FASCINATING TIMES: A Social Commentary by Mal Fletcher

A Social Commentary"
by Mal Fletcher

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Mal Fletcher is never satisfied with a society that is fixated on its feet: he wants to get us looking at the horizon. Fascinating Times is his latest contribution to this.
Dr. Joel Edwards, International Director, Micah Challenge
Former member, UK Equality and Human Rights Commission

Mal Fletcher has the knack of making sense of the torrent of changes going on in society, technology and the economy. His insights are exceptionally valuable for all those who hope to see and shape the future.
Tim Costello, AO, CEO World Vision, Australia

Mal Fletcher comments on society not only as it is, but as it perhaps should and could be. Mal’s is a voice that should be heard and, perhaps more importantly, heeded.
Mike Shaft, BBC Radio

Amidst widespread disillusionment about many of society’s leading voices and institutions, Mal Fletcher offers fearless thinking and profound insights about our world and our lives, in a most welcome spin-free zone.
Leigh Hatcher, Sky News (Australia) and Open House Radio


Fascinating… it’s a great word, isn’t it?

It hints at enjoyable experiences and exciting possibilities. If we say that a person is fascinating, we usually mean that we find them intriguing. Similarly, a fascinating subject is one that stirs our curiosity. Pull out your dictionary, however, and you’ll see that there are two shades of meaning when it comes to the word ‘fascination’. As expected, one of them has to do with inspiring inquisitiveness; the other, however, is about provoking fear. When a rabbit is caught in the headlights of a moving car and paralysed by shock or terror – or both – it can be said to be ‘fascinated’.

Promotional Video for Fascinating Times: A Social Commentary

Rumour has it that Chinese people once bestowed a curse upon their enemies by saying, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ It’s a juicy rumour, but one that we should probably add to an already long list of urban myths. There’s scant evidence that any such practice ever existed in China, or anywhere else. Yet whether or not the notion is based in fact, it’s easy to understand why such a statement could be a curse. Being born in interesting times isn’t necessarily a comfortable thing; it can just as easily inspire exhaustion as exhilaration.

It is even trickier, I think, to be born into fascinating times – like our own. Giving careful consideration to the major issues we face – in government, business, the economy, communities, families and society as a whole – can either motivate us to greater levels of achievement or leave us feeling perplexed. In the face of rapid shifts in technology and often fluid societal ethics and attitudes, some people find themselves transfixed, like the proverbial rabbit. They feel as if they’re rooted to the spot; powerless to move forward under the harsh spotlight of change.

The role of a social commentator is to observe patterns within societal events and social shifts. In seeking to understand trends in human behaviour and attitudes – and how current events impact them – social commentary can help us to process individual issues by locating them within a wider narrative. It can also, on occasion, make complex issues seem more manageable and less confusing, by reducing them to their constituent parts. At its best, social commentary allows us, individually and collectively, to reflect upon and recalibrate aspects of our worldview. By helping us to identify the often unconscious constructs through which we interpret reality and define ethics, it can strengthen our values and, if necessary, challenge our priorities.  Whether I've achieved any of the above in the following pages is, of course, your judgement to make. At the very least, however, I hope you will find yourself stimulated, so that you think afresh about the issues covered and what they might mean for our collective future.

The editorials and articles featured in this anthology cover a wide range of subjects and issues, among them: technology, social networking, robotics, assisted dying, youth violence and gangs, the marriage debate, middle-age crises, suicide, ageism and many more. These pieces began life in different ways. Some were written as features for respected e-journals. Others started out as editorials for news releases, which were then quoted or substantially copied in magazine and newspaper articles. Still others began as background material for my television and radio appearances, only to be more fully developed later, for various publications. Most have appeared in one form or another on the internet; albeit often in a less polished guise and without the various special appendices featured at the end of this book. As you read these pieces, you will doubtless disagree with my analysis from time to time. If so, I hope that you do so passionately and with conviction (while keeping an open mind).

I also hope that you’ll use the study and discussion guide as a platform for further engagement with the issues that most interest you. (The online media section is also a helpful resource for this.)

My greatest hope is that, having read this collection, you might feel encouraged to engage with change in a proactive and confident way. The greatest enemies we face in moving forward – as individuals, communities and societies – are not pandemic diseases, terrorist activities or changes in global climatic patterns. Our biggest foes are human fear, apathy and a desire to see change for change’s sake. The first two stifle human creativity and cripple our ability to build the better world to which most of us aspire. The last turns progress into progressivism, so that we rush headlong toward anything new just because it is (or seems) new. We certainly live in fascinating times; may we face them eagerly, with sure-footed interest and wisdom to match our knowledge.

Mal Fletcher
October 2012