Quick word before we get started; this blog has been dormant for quite a while now because of various happenings, most notably me moving to Maastricht to start a masters (but not abandoning an admiration of alliteration) and all of the required studying and stress and friend making etc. that come with it.
Now with that out of the way, let us proceed.
It took me a long time to settle on a topic for this, quite simply because there is just so much going on in the world right now. The US election is (finally, thank god) over, and yeah the result is a bit shit but let’s just see what happens (on the plus side at least John Oliver can do jokes about something else now). The UK is in a post-Brexit buzz with daily news about something or other, mostly Theresa May being a giant emotionless turd cleverly disguised as a human being and getting parred by every other European leader. All over Europe there’s controversy and intrigue, from a right wing politician on trial for hate speech here in the Netherlands, the increasing popularity of Le Pen in France, and the election of the mayor in Srebrenica who denies that there was ever a genocide.
On the international stage we have the continued fighting in Syria, which only seems to be getting worse by the day, accusations of human rights abuse in Sudan, a president in the Philippines who admitted to the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug addicts and dealers, a severe lack of basic supplies in Venezuela, a struggle for power in Libya, the list goes on and on.
Any one of those things would be enough for a whole litany of blogs, so forget trying to cram such large topics into a few thousand words. The post-US election debate is, quite frankly, exhausting, and that’s all I’ll say about that. Likewise Brexit is an ongoing process and one I’ve written about before, so no use getting all annoyed about it on here again.
But what underlies all of these things is much more universal, and is also something I can attempt to jovially and semi-pretentiously poke at over a few paragraphs while enjoying the soundtrack to Hell or High Water by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. That thing is, as the title may have given away, the idea of an increasingly fractured world. Let’s begin shall we.
There is a buzzword used by many internet warriors these days, globalisation, or variations thereof. As a student on a course called Globalisation and Law, this naturally causes me some consternation when it pops up on reddit or under a Facebook post. Do these people know what that word means? Do they simply use it as a shield for the notion that “people that are foreign are bad”? Or worse still, that the explosive pace of improved connectivity across the globe over the past couple of centuries is somehow a bad thing.
Surely to any globally minded person, someone who has travelled, who may be from one nation but lives in another, a global citizen shall we say, the idea of a connected world is one of the greatest advances mankind could have made. This is a relatively small planet after all, and it took us a few thousand years to get to the stage at which we could cross seas or travel long distances, to undo all of that would be quite a task and essentially impossible.
But then I thought a bit deeper, and things weren’t quite so clear. Humans are social animals, said it before, will say it again. Without our inherent desire to work together with others we would never have made it to this stage, we would have lived and died in our caves and some other species would have dominated the planet. Probably dolphins.
So naturally over the course of human history we have come together to build villages and towns and cities and civilisations and empires, each more sprawling and encompassing than the last. People travelled and traded and warred, and in the case of Genghis Khan, fucked their way across a continent to ensure that a staggering number of people today could claim some form of genetic link to him (Mad tings).
So it is easy to argue that the process of globalisation is in fact an ancient one, not a recent phenomenon driven by “all dem bludy imigrunts,” and without it the world wouldn’t be the way it is today. The end. Or is it…
The backlash against an interconnected world is spreading. Some people decry the integration of different cultures as a social experiment gone wrong, others argue (without a trace of irony or historical knowledge) that people should remain isolated and that they were fine before all of this mingling malarkey happened. Seriously guys, the internet is a sad, horrible place sometimes.
But we’re seeing increasingly fractious relations at the highest levels of international relations, namely the UN. There was a hubbub recently after Russia lost their seat on the Human Rights Council, yet Saudi Arabia (yeah, these guys ) retained theirs. The reason wasn’t because everyone in the room had been zapped by some kind of comic book mind control ray, it was because the UN and the Human Rights Council specifically have devolved into bloc voting, with countries voting in favour of their regional neighbours, international allies, or even trading partners. When the paragon of a united and peaceful world established in the wake of the atrocities of the second World War starts to crack after just a few decades there is some genuine cause for concern.
This is nothing new of course, Machiavelli wrote an early version of the realist critique centuries ago, arguing that statesmanship and diplomacy will always take precedence over the concerns of the man on the street. But still, every time a country puts state interests ahead of human rights concerns, such as the UK selling arms to Saudi Arabia or the US arming the Taliban in the 70s to fight the Soviets, there’s a bit of an uproar and everyone acts all surprised and shocked. And then they move on.
There is a paradox in the notion of humans as social animals, because we are also very individual creatures. We work together sure, but we are just as capable of being self sufficient if the situation calls for it. If someone Bear Grylls-ed you and dropped you in a forest somewhere, it’s reasonable to assume that you would make some attempt to find food, water and shelter, instead of walking around helplessly in a circle while trying to figure out where the nearest Costa and Holiday Inn are before collapsing into a sobbing heap. Though for some people I’m not so sure.
The point being that bringing us together can bring co-operation but it can just as easily breed conflict by virtue of our own individual self-importance, as illustrated by the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament. Though actually that’s more down to Old Testament god being a bit of a prick and fucking with people because he’s bored. But forget all that, could there perhaps be some vague grounding to the anti-global crew, the ones who argue that this level of interconnectedness is a step too far?
Thinking about this as an Indian who has grown up in Britain, spent a year in Berlin, and is now studying in the Netherlands, I want to laugh and then get angry and then make some tea. Thinking about it from a detached perspective, perhaps not.
During a visit to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva we were given a lecture about the impact of free trade on developing countries, with many graphs showing the progress made by BRICS over the past twenty years, and of course all of the increases in the quality of living that economic prosperity (mostly) brings.
However the whole time I was sat there I couldn’t help but think of places not too far from home in Yorkshire, the mining and steel communities left in a state of decay when the government pulled their subsidies, when companies took business to countries with cheaper manufacturing costs, workers unable to retrain with their skills rapidly losing relevance as time passed. Is that a necessary cost? The price of progress? What would have happened if China had never opened its market up, if manufacturing had stayed in Europe, how drastically different would the world be?
These are big hypotheticals, and of course we should deal with reality before we ever get to shoulda woulda coulda’s, but they’re things that bear thinking about. As you watch the news you can see relations between countries deteriorating and unsteady new bonds being formed, and it’s understandable that these shifts are mirrored by the increasingly nationalist and individualist sentiment brewing across Western Europe and the USA, and even in Asia in the case of the BJP in India and Duterte in the Philippines. The government of a democratic state should reflect the will of its people, but the opinion and will of its people is in turn informed by the actions of their government and other states. It’s circular, a feedback loop, and one that’s hard to break out of once a pattern is established.
Many people smarter than I am have written many theories and arguments and won Nobel prizes for doing work far more empirical and insightful on the same idea, that history is essentially a cycle, but as the adage goes “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Centuries before Santayana gave us that wonderful gobbit, religions like Hinduism and Buddhism based their philosophies on circular conceptions of the universe, a constant cycle of birth and death, creation and destruction, the consumption of a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and the horrible guilt that crops up a few hours later while you reach for the next lot of Chocolate Fudge Brownie without a trace of remorse.
The point of all of this rambling isn’t to say that any one side is right, as Obi-Wan said “Only the Sith deal in absolutes” (and the less said about the absoluteness of that statement and all of the Star Wars fan bickering the better). But we aren’t Sith, oh no, unless we’re Darth Maul who is an absolute badass.
We’re citizens of an undeniably connected world in 2016, a year that has given us such gems as “dat boi,” dabbing, and not one but two superhero face off movies. D r e a m.
As I’m pretty sure I’ve said before, ignorance is a choice nowadays, when so much information is available to us, but it is important to consider all of that information. There is no black or white, the world exists in shades of grey, apart from Essex which seems to exist in a permanent haze of lurid orange spray tan. Closing yourself off to different points of view, no matter what they might be, brings you to the exact same position as the people we all love to make fun of (Hint: the Daily Mail comment section is a goldmine of dumb asses).
Not going to lie, kind of lost track on this one. Oh yeah, fractured stuff, that’s the one. The reason this blog has been so quiet recently is partly because of actual life things happening, but also because I’ve just been content to watch what’s happening. More than any year so far this feels like the year that will yield seismic change, major shifts in power, a reshuffling of the status quo. Check the news on any given day and guaranteed there will be something somewhere in the world that is pretty damn major, whether it impacts you or not, be it political or financial or natural.
As an observer it’s nice to have so many interesting things going on, but as an active participant in the day to day of this planet, it’s hard not to be worried. If things continue as they are, if division continues to grow, discontent and disharmony spread further, it isn’t too hard to foresee a future in which all of the work of the past few millennia is undone.
Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen, or at least perfect some sort of interplanetary travel before then, because fuck hanging around on this rock when the nukes start flying.
xoxo, The “Slightly Less Angry But Still A Bit Miffed” Indian.