“It has been said that civilization is twenty-four hours and two meals away from barbarism.”
Watching the news was never my idea of entertainment, but to keep up with local, national and global affairs I have always been an avid news follower.
For much of my life the big problems of the world seemed far away, not really near ‘our’ world. But with the recent events in Ukraine, it is as if the march of progress, which was feeling increasingly stuttering, has been completely halted.
I may have watched too many Star Trek TV programmes and films, but the idea that our onward and upward march of human civilisation was inevitable was one that I had come to accept.
Of course there were areas of the world which were left behind, and still many issues of human behaviour to resolve, but surely these would steadily be improved as humanity became more educated.
“Wars are bad for trade.”
George R.R. Martin
I believed this because I thought that as we became more intertwined economically, our need for trade and better living standards would trump our baser instincts. Remember the old quip, that no two countries with a McDonalds had ever gone to war? Seems a bit hollow now.
“Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations...entangling alliances with none”
It feels almost surreal watching footage from Ukraine and seeing bombed out modern apartments, up-to-date cars, efficient transport hubs, office infrastructure and all the features we assume are the hallmarks of a modern – and civilised – economy, crumbling and destroyed.
And not from any natural disaster, but rather from man’s inhumanity to man.
I’ve been to Russia twice, both work related, and had the opportunity to meet ‘ordinary’ people. Although it was a more basic economy two decades ago, and still pulling themselves out of communism – the people felt just like us!
That sounds a strange thing to say, but it is easy to demonise ‘others’. These people shared the same enjoyment and fears, hopes and challenges, and were good to be with and work with. I can remember some impressive people determined to bring about social change.
“There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.”
And yet today apparently, some 80% of the population support Putin. We can blame propaganda, but there is much more to it than that.
Around the world we see societies moving back towards totalitarianism, actively moving away from democratic principles. Looking for a ‘strongman’ to lead them and make their lives better.
“You can best serve civilization by being against what usually passes for it.”
This is a crisis of leadership, a crumbling of trust and belief in higher ideals. And instead of marching forwards we seem to be retreating back to a darker and more primitive time.
In the late 1990s I took my parents to New York, and we visited the United Nations. My father (then in his seventies) was so proud of that institution and loved his visit there. It seemed to him that this was where change was being planned and implemented, and that he, as a soldier in the second world war, had contributed to its work.
He believed that ‘never again’ would Europe go to war. And yet, as he got older, he began to lose that hope in humanity.
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian playwright and short-story writer who is considered to be one of the greatest writers in the world.
“There will come a time when everybody will know why, for what purpose, there is all this suffering, and there will be no more mysteries. But now we must live... we must work, just work!”