Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
W. B. Yeats wrote this in a poem 100 years ago today. His was the generation that fought, slogged, and bled through WWI. Yet the prescience of his words shine today like gems glittering on a crown crushed underneath the treads of some mechanized machine. Those who believe the world is not under the sway of evil forces and conspiracy theories are pushed aside in the public space by those who are convinced of the existence and omnipotent control of these malevolent actors. Those who are on the fringes of belief in this world are the most strident in proclaiming their thoughts, especially with the tools of the internet aiding and abetting their efforts.
Their efforts did succeed in the election of the current president of the US. He has since then worked to both confirm and fulfill the conspiracy theory beliefs. Most of the time this has caused significant damage to the world order. The one effort capable of causing the most permanent damage has been the unraveling of the international order. The institutions put in place by the US leadership in the post-war environment have undoubtedly cost much for the taxpayers of this nation. Yet the costs saved by not having destruction brought to our shores, were worth orders of magnitude more than what we had paid.
Today though, we face the hard truth that our position of privilege in the world order is at risk. Because of the misguided beliefs of the current President, his administration has systematically applied a sledgehammer to the institutions and relationships forming the foundation of the international order. Trade deficits with a country? They’re cheating us. Tack on tariffs. Self-defense organization? Show me the money from the participants. They’re cheating us, freeloading off of our hard-working taxpayers. A people fighting alongside of our troops, working to maintain a safe haven amidst a series of nations bent on eliminating their presence? They didn’t fight with us at Normandy. Therefore it is perfectly fine to abandon them to the mercies of yet another despot found in Ankara.
As we climb out of the rubble-strewn remains of the international order after this President has completed his reign, we will have the difficult task of reconstructing the structures torn down as an act of vanity. One can only hope that the shards of the political system in this country will realize that there actually are things more important than party. There are truly existential crises we face, and if we keep punting them down the field, one day we will find that we’ve run out of room to kick. Reality will attack us, the laws of physics will strike, and we will find ourselves defenseless against the onslaught we’ve brought onto ourselves. One can only hope that the world can begin to rectify the problems we face without resorting to using our most destructive weaponry, because then we will really see what rubble looks like.
Like it or not, we have to act communally as a species. We do not have the luxury of being able to pretend we are an island unto ourselves, able to withdraw into our turtle shell and avoid uncomfortable interactions with those heathens living outside of our borders. Technology and population growth have conspired to ensure that we must face our problems together rather than as separate cells.
In the past 60 years, we’ve gained a perspective on our place in the universe. Photos from space have shown our planet is just a cosmic speck, and we are truly alone in our region of space. We’ve also gained the technology to show that though we can identify hundreds of exoplanets beyond our solar system, not one has shown itself to be capable of sustaining the type of life we take for granted. We should have gained the wisdom to realize we have to fix our problems by ourselves, since there will not be help provided from afar if we muck things up too badly on our planet. But rather than generating a movement to foster common action, we seem to be splintering into self-interested corners of our globe and putting up barriers against “others”.
Damn it, we must look beyond the shallow appeal of ethno-nationalism and race-baiting. We must realize we are unique, and special, and humanity has much more in common than we differ. Let’s throw off the shackles we keep trying to apply to ourselves, limiting our vision and reach. Let’s work together to make this a truly wonderful planet, where all groups can work to achieve great things. Will it be easy? No, especially since the politics of opportunism seem to be replaying the events of the 1930’s. But what we must all realize is that shared sacrifice is better than running headlong into a wall of warfare. The culture of Ayn Rand inspired greed has infected the US and the Republican party over the past few decades, and there is less appetite for communal action. It is now past time to reverse this trend.
A study of history (I know, that discredited tool of the elites) shows societies almost never fail by being taken over from without. Overthrow happens when there is a significant underclass that develops in a nation that does not share in the benefits of the society. The underclass eventually seizes control through normally bloody means. The recent elections showed the stirring under the surface that such an underclass is forming and will not put up with their continued neglect. Having elected one president who pandered to this underclass, but has not delivered on his economic promises despite his protestations about it being the best economy ever, they are likely to reach out for unreasonable hopes on the left side of the political spectrum. It is the center, where practical solutions to real problems exist, which will be pushed aside as ever more desperate hopes are expressed on both sides of the political spectrum. The energy on the right will reach out to engage the energy on the left, and those in the middle will be caught without their own hope of escape of the carnage unleashed upon society.