A Brave New World
2015. What kind of year will you be? The general consensus among commentators seems to be that 2014 was kind of awful (war, disaster, tragedy, raging inequality, and the forward advance of some increasingly ugly politics, all intertwined). Having been more plugged in to current affairs and politics than ever before, it has been hard not to feel affected (infected?) by that gloom in some way. In quite a profound way, truth be told. Growing up, I always used to think that the world was in a state of positive and progressive evolution, that - led by 'Western' (as it happens), democratic societies and their governments - we were in the slow but sure process of building a better world, one that might one day, not too many generations away, have some kind of Utopian resemblance.
I am a far more pessimistic person today. To what extent this has to do with my own personal narrative, as opposed to the global one, it is difficult to say. Perhaps it was inevitable that history would slip back into its cyclical rut. The story I used to subscribe to (vaguely, naively, in the back of my mind) was that the 20th Century had revealed to us images of a kind of earthly hell which we would never allow ourselves to revisit: the horrors of the Somme, Auschwitz, Hiroshima, so effectively burnt into the collective memory of our species, and taught and dutifully learnt ad infinitum during our school years, that they would act as a sort of permanent deterrent. We had developed - and earned, through sheer magnitude of suffering and human evil - a higher, more enlightened conscience, and what's more we had the technological means to act on it.
This narrative conveniently glosses over every 'lesser' world conflict since 1945, including the war that never was, but which could have been more catastrophic than any precedent - the Cold War. And yet, to me, there seemed to be some truth in it. Things were getting better. Eventually, they would be a lot better - I could see evidence of it, I could feel it, and I was kind of sure of it.
The invasion of Iraq (and the subsequent mishandling and exploitation of an imploded state) was a massive wrong turn. The 'War on Terror' and the way in which it has been waged and the way that it has been framed, feeds and sustains Terror - this much is blindingly obvious. A world-wide conflict that encircles us all in an invisible war zone (although the suffering in the more traditional war zones is far greater) didn't really exist, so far as I was aware, before I was 16, but will now exist and probably thrive for several generations to come. This is a near-certitude.
Then, in 2008, the world economic crash. To which the response of global powers has generally been 'Austerity' and 'same, same but slighty different' in terms of the operation of our economy and our financial system. Disastrous as it was / has been, the crash offered us an extraordinary opportunity. There was a chance to change a broken system. Not just repair it as it was, but to restructure it according to the needs of all, and as required by the threat of impending ecological crisis. Let's say that the UK government (which had promised to be 'the greenest government ever') had chosen to live up to that political soundbite and invest heavily in green energy infrastructure, as a means of firing up the economy, generating jobs and bringing society back to its feet after a stumble. It would have been a big gamble. But even if, after a long period, it didn't have quite the desired effect in terms of encouraging the 'markets' and 'balancing the books', we would be able to stand back and admire a sustainable society, something practically invaluable that could be passed on to future generations. It would be an extraordinary and heroic feat. But it could also more modestly be described as nothing short of necessary, in order to protect our future.
Instead, the Conservative-led government has hacked away, 'responsibly'. But the more they hack the less prosperity there seems to be and so the less comes back in to the Exchequer through taxation. The sum keeps changing, and not in our favour. I'm not against all cuts. When even the official opposition appears to be singing from the same hymn sheet, it is hard to argue against such a consensus - that cuts are an inevitable part of a 'responsible deficit reduction plan'. But the government should be going after big business, of the tax evading, tax avoiding, profit-chasing, do-as-you-please no-matter-what-the-repercussions variety. Personally, I will miss bookshops. And I will also regret the loss of countless other small and medium-sized companies unable to survive a competition that is rigged (by those with the deepest pockets, and governments too ideologically blinkered and with too many vested interests to do anything about it). Such is the beauty of modern capitalism.
Fracking. Please f*ck off. That the government should incentivise and subsidise and champion the growth of the fossil fuel industries is actually insane. They are simultaneously harming and hindering the expansion of the green energy industry. Green technology is here. Use it. As a matter of necessity and extreme urgency. You may add this to the list of things that fills me with despair.
I do follow Russell Brand's The Trews. While I by no means believe the sun shines out of his arse, he has bloomed from a self-confessed reprobate into a very positive and valuable political voice and I admire what he's up to these days. If you believe that the status quo is good enough, well then, good luck to you.
I'm not sure precisely what triggered this review of the state of the world and recent history. We are already embarked upon a new year. But that 'new car smell' has vanished all too quickly. The terrorist attacks in Paris, people murdered at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and elsewhere... I don't know what to say. The world carries on in a very dark vein.
Many images - cartoons as well as photographs - have featured in the reporting of this story and in its wake. There is one image in particular that has affected me in quite a powerful way, and in fact has brought me to tears not once but at least twice, unexpectedly, and I'm not quite sure why. It's this photograph, of the vast crowds gathered in the streets of Paris, on the night of the first attack. Some people are holding up a banner in the form of letters, which reads 'NOT AFRAID'. The photo was posted to twitter by Sara Assaf (@SaraAssaf)
What does this image mean to me? Its effect already begins to fade and bury itself as I analyse it. But it's a statement about solidarity, which has been the big theme this past week, with the march in Paris and the #JeSuisCharlie meme. What punched me emotionally, I think, was that so many people could come together, in togetherness; that we are, all of us, a community; and that no matter how dark things get, we will have the courage to live and to not be afraid. It is an image I would like to remember in 2015, whatever the year may bring.