It’s already here actually – the storm is. It caught up with us when we weren’t paying attention, too focused on ourselves, our narcissism playing second fiddle to no one – even the destitute. When I mean “the storm”, I mean we’ve marched resolutely into the past. The greatest humanitarian catastrophe since World War II; yes that war after which we set up an entire world order to make sure never again would humanity fail itself. Refugee agencies caring for people forced to flee their lands for political reasons; food agencies so there is no more famine, at least; international courts trying to end war; conventions and resolutions and declarations – joint advocacy, the power of the great nations thrown against the despots to tell them in a single voice that we weren’t gonna have it anymore, that those days were over.
Then the fall of the Soviet Union and finally the last piece of the puzzle – the end of un-freedom. “The end of history,” as Fukuyama once said. A world exploding with NGOs accessing at last even the final quiet corners of the world with the message of prosperity and liberty and that foreign idea of “rights”, hardened by the kiln of a millennium of western experience in blood and violence.
Then we stumbled – something happened. 60 million refugees on the move; famine like we haven’t seen since WWII; new totalitarianism emerging in unlikely places like Venezuela; the death march of the unfree is accelerating, again – Freedom House calls it a ‘democratic recession’ but that is too polite.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, why are we here? It’s not that we turned inward, as some complain. We didn’t. And it’s not that we didn’t care. We did. I think maybe we lost confidence – in ourselves, that we were still the “shining city on the hill”, ironically because while we doubted this, to the world we are still the last best hope for mankind. We lost confidence in our faith, our families, our history, our past no longer buttressing and interpreting our place in an increasingly complicated world. And we lost confidence in our institutions; not just the post-war ones but our own, those built by Jefferson and Madison to make sure that we – at least – we always free; were always prosperous. All surrendered to the know-nothings product of our civilizational insecurities. What did we rely on instead? Money – good money after bad, redistributed in greater and greater quantities until our collective debt passed $200 trillion, and continued. A debt is a mortgage against the future – but what future are we mortgaging? Has anybody asked that?
Yet despite the figures, it’s a silent storm, isn’t it? We are still at an apex of human history – when it comes to technology, medicine, freedom, purchasing power. “A life more abundant”. Food enough to feed the world; knowledge enough to end most diseases. Of course there is inequality, which the know-nothings whine about constantly; but they aren’t talking about the refugees or the byproducts of the ‘storm’ – they are talking about themselves. It’s not that 5 million Syrians are sitting in the cold on foreign soil, but that the know-nothings are a jealous little bunch, measuring themselves against those who they consider their peers – not against the war victims or the refugees or the hungry.
Which is why the ‘storm’ is accelerating – our aforementioned lack of confidence turned against ourselves has given way to a system, a world order unable to make the important decisions which will stave of the apocalypse. Incidentally this is why I write – and work – and worry. You see I have a little boy – but even he is not safe in a world that has turned its back on reason and compassion and human dignity. It is said that a hurricane can be started by the flap of a butterfly’s wings across the oceans. And I wonder if the butterfly wasn’t already flapping away twenty years ago in Congo – or East Timor or Kosovo or Tunisia. And I wonder when, and how, and where the storm will end.