This week the world seemed to be well down the road to hell in a handbasket.
There is, I think, no need to recap the events that have been flooding social media and news feeds. If this is the shape of where things are going, I despair for the world.
What’s going on? What the fuck is going on?
These events, of course – including the near nuclear war crisis in the Pacific – have not stood in isolation. The world has been heading downhill for a while; and each new step down has been normalised. We seem to be seeing a confluence of issues, brewing up over the past 10-15 years. We can point to proximate causes, but I suspect there is something deeper going on – a wider change in the overall nature of societies.
What worries me is that evil is such a fundamental part of the direction. In a way it isn’t surprising. Evil is innate to the human condition. It’s the larger part, the one that offers best rewards. The reward mechanisms of revenge, of asserting power over others – especially if their ability to fight back has been taken away from them – all trump the mechanisms of good. Unless we’re wary.
I recently wrote a novella, published a few weeks back, exploring some of the issues associated with a society that had slipped into totalitarian madness, where its citizens allowed their fears and hatreds to guide their ethics. I based it on Robespierre’s Terror – the moment when the French went through their ‘Nazi authoritarian’ phase. And the question was – what happens when those who might oppose such evil start bickering among themselves instead? What would somebody caught in the middle do?
The phenomenon of societies turning totalitarian is common enough across human history, even in recent western context; Elizabeth I’s police state, Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth, the French Revolution, Tsarist Russia, Nazi Germany and Stalinist Soviet Union among others. It appears to be a function of the way large societies work in specific circumstance. A dictator gives permission for people to unleash their dark side – and wham. Everyday citizens, those with good hearts and a proper sense of moral compass, suffer.
What’s the answer? It’s surprisingly simple. Kindness, tolerance and forgiveness are all virtues. As a species, we need to uplift each other – to accept and draw strength from our differences, and move forward together. All of us.
Of course it’s easy to say this. Doing it is quite a different matter. But it’s a challenge that humanity as a whole must tackle.
Copyright © 2017 Matthew Wright