Thinking Your Way Through a Labyrinth of Contemporary Issues
It is difficult to define oneself in a world where everything is in a state of flux. I imagine to the Mycenaeans, it felt like the world was ending when the Bronze Age collapse occurred. I imagine it felt similar to the people of Persia when Alexander’s armies stormed through their land. And again in India when the Gupta empire set up shop. I imagine to most frightened people around the world at almost every period in history, it will have felt during the calamity of our time to think that our world is ending.
Truthfully? It did end, in a way change is the destruction of the old and the rebirth of the new. We as human beings embody the image of the phoenix, rising over and over beyond our flames whether they be from war or pestilence or climate. Human history is littered with the rebirth of our societies over the broken and tangled limbs of the people who so strongly fought to safeguard what came before.
Ultimately, we must recognise that change is not a bad thing and the fluid dynamic of human history is our greatest strength. Times of great change have led to great social progress, great technological inventions and innovations and also, our greatest crimes.
We become so consumed, so fearful of the notion that our world is ending that we justify doing anything to save it. Rather than attempting to shape the change of the world we live in, we instead resist and like the luddite, take our hammer to the causes or perceived causes of change in our world. But like it is powerless to resist the seasons, it is powerless to prevent change occurring.
But then that begs the question? What is the right change? Should we allow the change towards a less democratic world? Should we allow the change towards a less liberal world? Should we allow the change towards a less equal world?
The answer is unequivocally no. Acceptance of change is not acceptance of wrong or harm. It is ironically, in allowance of those forces of change that often result in the spectacular and violent collapses so prevalent within our species. For the fundamental fact is that nearly every single one of those changes are made from a position of fear, of a desire, a deep need to conserve and in doing so save what is mine. What is ours. Save, conserve, protect.
We become so rooted by fear, so damaged by this terror, so contorted by this perceived horror that we are willing to destroy to protect and in doing so, ring the death knell on this current itineration of our society.
Trumpism, Brexit, right wing movements, even left wing populism rooted in the past. All of these movements are founded by fear and a refusal to move past an idealised and stylised image of the past. If you ask many of the people who inflicted these movements upon society at large, you will hear justifications but at the root, at the fundamental base all of it is a rebellion against change. There are too many people who are different changing the society we grew up in.
It is in a sense paradoxical that we who are shaped by change, we who are adaptable in the extreme are so afraid of not remaining the same.
In the intro of Orange is the New Black, the song says “Running is easy, standing still is hard” and it really is, time is inexorable and the march of time is also, inexorable. What is left is to shape that change, to exert our collective will upon our collective conscience to move our ideas and views not out of fear, but out of hope that we can thrive in a world that is constantly, in a never ending state of chaos around us. Perhaps we may even recognise, contrary to what I’m saying, that we will never truly control our surroundings, but we can and we must always strive to shape what we can control. Rather than reacting constantly, and attempting to draw lines in the sand, we should instead seek to change the very foundations of our identity to remove the need to draw that metaphorical line.
We cannot conserve against time, just as we cannot conserve against nature, just as we cannot conserve against the movements of people in our great human history. When push comes to shove, the desperate defeat the wealthy and we in Western Europe have for too long attempted to confine the desperate. In a strange, almost Greek sense of extreme irony, it is often our most insular, most protected communities that believe they are the victims of this change when truthfully, they have simply ignored the world as it has pushed on ahead of them. It is they who are stuck in the land beyond time and it is they who have inflicted calamity upon us as they seek to conserve rather than adapt.
Why is it a threat that Britain is now more fluid, ethnicity wise, then it used to be? Why is it a threat that the United States moves into a post-industrial world? Why is a threat that the system built by our forefathers forefathers no longer works for us?
Because it threatens the comfortable bubble of isolation that so many have erected around themselves. Because it threatens the splendid comfort of a select view built on the masses of human suffering at home and around the globe.
It perhaps one of the few universal truths that can be truly be observed throughout time. The loss of privilege seems like oppression to the privilege. When the Samurai found themselves obsolete and their privileged position at the top of Japanese society fading away, they revolted and attempted to impose the vision of the past upon the world of that today. When the visions of post-Imperial-but-not-really Britain have begun to fade away, those enfranchised by such a society rose up to try and impose their vision of Britain upon a society that left them behind. When the visions of Imperial America have begun to fade, those protected and empowered by such an America have risen up and are revolting against being ordinary in a world where they have spent their entire lives telling themselves they are the supreme being.
This can even be observed in other fault lines in our society today, be it division by class, by sex or gender and profession. We are living in a world that is shifting its global axis as we are wont to do every few decades. Our stability is not a given, it is achieved by hard work and the desire and the will and the need to shape the world around us.
It is the futile and Sisyphean burden that never leaves us, forever torments us and will always remain ours to bear and ours alone. But to solve it is not to try and hold the rock, it is to accept the movement of the rock is beyond us and move around it. We are not now nor will we ever become capable of halting time, stoping progression and preventing change. But what we can do is create a society where change is accepted, encouraged and innovated around the values we hold dear, fairness, tolerance and equality. Where we create a society centred not on preserving privilege for a select few, but on sharing the great gains of our progress with as many we can practically deliver to.
It is perhaps the greatest irony of my writing that attempting to create such a society would inevitably provoke the biggest backlash from those who now feel disenfranchised in their glorious sense of being ordinary. But then all that needs to be said is. “Welcome, welcome to human existence for the rest of the world, but don’t worry, now you see the problem, you can help us fix it too.”
Faizal Patel 2018