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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 28 May 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 28 MAY 2016 21 OPINION Death and taxes Why are we led to believe that taxation is something so unpleasant, while in fact it is the most tangible act of citizenship? NIKOS FOTAKIS In fact, interestingly enough, the "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Benjamin Franklin's classic aphorism does not only ring true as a testment to certainty. It is also the sense of gloom it implies that has made it pass the test of time. Paired with death, taxation becomes something that causes grief and mourning. As the financial year comes to an end and as we head deeper into this election campaign, the issue of taxes gains a more prominent place in the public discourse and the word itself dominates the rhetoric, always associated with something unpleasant. Politicians themselves are loath to admit raising taxes, which are seen as a burden, a necessary evil, the downside of being a citizen. word ‘citizen’ itself is seldom heard - it appears to have been replaced, at some point, by the word ‘taxpayer’. We're all ‘taxpayers’, carrying on our backs those who ‘rort’ the system, leaving us with the bill. Nobody likes bills, nobody likes to pay, and especially nobody likes to be left with the bill for other people's expenses, which is what the dominant rhetoric implies: that this society is comprised of responsible, well-meaning tax-payers who dig deep in their pockets and give out their hard-earned money to reckless politicians and entitled bludgers. Yet there's more to taxation than this. Taxation is the lifeblood of society and this is something that all political talk fails to remind us. There is a redistributive function in taxation, as it is the best way for all citizens to contribute to the community for the benefit of everyone. Taxation means agreeing to share some of your accumulated wealth with the community. In the most effective method of wealth redistribution, each member contributes according to their means, in order to create better conditions for all. Access to better healthcare and education, housing and a source of income for the underprivileged, anything that strengthens the social fabric and eases the effect of social inequality, is actually funded through taxpayers' contributions. A conscientious citizen would not see taxes as a burden, but as a privilege, the most tangible action of engaged citizenship that our society has come up with. There is a reason people don't talk about taxes like that. The mere mention of the words ‘redistribution of wealth’ is enough to cause a fit to a large part of the public sphere. In a society where the market is god, wealth is not something to be redistributed, but treasured and talk about taxes is only welcome if it implies lowering them. Under this narrative, a taxpayer is someone who welcomes the idea of paying less on taxes, but is expected to pay more for education, health, retirement, transport, and everything else otherwise paid by their tax money. And yet, the redistribution of wealth is taking place everyday, as part of our dominant culture of consumerism. Only this time, it is the redistribution of wealth from those who have less towards those who have more. The best example of this kind of redistribution is what happens at a supermarket, when an employee receives a paycheck and then goes on to spend it on groceries, thus returning part of the salary back to the employer's pockets. On a wider scale, this is what happens to everyone. We're encouraged to shop in order to satisfy our needs - be it our actual needs or fabricated ones - and keep the economy going, but in the long run, that means that the larger part of our accumulated wealth ends up in the vaults of the major players in the market: conglomerates, chain retailers, multinationals. And as it happens, a large number of them pay no taxes at all. But God forbid if anyone alerts taxpayers on this kind of rorting the system. OPINION Is social media ruining our social lives? The irony ... ANASTASIA TSIRTSAKIS I got into the smartphone game a little later than most my age. A friend was upgrading to a new iPhone and wanted to know if I would like to inherit her old one free of charge. Most would jump at the chance, but I couldn't bring myself to commit, and told her I would have to think it over, at which point she stared at me, puzzled. "Umm ... why? You need a new phone, and I'm giving you one. What do you need to think about exactly?" To which I replied "You're right, but the thing is, I know it's going to significantly change my life." It was a response she was not expecting, and if anything, it added to her state of confusion. There were images whirling through my mind of the countless times I had met up with friends for drinks, or was in a lecture at uni listening to an insightful presentation, while they would be on their phones checking Facebook, or flicking through their Instagram feed. The lack of respect, and what I saw to be an inability - at the risk of sounding dramatic - to be 'in the moment', repulsed and, in all honesty, worried me, and I feared becoming one of them. My decision process entailed pre- senting my conundrum to friends, and against what I now see to have been my better judgement, they each convinced me that it wasn't the technology that was at fault, but the user, who allowed themselves to get caught up with the device and all it offered. So in 2013, I said yes to my friend, and became the user of a smartphone. And as far as I see it, it's basically gone downhill from there. The humble Nokia I carried around was one thing; though I was contactable at all times as long as it was on my person, smartphones, on the other hand, are another thing altogether. Now let's be honest - there's no point having such a fancy device unless you make use of its features. As any keen traveller with friends and family abroad would agree, new (and cheaper) modes of communication are always welcome. So before I knew it, not only was I accessible via the more traditional modes of a phone call and SMS, I soon had a Skype account, WhatsApp, Viber, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and the most recent, Snapchat (come on, don't judge. You know those filters are hilarious). Of course I can see the merit of being connected. Social media and the internet's immedia- cy and great accessibility have meant people around the world can connect and engage with global issues and raise much-needed awareness to increase knowledge and help those in need. There are also the added benefits of providing a support network for those who find themselves isolated or feeling lonely. But like any good thing, over-use and exploitation quickly reveal a long list of negatives, many of which have led to lack of privacy and a lesser sense of autonomy than ever before. Now I'm going to be honest, there are times that you're going to call or text me - even if you are a very good friend - and I'm not going to answer straight away. I might be busy, I might not be. But that's not really your concern, or anyone else's for that matter. Yet our overwhelming connectedness and access to information has give everyone the capability of becoming a detective in their own right. 'Oh, she didn't answer me? Let me see if she's been active on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat ...' and the list goes on. Chances are, after being at work all day the person is simply tired and wants a chance to disconnect. And yes, by 'disconnect' it might even ironically mean liking a few photos on Instagram. But that doesn't mean they're an- noyed at you, or that you're not a priority. Which brings me to my next point: our need to be in contact with people throughout the day. In what now seems to be distant memory, there was a time when we wouldn't call someone unless it was important. Once they left the house or work, without another option, we respected that they would be unavailable until we next saw them, or, in the worst case scenario, in the instance of an emergency. But with access to our loved ones at the mere click of a button, now any little thought that passes through one's head is deemed worthy enough of a text. Then, when in person we struggle to find things to talk about, and instead we pick up our phones and engage with that instead. Do you see the vicious cycle at play? My 10-year high school reunion is coming up, and while I admittedly haven't kept in actual contact with many of them, I honestly don't feel like it's been long enough to reunite. We all have each other on Facebook; we know whose gotten engaged, married, had kids, where they last holidayed, and even what they ate for dinner last night. There's no longer a sense of intrigue in the lives of others, be- cause for many, their sense of being is now dependent on everyone having an insight into their lives and the validation of a 'like'. This phenomenon, of course, comes with even greater repercussions on society. According to the fifth annual National Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey, Australians were faring worse in 2015 than in 2011, reporting higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety, which, surprise, surprise (not), had a strong correlation with hours spent online. No one has yet summed it up better than US-based pastor Steven Furtick. "The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel." And after all the effort we put into staying connected online, technology, it seems, has made it easier than ever to hide behind a screen and cancel on real-life plans with real-life friends at the slightest sign of a headache, yawn or new series on Netflix. But as I conclude, I realise that all this really comes down to is a lack of self-awareness, self-control, understanding and respect for ourselves and those we hold dear. Let's just hope we don't all wake up one day and regret having wasted our days in front of a screen.
21 May 2016
4 June 2016