DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN

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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."

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