DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN
THE DECADE OF CENTENARIES. In Ireland we have another five years of remembering to go, give or take. But most recently we have marked the end of the World War I and the loss of many millions of soldiers and civilians. Some called it “the war to end all wars”. They were wrong. The collapse of the old world brought down the Russian, AustroHungarian and Ottoman empires and began the dismemberment of the British empire. In their place came nation states and new ideologies: communism and national socialism. The stupid, vengeful, greedy re-arrangements that followed the war’s end bequeathed us the world we now inhabit including the tortured Middle East and the bruised Balkans. There were civil wars, for example in Ireland and Russia. There were pogroms and massacres, famines and sickness. In 1918 the Spanish Flu infected 500 million worldwide and killed between 50 and 100 million.
Hence, the despair that prompted Yeats to pen ‘The Second Coming’ a century ago, in January 1919. It’s one of his best known and most quoted poems, full of powerful, resonant and, it transpired, prophetic imagery: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.” Indeed.
A hundred years on, it’s déjà vu all over again. The world is in a state of chassis. Democracy is under sustained attack. The bullies that emerged in the wake of WWI are attempting to drag us all back down into their swamp. Rancid ideologies are back in vogue, demagogues, hard right ideologues and racists are close to electoral power in seven or eight countries. Those now in power in Russia, the Philippines and Brazil are as close to fascist as makes no difference. Orcs and monsters are everywhere you look. Lump Trump in their midst or not, there are certainly fascists, racists and homophobes among his closest advisors.
And the Brits are evacuating Europe, again. Plus ca change.
Many forces have dragged us backwards. Ironically, some of them represent the cutting edge of digital knowledge and technology. But without the internet and social media there would be no trolls and no echo chambers; there would be no deep data for slimeballs like Cambridge Analytica to exploit; and no fast tracks for Nazis and misogynists.
That said, these impostors were digging in ground fertilised by the indifference of neoliberal economic policies and the iniquities of the financiers and speculators, who cocained us into the last great recession and whose wretched legacy lingers yet.
Meanwhile, the earth burns fiercely – and literally. Bushfires rage across all continents and at all latitudes. Wealth is no protection as we’ve just seen in California. Famines rage. Terrible wars are executed with no thought for the innocent. Assassins roam. Ice sheets melt and glaciers retreat. Coral dies. The biosphere is imploding. Even the hardiest species – bacteria, rats, humans – are now under threat.
It’s not all bad. The change to renewable energy gathers pace. The sheer smoggy hell of its cities means that China will soon lead the way. Great investigative journalism has opened our eyes on many fronts. Africa is rising – four of the ten fastest growing economies in 2017 are in Africa. The Democrats have regained control of the US House of Representatives. And so it goes.
At home we’re too wary of the twists of fate to take anything for granted. Still, it’s quite a novelty to be touted as an example of progressive action to the world but so we are, with the repeal of the 8th Amendment complementing the marriage equality result, not to mention our wisdom in re-electing a philosopher-poet-activist as President, Michael D Higgins, a man who always does us proud.
While we’re still casting off the shackles of the ages, elsewhere voters are walking into traps. In some respects, it’s as though the last century hardly happened.
These are perilous times. Can we keep our wits even when all others lose theirs? Let us hope so.
"Rancid ideologies are back in vogue, demagogues, hard right ideologues and racists are close to electoral power in seven or eight countries."