Collapsing – an April blues

Although it may be a bit exaggerated, I find myself increasingly unable to listen or watch news bulletins, particularly on the mainstream media. The drone of right wing nationalists and the vacuity of centre-right politicians fill me with a mixture of disgust and despair. Many of the views and opinions turn me so far off that I turn off.

But I know that this response gets me nowhere. Knowing your enemy is useful advice. Yet in these murky times it is not easy to figure out what to do with such knowledge. I have minimal power and influence anyway.

As scientists document the decay and destruction of nature, the media focus on absurd cultural phenomena and entertainment – royal families, celebs and such like – wasting our precious time and insulting intelligence. On another level leaders in America and in Britain are floundering around in their nostalgic fantasies of greatness, retreating from international cooperation and re-establishing barriers to trade. In Russia, Turkey and elsewhere strongmen flex their muscles and assassinate or intimidate dissenters. In other parts of the world military budgets are increasing and the space for civil society and human rights organisations is shrinking. I recently attended meetings with Tanzanian researchers who are afraid of investigating potentially sensitive subjects – the factors driving high teenage pregnancy rates for example – as politicians threaten repressive measures against those undermining “traditional values.”[1]

At the heart of the matter are a series of primitive tribal instincts, which seem to be getting out of control in many regions. The Hungarian general election this weekend exemplifies the unfortunate (misguided) direction many European countries are taking. Sadly, according to opinion polls, thousands of people are prepared to vote for an ugly assortment of neo-fascist tough guys who promise to keep all the baddies away and are hell-bent on dismantling the ”liberal and democratic order.” What will replace it? I fear the prophecies of George Orwell, with boots coming down in human faces forever. Meanwhile in the US of A the “administration” is mobilising the national guard to defend the border with Mexico against “caravans” of destitute central Americans…

Although some global institutions seem to be collapsing, from readings of world history it would appear that the ebb and flow of stability and order have been commonplace over the centuries.[2] So I pin my hopes on new progressive movements confronting the old men in power and their barren ideologies. As the #me too movement against sexual harassment has shown recently, even the social media can be harnessed to enlightened causes. Surely, as the rapid spread of distress and stress amongst the web-fixated, twittering, instagram generation flashes warning lights, there are alternative possibilities for making use of these powerful communication tools, ensuring that they contribute to exchange of ideas. It is necessary to counter anti-democratic manipulation and thought control; as illustrated by the disturbing discoveries of Facebook in cahoots with the sinister “Cambridge Analytica.”. Some economic policy reforms for getting to grips with inequalities wouldn’t be a bad idea either!

[1] The Economist laments the latest developments in Tanzania in the 17th March 2018 issue: https://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21738919-strong-constitutions-matter-tanzanias-rogue-president

[2] See for example: ”The Silk Roads – a New History of the World” by Peter Frankopan (Bloomsbury, 2015).

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