Sun | Nov 18, 2018

Garth Rattray: The oxymoronic distant proximity

Published:Monday | December 21, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Everyone, it seems, wants their 'Christmas'. Hustlers and mendicants are flooding the traffic lights and shopping malls. Shop, store, stall owners and peddlers have stocked up and spruced up for the anticipated seasonal surge in spending. Charities are engaged in their fervent quests for donations - they know that at this time of year, most of us find it very difficult to say no.

Although there are some among us who sacrifice and contribute time, energy and/or money year round to assist those less fortunate, the vast majority of people reserve their generosity for Christmastime. Some see the needy as people who somehow orchestrate their own sad circumstances. They see them as someone else's responsibility and sometimes as a health and security risk.

Out of curiosity, I sometimes ask patients how many fire hydrants they saw on the way to my office. Most stare off into space or look blankly at me before confessing that they did not see any - not even one. Of course, there are many fire hydrants along the way to my office, but they have become part of the background scenery that people look at but rarely see (notice).


The same applies to many of our unfortunate citizens - some people see them but, after a while, they seem to magically fade into the background until, for all intents and purposes, they become invisible. It's as if they are a million miles away on a distant planet, occupying some far-off world even though they are right there in our midst.

I believe that one of the greatest affronts to the human psyche occurs when we are ignored by others. If our psychological and physical needs are unmet and ignored, we react badly. Some implode and become depressed to the point of suicide. Others explode and become antisocial or violent. Either way, the reaction is very negative.

It seems that, perhaps coincidentally or perhaps by design, fairly close to most upscale communities are underprivileged ones. In the 1970s, it was rumoured that politicians were encouraging, some say populating, developing and entrenching squatter and/or unstructured communities nearby upper-middle-class and upper-class neighbourhoods in order to secure and expand their voting base.

The rationale is that the middle-, upper-middle and upper-class electorate tend to vote based on principles and policies, but the poorer, needy, dependent citizens tend to vote based on what they can get from the politicians. So they were given handouts and empty promises to keep them loyal.

In a financially struggling, democratic system such as ours, the Government cannot afford to undertake caring for the poor on its own. We are reaping the bitter fruit of crime because, over the years, many people have been ignored by society. They have been left to fend for themselves within hostile environments.


As a survival technique, those subgroups have evolved their own moralities, their own set of 'laws' that are quite divergent from our own. In their world, officialdom is oppressive and only serves to exploit them. Since we have demonstrated that their lives mean little to us, our lives mean little to them.

The crassness, aggression, lawlessness, violence and savagery that sometimes make the news are as a direct result of survivalist/adaptive social evolution. It is impossible for the security forces to cure the ills of our society; they can only ameliorate the manifestations of the deep-rooted disease created by us.

We have to start by taking notice of the people who are existing on a distant world even when they are living right beside us. We have to start by finding a way to empower the less fortunate and stop expecting the Government and politicians to do so. Better-off communities near to poor communities need to reach out and offer meaningful assistance to whoever they can.

Until we do that, crime and violence will always be a major thorn in our side.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and