It is an interesting time to be alive and awake to what’s going on in the world. Trump’s actions remain a mindfuck and Boris Johnson is no better. In fact, he may well be worse, because he shares many of Trump’s most dangerous attributes and brings coherence and a world-class education to the table too. These two megalomaniacs are in power at a time where the decisions of our leadership are perhaps the most crucial they have been for decades, as it is the choices our governments make over the next few years that may well determine the future of our species and this planet. Those with differing political sensibilities feel more divided than ever, with real progress being made by some for equality and inclusion, while others double down on their efforts to restrict respect and freedom for select groups. This year saw Pride parades all over the planet, last year saw Ireland legalise abortion and many Democratic nominees have announced programs specifically to improve the maternal health of black mothers, whose maternal health outcomes are poor across America due to systemic racism and substandard care. Social media makes it clear how many people around the world care about kindness, justice and equality.
But the Internet also makes clear how many hateful people there are too. The actions of the Trump administration regarding migrant families remain barbaric, with multiple children dying under the supervision of ICE. Progressive politicians have toured the border camp facilities and have come back with stories and photos of unsanitary conditions and abuse, including detainees being told to drink water from the toilet in response to thirst. Brexit is an unmitigated disaster, which has been a little on the backburner as the new Conservative leadership elections dominated British press, but will be back on our screens at full-force as BoJo careers toward a shoddy deal – or no deal at all, if he gets his way – on Halloween. There might be another general election, but Jeremy Corbyn has done little over the past few years to inspire people to vote for him either. We have seen heat waves and record temperatures all summer; it’s hard to enjoy your ice cream when you know it’s only a sign of the disasters to come.
It can feel hard to keep up with. I often find myself feeling behind when it comes to British politics, and, ironically, a lot less informed compared to my knowledge of American politics and the 2020 election. I can’t pinpoint why, given that Brexit and BoJo and all our own outrageous statements and policy blunders continue to grace the news, but I find British politics a lot less engaging than the equivalent across the pond. American politics seem brasher, somehow, while British politics still seem a bit male, pale and stale – though this probably allows equally problematic figures to keep their actions under the radar as coverage favours the most dramatic, not necessarily the most notable or most worrying. But I feel bad about not being up to date with Johnson’s latest antics or knowing exactly why Priti Patel is such a terrible appointment to the cabinet, beyond the phrase ‘human rights abuses,’ which I’ve seen shared a lot on Twitter and seems pretty compelling.
It’s a hard balance to strike. On the one hand, we need to care. Or rather, I want to care, and I do care. However, staying outraged about all the things worth being outraged about would be a full-time job, and would likely cause massive stress and unhappiness (as evidenced by the increase in anxiety and depression medication prescriptions over the past few years). To truly grapple with our changing planet is to admit that we may well be headed for a mass-extinction event, and it will probably be us, our children or our children’s children who are wiped out by the extreme weather and food shortages that 97% of scientists assure us are on the way. To stay positive is almost bizarre; ‘positivity’ about climate change seems to be best located in a ‘we’ll find a way to survive’ attitude rather than ‘everything’s going to okay’ approach. Because everything’s not going to be okay for all of us. To accept that is to accept the apocalypse, or to admit that you don’t care about others who are less fortunate, or to share the confronting thought that you are okay with your own demise. Regardless of your reason, people don’t want to hear it. No one wants to hear about your climate privilege or your total acceptance of either the end of the world or the end of your world, while everyone else is running around turning off lights and turning down burgers.
But we can’t live in the angry, outraged, terrified place all the time. Because despite the existential threats to the safety of humanity, and to certain humans more than others, life still, rudely, goes on. I mean, in the midst of political and environmental chaos, people are still throwing gender reveal parties. Clearly, there’s still a place for frivolity (and the gender binary, but this isn’t a blog post about that).
I have thought a lot this year about transience. I have visited museums about the most terrifying and depraved parts of the past century and stood on the site of a lost wonder of the world. I visited a city that used to be a powerhouse and is now an afterthought. It’s hard to see the markers of civilisations past and not gently accept that we are but a single point on an unfurling continuum and that this period of uncertainty and stress is no more drastic than any other period of Earth’s history. There have been plenty of mass extinctions before. There have been plenty of corrupt politicians before. There have been millions upon millions of incidences of mistreatment and injustice and cold-blooded murder and abuse. Admitting that doesn’t mean condoning it, and it doesn’t mean accepting it. But it might mean accepting that we are not that special and that we are not above the same stresses and challenges that have impacted every generation before us. Even now, I find myself getting pre-emptively defensive, as if I can sense someone gearing to act like I don’t care because I dare to say that we may not have evolved that far past those who came before us and made many of the same mistakes.
I don’t even know what I’m trying to say here. I’m wondering about how to care about the treatment of the most vulnerable and the slowing of the global economy and warming of the climate while also admitting that we are not the only people to have lived through turbulent times. It doesn’t make it any less urgent – arguably, climate change is the most urgent issue to have faced our species – but it might help the cognitive dissonance that comes from watching world leaders lie and incite violence one minute and then going out for a drink with friends the next. How can these worlds be the same?
We look back on the atrocities of former humans and wonder how it came to pass. And yet, this is how. Because most of us can’t do anything. Because most of us have no choice but to be spectators to disaster. I wonder what the textbooks will say about all of us in a hundred years. I wonder what mistakes our descendants will make.