These here be crazy times. Like most people, I am stunned that the orange one won. Make no mistake. Americans aren’t stupid, as much as we’d like to portray them that way, the same way we wanted to portray the English and the Welsh for voting to leave the EU. We live in extremely uncertain times, bombarded with information, news, and opinions, updated by the nanosecond, from all corners of globe, with a climate that is rapidly changing and threatening our very existence, with economies changing and making jobs and people no longer relevant, with technology rapidly changing and merging with our souls, with tens of millions of people on the move because of conflict and catastrophe. Koyannisqatsi, one of my all time favourite films, a Hopi word meaning life out of kilter, comes to mind
Sure, we have been here before, the cretaceous boundary event 66million years ago, colonisation for the world’s indigenous peoples, WW1 and 2, the cold war, the great depression. But it feels a little bit different. Possibly because since the 60s there have been the great leaps forward in human rights, voting rights, first nations recognition, womens rights, protections for people less fortunate, safety, and economic development. It now feels like we have come cruising around a long bend, only to find trees and boulders strewn across the road, that this progress is not only being halted, but potentially being reversed. The just concluded election campaign indicated that it’s OK to mock someone with a disability, or a latino surname, or a mother with a baby, or worse still incite violence against people who don’t agree, and are vocal about it. As the wonderfully articulate and emotional Van Jones asked, how do we explain this to our children (and my 15 year old daughter drew my attention to this).
Partly also maybe because everything in society has conglomerated towards a safe centre for so long, there are few surprises. Political parties pretty much the same, big corporations merging and merging and merging until there is little diversity in product offerings, mainstream media fighting for survival in a new digital age, scared of really offending governments and patrons, and everyone telling us that we can have everything that we want (for a price), everything is possible, and everything is alright (see the media room of any government or organisation’s website, you’d be forgiven for thinking there are no more problems in the world, that they are all solved). There are few angular edges anymore. So when the edges come (ISIS, Brexit, Trump, Hanson)., they are sharp and uncomfortable, and it makes things feel a bit unhinged.
People are fearful and angry at changes outside of their control. And they lash out at those that they perceive responsible, the establishment polity, that doesn’t get out of bed before consulting a focus group somewhere. And the elites, the inner city, chattering, latte sippers (of which I’m a fully paid up member) who have lost touch with what is happening beyond the Beltway, or North Rd or the M25. What does this mean? A volatility pervades our societies. Behaviours are no longer predictable. Trust in institutions is eroded. We don’t know what might come next. And the fear will spread, particularly if those in the ascendency take their cues from what they see their leaders do, on TV and the internet, and incite hate.
Why is this important for us in disasters? I am not sure. To be honest with you, I don’t know where this post is going. I think it more about my own shock at a string of happenings this year, that cut to the core of what I believe in, fairness, equity, equality, and a good sense of humour.
Some thoughts though: this volatility is going to make it harder for us to predict human behaviours during and after disasters. As disasters disproportionately affect the poor and disenfranchised, they will be more marginalised in this new scenario. Loss of trust in institutions will make it hard to engage with people.Will these leaders steeped in populist bravado show real leadership in crises or blame the victims, as happened in the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando. The role of leader becomes Mourner in Chief, not haranguer in chief. As nations become more insular, those that really need support, in Aleppo, in Darfur in Haiti will be forgotten. And, if Paris falls over, heaven help us.
We need to understand this volatility, validate it as something real, rather than dismiss it as something trivial, passing, and work out a way to help people move through this fear and anger. And all the while, not allow the progress that has been made, to be eroded, to stand firm. Be counted.
There is hope. Young people, in all of this, don’t accept it. It shows that we’ve done something right. They didn’t vote to leave the EU, they voted for Clinton, they vote Green. I’ve had long conversations with both my daughters about the election. They and their friends are energised.
And, the sun did come up today, and skies were blue for a little while, and Amy and I went out after dinner to kick a football in the cool spring air of the fading evening light, with the smell of cut grass and buzz of the distant day ending traffic. It felt good, a little bit of freedom, to play, and I did something I haven’t done for maybe 30 years, ran and jumped over the Elwood Canal (at the narrow bit!). This former long jumper is not done with yet.
This is the most beautiful song I have heard for some time. I think it’s entirely appropriate for the time.