I see the words shambles, crisis, clueless, hopeless, disaster, fury, anger, not fit for purpose and half a dozen other key words in the paper most days.
I wonder what happened to create this febrile sense of disaster that seems to hover over us every time something happens that we weren’t expecting.
Don’t get me wrong, these phrases are often used for events that are, undoubtedly, tragic and demanding of our compassion and generosity.
Yet in the scheme of things we’re still here (bar the one real crisis I can see right now, which involves the US and DPRK in an increasingly worrying and shrill stand off – there’s no doubting the eventual victor but real uncertainty about the number of people who might die and the impact on relationships across dozens of allies and opponents in the wake of this being resolved).
Then I look back at history and think about the number of people who died young, the children who died before they reached the age of five. I think of the pogroms, the persecutions, the real disasters that wiped entire civilisations from the earth and I wonder why we get so incensed.
I’ve got one, really simple explanation. That we, in the rich late capitalist nations of Western Europe, North America and APAC, have never had it so good.
Until now. In the face of communities creaking from the first decline in life expectancy in generations, in the first generation to be poorer than their parents since 1945 and with a rapidly changing tech environment that leaves people feeling quite insecure we find our expectations about what normal is to be completely skewed.
We’ve had it good – medicine, travel, food, jobs – all abundantly available within historically stable societies. This is a massive miracle cast by humanity like a spell that’s now starting to expire.
I propose that we’ve got so used to the good stuff that now we see the cracks appearing – rather than remembering the fights that had to be committed to in order to win these freedoms and luxuries, we stand around lost as to why this is happening to us. In our short termism, we lose the strength we could have in remembering just how bloody hard it was to get to this point.
I think that if we remembered how hard it was for those who were there at the time to win enfranchisement for women, rights to reproductive decision making, the end of slavery, gay equality, prohibiting discrimination based on physical identity, the gutting of the class system and LGBT rights we’d realise that those fights will never (unfortunately) be over because cultures flow like tides, responding to scarcity, the need to have identities that keep others out and certainty of material wealth over and above others.
I’m not saying we should be depressed! Far from it. I’m saying that we should smell some of the good things we’ve got going and decide if these are the things we want to leave to future generations. If they are then we need to alter what we think of as normal. Normal isn’t a state of having it good – that’s a momentary achievement we should always celebrate. Normal is fighting for what we want – collectively, constructively – and channeling some of our energy into making sure we’re ready to stand up for it. Not once, not twice, but all the time.
In some ways, I’m saying that the lethargy we feel about politics is misplaced and comes from a feeling of powerless that arises not because we’re powerless but because we’ve forgotten just how hard those who came before fought for what we’ve got.