A lot has changed in the world since I was writing about the Maidan revolution, Putin’s Invasion of Crimea and hadn’t heard of George Soros. From where I’m standing, everything looks very very different now, so I thought I’d say a word about some of the biggest things to come out of the last 5 years.
Politicians, as we all know, have been lying since the dawn of time. Blair and Bush both knew there were no WMDs in Iraq, Clinton definitely did “have sexual relations with that woman” and Hitler’s Lieutenant Göring probably burned the Riechstag.
Believe it or not, although it’s an easy segue, I’m not just talking about Trump. The list of lies he’s told isn’t getting any shorter, but there’s plenty of alternative facts flying around from elsewhere too. Here’s an example of NBC News apparently doing a bit of “sexing up” of their own; framing George Zimmerman (who shot an unarmed black man) as racially motivated. Later they claimed it was a “mistake” or, as the Washington Post – themselves no strangers to a bit of post-hoc editing – called it, a “screw up“. Come on guys, no-one believes you.
To be honest, I don’t really know what to make of it. On the one hand, the mess we’re in is a great incentive for people like you and me to start taking deep, personal responsibility for what we believe, and what we say about it. On the other, does anyone actually know what’s real anymore? Is anything ‘actually real’?! Even science’s peer review process is apparently corrupt. Are we descending into some kind of relativistic hell where I can not only identify as a cat, but also force people to let me pee in their gardens?
Speaking of which:
I feel like in 2014, people knew how to disagree with each other without it getting cringy. Today, though, you only have to mention something like “maybe too much immigration isn’t such a great thing” or “maybe we should treat paedophilia as an illness not a crime” and, depending on who you roll with, all hell breaks loose.
In the wake of #meToo it’s become somehow personal and I now get accused of “speaking from privilege” when I talk about subjects like feminism, gender, race and equality. I get it: In the Global North, white men have occupied positions of power for a long long time. Many aspects of the culture are very difficult for people who are not white, male or straight. But let me put it like this:
The world we’re living in right now is tough for everyone. You think all those white, male CEOs are happy? Tell that to Martin Senn, former boss of Zurich Insurance who shot himself at his family home after leaving a note addressed “to Whom it May Concern”. Or any of the hundreds of others each year who do the same. Yes there are difficulties that affect one group more than another: each group, each person, in fact, has a story.
To all the people out there already formulating objections, let me ask you a question: Are you saying that certain groups of people have it worse than others? If yes, how do you know that it’s worse for your chosen group(s)?
I can’t put it better than Georgia Democrat and 2020 Vice-Presidential hopeful Stacey Abrams when she says:
…what we often refer to as “identity politics” simply acknowledges that people who do not share that ‘normative’ identity of white maleness have entered the political fray and have brought with them the complexity of their experiences…
I’m a straight woman who believes in the identity politics of the LGBTQ community because they have different experiences than I do… my responsibility is to say “I understand the constraints that you face…”
If you’re not doing this, even for someone you perceive as “privileged”, I think you’re part of the problem.
You know, maybe it started with Obama. He was someone we could relate to… True, in the end he dropped more bombs than Bush, oversaw the biggest assault on privacy the world has ever known (much of it illegal), broke his promise to close Guantanamo Bay and carried out thousands of extra-judicial killings (yes, thousands). But he spoke so beautifully…
In the UK – a little earlier in fact, we had New Labour, then… well… a gap… then Brexit, and now… err… this:
In the rest of Europe there was Pim Fortuyn, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Unidas Podemos in Spain and AfD in Germany. Then, suddenly, it was everywhere. Yes this is populism alright, albeit racist, charismatic, radical and/or speaking latin depending on your preference. Welcome to the future.
What I don’t really understand is why the bureaucrats, technocrats, neocons etc, don’t get it. All of this is coming from the same place: we’re fed up with numbers, targets, trickle-down economics and all. We want to talk to a human!
People on the Move
In 2017 the number of people estimated to be living outside their country of birth was 258 million, with 40 million more internally displaced. These are record highs.
Migration and immigration are facts of life for all of us in Europe now, and a key political issue almost everywhere in the Global North. It’s a complex situation. There are a lot of ‘push’ factors: Climate change, poverty, persecution, injustice, war; and pull factors too, mostly around hope for a better life. In a lot of cases, traffickers are involved: the global economy profits some $150 billion a year from forced labour, and privately funded NGOs are now wading in as well.
Resistance to immigration sits on a continuum from the outright racist, to more nuanced arguments about values, culture and economy, which won’t go away unless they’re acknowledged and addressed directly.
In a different way, and for different, but related reasons, people are getting out on to the streets in protest, too, even in England. In most places, they’re not getting a warm reception:
…often to the extent that the police themselves are breaking the law. This is the first time I’ve seen mobilisation of so many people all over the world for so many disparate reasons. Climate change, too, has never looked like such an important issue as it does now.
The Rise of AI
In October 2015, AlphaGo, a computer program created by DeepMind beat a world-class human player at the board game Go. It marked a turning point in the history of AI technology, showing that software might be able to perform better than humans, even in areas where we use intuition. It was the first major triumph of an emerging technology known as deep learning.
Since then, there’s been a deluge of speculation along the lines of WHAT IF MACHINES TAKE OVER THE WORLD!! Which usually ends in discussions about the “technological singularity” – the point where we lose control of our machine creations:
The signs are it’s a not that close, but then again, that’s probably what we would think, even if it was just around the corner.
Ok that’s it for now. See you next time!
Cover image by Ilovetheeu 1896 via Wikipedia