDs, educated from the most prestigious institutions around the world. But what these empty suits, starch drenched qitras and peacock titles are lacking is simply balls, grit and a moral compass—which they will not get as part of a formal secondary education. Conformist cowardice from cultural conditioning and social manipulation is wedged deep in the Arab psyche and will take years to undo and rewire but that doesn’t mean that rewiring can’t happen now.

For decades there’s been talk of education reform with promises of new schools and universities but failure to address the underling problem of a corrupt ministerial body and an even more corrupt parliament. By merely setting foot in some government buildings, one can feel the eerie presence of the overarching hand of corruption with its shameless horizontal and vertical reach. When I speak of corruption I am not only targeting rigged tender beneficiaries, I am addressing the entire public education system—from unqualified teachers to puppet ministers. Then we ask why ‘graduates’ are ill-equipped for the job market, unfit members of society and incapable of fructifying a healthy marriage. The civil servants mirror everything about the place with their absentmindedness, attitude and dismissive behavior. Then we ask ourselves how did we get here? We got here because of greed, mismanagement and lack of accountability.

Before reforming the government, people need to reform their minds. Besides, isn’t a government a collection of its own people? Consulting firms selling overpriced administrative software and foreign school models will not yield measurable change unless the people change from within their inner core.

Democratic Delusion

Voting is a skill. Without reasoning ability and rational decision making experience, democratic voting open to all is a recipe for disaster. An analogy I have been using to explain this, is what I call ‘the 3rd grade parable’. Imagine a generation of 99 3rd graders and 1 qualified and experienced teacher. If we were to be fair and democratic we would allow the students to vote on how they would govern themselves during the school year. Due to their inexperience, shortsightedness, biases, tribal affiliations and lack of awareness, their votes will result in holding back the entire generation. The 1 qualified teacher with an actual plan and ability to followthrough, will be drowned out by the immaturity and noise of the naïve majority.

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” ―Isaac Asimov

Q: What do you get when you give children democratic tools?
A: A dysfunctional democracy.

By definition, a democracy is a majority rule with emphasis on social equality for all members of a state. Aware members of society understand that people are theoretically equal on paper but whose mental shores are separated by depths that only those who ventured to the sea floor can recognize. It gets murkier the deeper offshore digging you do in an ocean of invisible pecking order, silent benefactors and intimidating non-verbals in a rigged system.

It is very dangerous to use words and implement ideas without understanding the possible outcomes and worst case scenarios—especially if the not so well intentioned manipulate the misinformed many as easily as they manipulate markets. Thus, allowing the ever multiplying mob to influence (or think they are influencing) nation building is a recipe for failure. We wouldn’t have a vote over who is fit to perform heart surgery or who is capable of building a bridge or even who should run an Olympic race. In these cases experience, numbers, empirical evidence, historical data and skin in the game trumps democracy every single time. If we put nation-building in the hands of unqualified, uneducated and emotional animals how can we ever progress as a culture? We will keep repeated the same mistakes until some drastic measures are set in motion to stop the country from capsizing. The easily swayed and uninformed voter problem is not an isolated geopolitical anomaly, lest I remind the reader that we are living in the Trump era.

Elitism & Nepotism

The first Kuwaiti oil export was in 1946 and independence shortly followed in 1961. During the pre-oil days of pearl diving, locals lead relatively simple and similar lives and were a closely-knit community of seafarers protected by a wall that arced between the small port town and the Arabian desert. Kuwait is historically a pacifist state but walls and forts had to be put in place for protection, since there have been attempts by neighbors to annex Kuwait long before the Ba’athist invasion of 1990. Today, only a few doors remain around the 1st Ring Road as a symbol of Kuwait’s Soor (protection wall). When the industrial revolution reached Kuwait, wealth and prosperity came in abundance and there were enough opportunities for nationals and expatriates alike. Many well-known businesses were established in 1961 and are still in operation today, and pride themselves for having a hand in Kuwait’s Golden Era. But times have changed and entitled egos seem to be plagued with generational amnesia. Kuwait was established by migrants as a port for migrants — but that history is being actively eroded by elitist groups that control industrial monopolies and the local perspective, by looking at history only from the establishment dates of specific economic interests.

America” by Maurizio Cattelan

Menopausal trophy wives quick to flaunt their (very short) kinfolk lineage always seem to forget that their grandfathers—up until a few decades ago—used to deposit their pre-housing welfare excrement in the same hole in the ground as the rest of the Kout inhabitance, before the technological innovation of the infamous ‘hammam arabi’ (Arabic toilet in this context, not to be confused with Turkish bath). ‘National unity’ has become a staple headline throughout local newspapers but the underlying problem originates in certain Kuwaiti homes where ideas of racism, elitism, nepotism and religious discrimination start as manageable seedlings and are negatively nourished in-house by parents with a skewed and limited perspective. These apparent parents end up repeating past conjectures in the home and unconsciously pass behavioral patterns onto their children who carry these ideas with them in their daily interactions. We shouldn’t blame anyone for being a product of their environment and instead show compassion and forgive their ignorance. Better yet, show them how to adjust their crooked growth by casting light on their blind spots.

Intellectualistas

After attending a few cultural events and public talks, it became apparent that the disease of elitism is not only in some people’s genetics but has penetrated their minds. A certain Kuwaiti foundation of science with claims of advancement has been inviting international speakers as part of their new business and cultural development program but I seem to notice the same loud mouthed managers, stealing mic time and using the stage or limited Q&A session for a show of oneupmanship. It is a major problem when the country’s intellectualistas also practice their own form of institutional elitism in the science foundations and universities, blocking those who actually have talent and ideas to contribute from speaking and being placed in a position where they can be of value. There can be no advancement if fossilized minds have their decaying roots latched around the most strategic chairs in the country’s institutions. Selective pressures, nepotism and elitism make institutions counter-productive, heavy to navigate, and a far far cry from a meritocracy—which is now just mirage for the naive.

Zoning & Infrastructure

Every year the Kuwait Fund for Economic Development pays out hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid for infrastructure and energy projects around the world—106 countries to be precise. Before reaching out to help others (or buy political favors dressed up as ‘financial aid’) the nation in question should make sure its own house is in order. Yet the infrastructural foundation of our own country is pathetically executed with viral videos of road accidents and faulty engineering emerging every week. Lack of money is not the problem but how mindfully that money is used, invested and distributed.

According to Hammurabi’s code of laws, if an architect builds a house that collapses and kills another man’s first born, the architect’s first born should be put to death. This ‘eye for an eye’ justice was common in ancient times and served as a reminder that risk transfers to the contractor if what’s promised is half delivered, not delivered or comes with hidden downsides. This rudimentary rule of thumb ensured crude fairness, through symmetrical risk sharing in the pre-Wall Street Old World. I’m not suggesting Babylonian extremes but there has to be some kind of accountability and transparent reporting on all major projects—in detail. Financial wizardry won’t magically make a budget disappear if we can cross-reference the price of any material on the internet.

It doesn’t take a Master’s in City Planning to conclude the way homes are distributed is claustrophobic and benefits the rigged real estate barons. Surely, stealing can’t be avoided in both developing and developed countries but even those who steal try to at least deliver a minimum viable product or minimum road requirements. Residential area favoritism is all too obvious but nonsensical given the relatively small size of the population. Public utilities are state owned and belong to everybody but who lives on your street dictates the quality of your road. Young professionals that try to opt out of this residential madness and live on their own are stigmatized and met with negativity and roadblocks from nosey neighbors and paranoid landlord reps making it a nightmare to find any normal living arrangement. It’s ironic how this hassle is not experienced when the same professionals having housing issues in Kuwait find it easier abroad. This cynicism against young people is rooted at the core of society and like a cancer will be difficult to remove, treat or cure. Kuwait needs major psychological reform before you can peacefully get they keys to that loft or creative studio. The cost of headspace shouldn’t be this high.

Kuwait as a tourist destination is a mental illusion since we don’t even accept our own people. We don’t exactly have a reputation for being the most racially, religiously, and maritally inclusive bunch in the Gulf. I think we should work on our advertised tolerance before we open our mouths about any vision that is connected to opening up to the world. I reiterate, we have to work on accepting each other before we can entertain the thought of accepting others.

Get Married or Get Grounded

I was trying to help a foreign friend find a new flat for his family and he was confused when I said that having a local with him might actually hinder his chances of getting the flat he desired. Nonetheless, I visited some locations by myself to try and meet the landlords and get some information. From phone conversations to meetings in person, unmarried Kuwaitis are met with scorn and dismissed as tenants in a majority of apartment towers and residential areas. Kuwait already has a housing crisis and this kind of singles marginalization is not healthy and will force the youth into the fringes of society. I’m at the age where half my friends are married with kids and the other half are working on their careers and business projects but in Kuwait difficulties for young people continue. The country is purposely designed to make life hard for single people (specifically nationals) who want to get on with their lives. Several friends of mine don’t live at home with their parents (living with your parents even after marriage is customary in the Middle East) and for many who want to start out on their own, the apartment/flat/villa hunt is a nightmare. If you can’t produce a marriage certificate you will be avoided as a tenant and shunned by the pious appearing community. This stigmatizing of bachelors/bachelorettes who have done nothing wrong is degrading and demoralizing and pushes many talented young Kuwaitis to look for opportunities outside of their home country—where privacy and autonomy doesn’t come with a draining fight. This problem has been ongoing for generations and is mostly avoided and swept under the dusty rug. The result is that we end up with many young adults that are biologically 30 but mentally and experientially still at a high school level. Because of parental over-intervention, family sheltering, society sandboxing and state silver spooning, many young adults don’t spend enough quality alone time to know themselves and ripen before entering into a marriage—this is reflected in Kuwait’s high divorce rates (60% as of 2017).

For those who can’t connect the dots and think everything is fine, this means Kuwait is fractured socially, infrastructurally and politically. The warning siren has been ringing for decades but collective snoozing has reduced the alarm to background noise. Wake the f*** up.

Identity Crisis

Mandated monoculture cannot work in the digital age of abundantly available quality information and endless channels of expression. Policing forward thinkers, crushing reform, and trying to limit people’s minds to a national firewall will only speed up the change process. Nature always finds ways to reorganize when pressed by the environment as observed in fungi, ants and hominids. Pressing humans too hard into the box of national identity—which itself is a social construct—can backfire. Children in school learn to ‘compare and contrast’ at a very young age and it’s only a matter of time until these skills transfer to their direct socioeconomic and sociopolitical environment.

World Government Summit: ‘The Ideology of Ignorance’ by Ibrahim Buleihi

Basic freedoms have been at risk around the world with crackdowns on students who tweeted the wrong thing and elimination of risky journalists who may express inconvenient truths. It’s getting dangerous to speak up about internal issues when you have over active thought police watching Twitter and flagging the unaware for defending an opinion after attacks from hypersensitive shareholders. Hopefully there will be a mass mental paradigm shift that will provoke people’s critical thinking and awaken their true identity. Stumbling out of the cave of unconsciousness is like learning how to walk again. It will humble overactive egos and deconstruct programmed social masks.

Media & Content

To know more about the (projected) general psyche of a country, you have to endure browsing their local TV content. Broadcasted gossip, vulgarly dressed up as ‘talkshows’ in fractured language is standard ‘entertainment’ but comes with hidden side effects. Aftereffects include, but are not limited to, eye strain from looking at the poorly executed set design, with maximum color contrast—visually equivalent to the snare of a blown out and unequalized subwoofer—courtesy of the skilled production team. Personally, I have been on a 10-year TV fast (since 2009) from such channels and degenerate programming, and it has served me well. You cannot expect to produce anything of real value if your content intake and mental diet is baseless and illusion inducing. Everything you are exposed to daily or choose to watch excessively, affects your mind and world view. Try watching 40 days of something like the Kardashians or the Jerry Springer Show, if you are skeptical about the effects of mindless media on your brain. Global mass media giants and medium sized local players play a central role in shaping public opinion and the modern person. This is an influential position that has been abused, specifically in regard to the molding and control of young minds.

“It is also important to consider opinions published in media outlets, of course, since those outlets are supposed to be the mediators between the rather rarefied world of experts and the rest of us. However, if would be naïve not to take into account the fact that the media come in a variety of flavors, some more or less independent, others clearly subscribing to a particular political-ideological framework, and in many cases reflecting both specific ideologies and precise financial interests. So, what’s an interested, politically moderate but socially concerned citizen to make of all this? Who is close to being right and who is way off the mark?”
—Massimo Pigliucci, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (2008)

Local legacy media groups are slowly (very slowly) catching on to the power of mobile social media platforms and the unleveraged eyeball hours that were obviously always online. This time it was the local media groups that were digitally illiterate, and as a consequence left a void in the online social psychogeography, that was quickly filled by tabloid trash and fake news accounts. Peddling propaganda, misinformation, materialism, and shallow content is nothing new and certainly not limited only to Kuwait but has reached a disgusting level of the keep them dumb, keep them numb agenda.

“The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfil this role requires systematic propaganda.”
Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988)

What are you watching for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

Story & Satire

Kuwaitis have a sharp and humorous wit that they use to communicate hard pills to swallow. Turning heavy topics into a comedy can allow the swallower to laugh at the shared circumstances. Laughter is contagious and connects people that appear in opposition on the surface. Differences are only skin deep and once we see that, we can realize what’s happening around us and what really binds us together. The elephant in the room is not the best kept secret and before we can pretend to enjoy commissioned national songs in public spaces, the nation has to be infrastructurally, operationally and psychologically functional. Fake positivity is collective delusion and blinds the youth with snapshots from the past that they have neither lived through or find relatable. The next generations are a national responsibility and investment, and hold within them untapped energy reserves that if creatively distilled can improve the situation overnight. We need a new breed of brave comedians—like the late Abdulhussain Abdulredhawho can entertain, inform and bring us together again. Regardless of background, if one is brave enough to take a clear look at the state, it is in complete disarray. Story telling is the best way to get a point across because not everyone is receptive enough for certain truths. In story format the message is imbedded in the form of a narrative and can be revisited to rediscover the underlying truth weaved between the lines.

What stories do we need to revisit as a collective? What time trialed fundamental truths have we completely missed? How can we apply those lessons to face and change the status quo?

Afterthought:

Democracy is delusional if the voters are intolerant, uneducated, unethical and incompetent. Admitting ignorance is the first step of waking up but when society is systemically numbed by perceived comfort, they won’t know they are even asleep to begin with.

If passengers on a Kuwait Airways jet—that could carry all the Kuwaitis—voted on who should fly the plane to vision 2035 (previously 2030), we would have crashed deep in the Atlantic years ago—and newly rich nations would tell warning tales of Kuwait’s mythical Silk City like it was the lost city of Atlantis.

On paper, Kuwait is a utopia with admirable institutions, supportive government programs and a well thought-out constitution (if you ignore the syntactic contradictions, strategic loopholes and systemic oppression). In reality, the promise of a ‘decent life’ is spoiled by bad actors and special interest groups, who don’t care about the future of the country and already have offshore exit strategies—for when the oil cake collapses and the world moves towards more environmentally friendly energy solutions.

Kuwaitis live in a safe bubble and if they don’t wake up to protect and improve it, problems that are right across the border should be a sobering reality check of where state mismanagement leads. Differences in thought, belief and ethnicity should not be a deterrent to cohesive nation-building and social coexistence. National identity is a manmade construct and should be flexible enough to work with the times or will break under the force of necessary change. There is no one-dimensional crystalized model for what a Kuwaiti should look and live like, Kuwait is for everyone and the xenophobic attitudes of some do not represent the real Kuwaiti voice. Cultivating internal diversity, inclusivity and compassion is what will align us with Kuwaits external humanitarian mission.

Truth Hurts: The State of Kuwait Environment

Cited from Bazaar (April 2019 — Issue #236) [Data Source: KFAS, The Scientific Center]

90% of Kuwait’s coral is dead:
A survey of the Kuwaiti territorial waters reveals about 90% of corals as dead/dying because of oil spills, water pollution, damage due to fishing nets, pipelines, wreckage, anchors, and boat gears.

500 years of reefs to redevelop:
It takes about 500 years for reefs to regain and live again. Most of Kuwait’s preserves are gone and will never be seen by our generation or the next, or even the one after that.

Kuwait air is “unhealthy”:
According to international calculations, Kuwait’s Air Quality Index (AQI) is measured at 152. A 152 AQI pronounces Kuwait’s air quality as “unhealthy” which means, those breathing Kuwaiti air are more likely to develop respiratory problems and diseases like bronchitis and asthma.

Annual increase of 1.5°C to 2 °C:
CO2 levels emitted by Kuwait’s car traffic situation, unregulated power plants, and petroleum refineries have contributed to rising temperatures in Kuwait. Since the mid-1970s, Kuwait has experienced a 1.5°C to 2 °C increase in temperature, which is significantly higher than anywhere else in the world.

Waste management:
In a single year, more than two million tons of solid waste is accumulated in Kuwait. 90% of this waste, is not recycled, but ends up in landfills where it rots for years. Of Kuwait’s total land area (17,820 sq. km), more than 18 sq. km is overtaken by landfills.

250 tons of sewage sludge:
Of Kuwait’s six wastewater treatment plants, 250 tons of sewage sludge is produced every day. This sludge could easily be reused as alternative fuel in the cement industry—but isn’t—most of this sludge leaks into our oceans.

Agriculture:
Due to rising temperatures and CO2 levels, Kuwait’s meager 1% of arable land area is shrinking! It is already difficult enough to farm on Kuwait’s desert environment and dry soils. Due to car emissions and increased oil production, that cultivatable land is shrinking.

Did you know?
30% of the revenue made from selling oil will need to be used to fund electricity and water production to cool us down.

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flâneur | seafarer among seafarers | all Medium writing is experimental, opinion or abstract creative expression.