If you had any hopes of the world becoming less fucked up in 2016, abandon them now.
In fact if you have any hopes of the world sorting itself out, transforming into some future Star Trek planetary war and religious divide-less utopia for at least the next couple of centuries, put them to bed with a well placed bullet to the head.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or like me at least intentionally avoiding the news for as long as possible, it can’t have escaped your attention that a lot of very bad things have been pretty much constantly happening for quite some time now. One could even argue that they’re getting worse, increasing in frequency and severity, a constantly climbing graph ever since 9/11 almost 15 years ago now. Or rather since the advent of recorded history.
In the past few days alone we’ve had policemen being shot dead in Dallas, car bombs in Baghdad, and just two nights ago the horrific use of a truck to murder innocent people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice. Oh and to top off the shit sundae then there was an incredibly shady attempted coup in Turkey and 200 people died. Perfect. Murder is becoming background noise, a statistic used to score political points and inflame ideologies, the loss of life so commonplace that at a certain point it’s hard not to become numb to the endless headlines that drive home with soul crushing regularity just how incapable we are as a planet to sort our shit out and just coexist.
But that’s a naive sentiment.
The world has never truly been at peace, the one constant of life is conflict, humans just managed to turn it into an art form. We evolved from tribes killing each other for resources to nations strategically attacking other nations for resources, from using slightly pointy sticks to tanks and battleships and fighter jets.
War and killing have been a constant of human life on this planet as long as breathing and breeding and eating have. It bugs me when people treat war and violence as some new phenomenon, something that’s developed over the past couple of centuries, or something that is exclusively waged by rich western nations in order to subjugate the rest of the planet.
Go back to any part of history in any part of the world and I can almost guarantee that you will find at least two groups of people who didn’t get along and express that displeasure through violence. Be it Europe in the Middle Ages, or North America before Columbus, Asia under Genghis Khan or the Shoguns in Japan, people have been fighting and killing and pillaging and oppressing as far back as history goes.
Races have seen themselves as superior to others pretty much as soon as we became different enough to notice, people have enslaved other people for millennia, people have suppressed and abused minorities within their cultures, they’ve segregated based on class and wealth and gender, the rich have used the poor and the poor have risen up against the rich, it’s all been seen and done before.
Of course, arguing that war and injustice are the status quo would be a pretty easy copout. After all, and as I’ve said before, the reason why humans have made it this far is because we’ve risen largely above our base instincts to maim and consume and used our powers of reason and objective thought to co-operate and achieve great things.
However on the other hand, I would argue that accepting inevitability is not the same as acquiescing to it. If an asteroid were heading towards Earth and there was no way to stop it, the inevitable outcome would be the loss of a lot of life if not complete extinction. But accepting this fact doesn’t put you on the side of the asteroid, all it does is show that you have accepted that certain things are beyond your control.
Even in this highly democratised period of time, there are things that are beyond our control, and accepting that is not condoning it. These things may come into our control in time, we may develop a new system of government for example, America may adopt a radical approach to policing and peacekeeping, religious extremists may become fewer in number and easier to contain if not destroy. But at this present moment there are too many plates spinning in too many places for a few not to shatter, too many vested interests, too many self serving individuals, too many entrenched ideologies and prejudices.
In an ideal world, in the post-conflict Gene Roddenberry pristine future, these things won’t exist. We will have set aside our differences, embraced unity, cast aside notions of nationality and religion in order to work towards a greater goal beyond our planet. In science fiction worlds such as those of Star Trek and Mass Effect, this development only happens once contact is made with an extraterrestrial species, and perhaps they’re not too far off the mark.
Perhaps what will eventually bring the world together is the acceptance by every man, woman and child that we are minuscule parts of a mind scramblingly large universe, a speck of a planet in a tiny solar system in one arm of one galaxy in one local group in one meaningless microcosm of the universe. Perhaps what we need is for an extraterrestrial race to arrive and show us objectively just how ridiculous we’ve become, when we kill each other because we think somebody with a different skin pigment is inherently a criminal, or because somebody believes in a different imaginary sky fairy they deserve to be burned alive, that a whole army should have to go and fight another army because someone who speaks a slightly different latin derived language strayed over some imaginary boundary line.
The aliens would be baffled, they would wonder how a world that has such advanced technology and such profound writings and observations of itself could continue to fall victim to its own acknowledged shortcomings.
The aliens would wonder why a small planet, one so connected, could stand to ignore and look away from problems happening a few hours of flight away. And then perhaps they would realise something.
They would realise that we have come to accept an inevitability, we have come to accept that we can’t stop these things from happening, not as mere individuals, not just yet anyway. We can’t stop ourselves from holding prejudices, we can’t stop ourselves from holding on to petty notions of nationality, we can’t stop ourselves from scrambling to claim every drop of every resource for our own at the expense of others, no matter how dire we make their circumstances. Even when we make a stand against something all we do is highlight our differences, it’s an unwinnable fight, we’re too far down the line for things to reset themselves.
Many blogs ago I quoted the great science fiction author Robert A Heinlein, who wrote the following in his book Double Star; “Take sides! Always take sides! You will sometimes be wrong – but the man who refuses to take sides must always be wrong.”
It may be somewhat paradoxical, but that’s the way it seems to be. The only way to bring about an end to conflict is to start a conflict with those who create it, the only way to stop division is to take a side against division and simply create more division. It’s like a fractal pattern, an endless spiral, a self replicating machine that requires no outside input to create. Gandhi famously said that “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” but even then he was a few centuries too late, the world has been blind for quite some time now.
But even though we acknowledge we do not acquiesce, and if there is one silver lining to the endless grey clouds of misery then it is this. People are taking a stand, people are making their voices heard, and though the voices may not always be wholly rational they carry a passion that is sorely necessary. People may not acquiesce to violence but all too often they are ambivalent, apathetic. I’m guilty of this myself, wondering why or how I can even begin to sympathise with every person that falls in the name of whatever cause. Being uncaring may not be the same as actively not caring, but it isn’t too far removed, and one could argue it’s a pretty slippery slope.
Yet for every person like me there now seems to be another who is unwilling to sit there and take it. This person might be protesting against austerity in Westminster, they could be marching for BLM in America, in India there was an uproar following the Delhi rape case, and people went out of their homes and took a stand. The new divisions we are creating could be seen as not divisions between people or ideologies, but divisions in time.
The divide is being created between the past and the future, putting old ideas to rest in order to create new ideas for the next stage of our society.
It’s hard to root out what one perceives to be an outmoded way of thinking, and likewise it is difficult for us to see the other side of an issue. If you argue against somebody by arguing the exact opposite you merely become a reflection of them, stalemate, unable to find a third way.
In the social media activism age the answer seems to be to change the definition of something to suit your own agenda (racism isn’t power + privilege or whatever, it’s racism), or to devalue intellectual debate which could lead to genuine change by reducing everything to a hashtag and one of those goddamn bullshit caption filled clip videos that do nothing but reduce independent thought even further. And it’s painfully ironic to watch people unable to see that they are just becoming the very thing they are fighting against, being so educated yet so unaware. Every person seems to be a micro version of a macro society, aware of their issues but unable to change them, a self-replicating machine. Social activism is necessary, but activism with genuine intellectual insight, rational arguments that aren’t driven by emotion, treatises instead of tweets, plausible solutions instead of utopian fantasies.
There is no answer to this, there is no quick fix, there is no bloodless revolution on its way. The best we can do is hope, and have our say when we can, and in my case churn out poorly structured, rambling, hugely subjective blog posts in the hopes that somebody will read them and agree with even the smallest part. And now, like any smart alec grammar school middle class malcontent, I’m going to quote someone.
Way back in 1971, John Lennon sang the following verse on his immortal song Imagine;
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
Forty five years on, we’re still imagining.
xoxo, The “Out of his Vulcan mind” Indian