Jonathan Dodd’s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
Is it just me, or are we sliding into some sort of crisis? It seems to me that either we aren’t, and everything is all right, or as near as it can get to being all right, or it’s not, in which case we might need to find out just how far from all right we are. I wish there was some sort of meter, maybe in a prominent place, with a Webcam and an App, so you could look at it on your phone, and either sigh with relief or start hyperventilating, or whatever is your preferred method of panicking.
The first problem with this rather enticing idea is whether it could ever be accurate. Garbage in, garbage out, as I was first taught when learning computing, easily shortened to GIGO. That was something I could understand. But everything is dependent on data, and you can collect faulty data, or useless data, or you can collect the wrong kind of data, or you could miss a whole world of data that could actually be very important. Your algorithms could be skewed, or they could be deliberately altered to present something that shows false results that you, or someone else, wants everyone to believe.
British Ministers are making drunken speeches
Even if you get everything right, there are those who would disagree. Just look at the reactions from Russia over our condemnation of nerve agent attacks in Salisbury recently. They suggest we did it deliberately to divert attention from our own troubles and insult their glorious country and its leadership. They suggest that British Ministers are making drunken speeches. This is annoying, but expected. Perhaps they are. There are rather a lot of people out there who will believe the Russian government rather than us. Mainly because their glorious leader controls their media, so they have a lot less access to relatively free news than we do.
There are people in England who believe, or want us to believe, that the BBC is totally left-wing-dominated, and there are those who see the BBC as a hotbed of reactionary right-wing propaganda. They can argue intensely about it, and often do. We, the public, listen to both sides, and wonder what’s happening. And we never find out. It seems that we have more access to everything than ever before, but we end up being more confused and more demoralised than ever before.
It’s hard to get up and get up and pushback when you’re nice and comfy
I think this has always happened. The powers in Europe were spoiling for war back in the early 1900s, and they got their way. People really weren’t informed then, and they saw things much more simply, so they mobilised, and untold millions were slaughtered in a war to end all wars. There have been a lot of those kinds of war. Twenty years later, the powers that ruled Europe allowed a government to rise that nearly swept away civilisation and the rule of law for who knows how many generations. We survived that fight, by the skin of our teeth, but it was only at the last minute that our politicians accepted that they should have opposed Hitler a lot earlier. They sleepwalked into a war that they were totally unprepared for, and it was only the Channel that gave us enough time to get mobilised. More untold millions of casualties.
If you asked anyone in the early 1910s, or the mid-1930, whether there would be a huge war very soon, most would have scoffed, I imagine. Either they would have been misinformed, or they were so terrified of the whole idea that they were much happier to pretend that it wouldn’t happen, and it’s always so much easier to paint a rosy picture than to get up and push when you’re nice and comfy. The trouble with living in the real world is that when you’re comfortable is precisely the time when you need to push back, because that’s when you slumber, and that’s when the bad stuff gets busy.
Nobody was watching the bankers
We never learn this lesson. Back in the more recent day, the banking crisis was suddenly in the news, when a small bank faltered, and all of a sudden, it turned out that all our rosy ideas about prosperity were based on illusions. Nobody was watching the bankers, and they got away with murder, just like Hitler before them, and all those other problems brewing unregarded throughout history. People love to fall asleep, and when they get woken up, they’re a bit grumpy, so they want to kick someone, and they make some bad decisions. Here’s a hint. Never make a big decision until you’re fully awake and in command of your intellect.
So now we have continuing austerity, and a crisis in our beloved NHS. We aren’t spending enough on Social Care, we aren’t training enough doctors or nurses, or any kind of skilled labour. We rely on cheap immigrants instead, and although we talk about cutting back on immigration, we know how things will collapse without them. We’re not educating our kids well enough, or rather, we’re only educating some of them really well. We’re not distributing wealth at all well. The gap between the very rich and everyone else is just growing and growing. There are lots of statistics out there that say things like 99% of the world is owned by 1% of the people. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but not by very much.
We weren’t perfect, but we were a lot happier
Do we really believe that some people should have unimaginable wealth while whole populations have practically nothing? I know it’s been like this for most of the history of mankind, but there was a brief period after the Second World War, when we started reversing the trend, producing a more equal and caring society for a while, before the bad guys started pushing back. We improved universal education, we created the NHS, we looked after people. We weren’t perfect, but we were a lot happier, and there was an explosion in the Arts, and you could go to University for free, and people weren’t enslaved to debt, and they weren’t so worried. About everything.
There were things to worry about, of course. There was the threat of nuclear war, which felt very real. I certainly remember that. There was the Iron Curtain, and all the fear and terror of totalitarian regimes. Governments everywhere were resorting to violence and torture, even in Europe. Greece and Spain and Portugal were still military dictatorships, as was practically every country in South America. Chairman Mao ruled China. The Vietnam War raged on in all its ugliness. The world wasn’t perfect. But there was hope. I can’t think of anywhere at the moment that isn’t assailed by fear and dark forces.
We only burst into action when the lion is in our midst
We used to have a kind of innocence that’s gone now. It’s partly the plethora of information that nobody can process in any kind of meaningful way, but it’s mostly because the people who take power have new ways to grow stronger and resist the pressures to behave or explain themselves. Mostly they use misinformation, and they evade having to explain or reveal anything that they’re actually doing. And now we have a President in the USA who has possibly, or probably, been elected through some sort of manipulation of the media. I can’t prove that, of course, but I struggled to work out what he was really saying, or what his policies were, and I never understood why anyone should consider him to be a fit candidate for President.
It seems to me that we humans have a lot of good points. If our government asks us to volunteer to fight in a war, we do so, without question. That’s because they never ask until it’s too late to stop the trouble they’ve fallen into because they ignored the signs for so long. Nobody ever questions any of this. Perhaps it’s impossible to do so, because nobody has ever questioned it successfully before, as far as I know. Please inform me if I’m wrong here. I suspect that, as individuals, we are all able to behave with courage and honour, but mostly we prefer to be like a herd of herbivores, grazing the grass in the sunshine. We only burst into action when the lion is in our midst.
He doesn’t believe it, or he doesn’t care
I would have thought that it would be so much more intelligent for us to post sentries, who could spot the lions before they attack, and allow us to form defensive walls. There are brave individuals who tell us all the time what’s wrong, and what we should be worrying about, but they’re individuals who don’t have the voice or the authority to force us to listen to them. Sometimes there are enough individuals to make a difference, but they can still be derailed by one leader who refuses to listen.
For instance, we’re pretty sure now about climate change, and what we need to do to stop it getting worse, and we’re making headway. But the new President of the USA has torn the climate change agreement up. He doesn’t believe it, or he doesn’t care. We’re pretty sure that free trade is actually a good thing for universal prosperity and progress, but the same person is imposing trade barriers on various countries, so a trade war is probably about to start. We’re pretty sure that very rich people and companies should pay their way a bit more, but they’re slippery as eels, and countries need to get together to rein them in. I’m not sure that’s going to happen.
Maybe everything really is all right
I might be wrong. I’d like to be wrong. Perhaps everything is really all right. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid. Perhaps we need a war with its accompanying simple choices to unite us again and find our reason to get up and do what’s right. Perhaps the human race needs to allow self-made catastrophes to happen, so it can regenerate, like in the aftermath of forest fires.
I’m beginning to think that maybe we deserve that. We’re behaving like adolescents, we haven’t grown up yet. We want to be able to blame other people, and we want different other people to make it all right again. Maybe they will. Maybe everything really is all right, and I’m worrying unnecessarily. Who knows what the future may bring?
If you have been, thank you for reading this.
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