A Decade of Pertinent Crisis
Updated: May 11, 2020
For many, the world we live in today is as incomprehensible as the chemical composition of the geological layers underneath the soil we tread on. In times where seventy years of European history is about to be turned around, it is increasingly difficult to get a firm grasp on what is happening in the world.
Information comes to us at speed far beyond our brains can process. We remain mostly unaware of the impact of events on our daily lives. Even if you follow everything that happens, it remains challenging to remember what happened last month. Social media bombards us with little more than trivia, while outside of that bubble, the world is experiencing a drastic shift in global power relations.
Historians and political scientists are concerned about the future of American democracy when US Congress refuses to take seriously its role of holding Donald Trump accountable. Trump’s impeachment is a delicate topic: it’s only the third time in history that this ever happens. It could provide the Democrats with a chance of getting Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden in the saddle, and that would perhaps mean a new beginning. If only the Democrats could finally find common ground. And while all this is happening, Trevor Noah’s Daily Show must find a new laughingstock for American and international public.
Greenpeace activists wrapped the EU Council building in images of fire and smoke last month, in a striking protest meant to increase the pressure on European leaders to tackle climate change more ambitiously. The image is a classic representation of the dire predicaments of our times: the EU is burning. The Global South still considers the EU as the Walhalla of the world, in which social welfare programs get everyone into school and a straight set of teeth. Yet, the EU is far beyond that. With South-North migration at a historical peak, our current predicaments raise questions about human rights, warfare, and economic justice.
The far-right has increased its attacks on social welfare and cultural programs in the hope they can divert attention from tax inequality and human subordination. Recently, in the Flemish region of Belgium, a law has been implemented that cuts 60% of subsidies for culture projects. It's a reality that we see in some other parts of Europe as well.
Crisis and austerity measures have been daily news since the Big Crash of 2008. I remember being driven to school on September 15 of that year. As the car drove over the highway to the centre of Brussels, fully jammed with cars, trucks and taxis, I heard someone saying on the radio: “Years of accumulated wealth have vanished into thin air. Things will never be the same again.” First, it happened in America, then it happened in Europe, and suddenly the wave of economic despair flooded the planet.
By 2012, the crisis had rotten the very core of the European Union. The eurorisis indebted Greece, Portugal, Spain, Cyprus and Ireland to the point that three supranational institutions had to intervene before people realised national governments had lost sovereignty over their economies. The possibility of a Grexit was a nightmare for the EU.
Greece and other countries of the South of Europe – just like most of the countries in the Global South – became financially depended on institutions such as the IMF. This way, a little piece of the Third World entered the West.
However, who would have thought a few years ago that Brussels would be arguing in 2018 not about how to kick Greece out of the eurozone but about the best way for the country to emerge from a completed bailout program?
But the worst EU nightmare was Brexit. The golden years of Jim Morrison famous lines: the west is the best have long gone. Ever since 2012, things got worse. In 2016, the British decided they wanted a divorce from the woman they had never really loved but needed for all the financial and extra-legal advantages.
Brexit has dominated the British and EU political debate since voters chose to leave the European Union in 2016. The UK is due to leave the European Union on 31 January. The Union will lose the 5th largest economy in the world, and Poland might follow as well. Just as Hungary, the Polish government is increasingly cracking down on civil society, human rights, and constitutional freedom, leading to a mostly female emigration rate. Recently, the Justice and Law Party initiated judicial reforms that come to overpower the primacy of EU laws over national laws. Judicial reforms in Poland mean that the country's judiciary is now under the political control of the ruling majority.
Since a few years, climate change has become more urgent than ever. Climate activist Greta Thunberg became Times’ Person of the Year and travelled to a significant part of the planet gathering support for her cause. And while President Trump told her to chill, her contemporaries are anything but chill. The leading archetype in the fight for climate justice is the virgin white young female.
Extinction Rebellion has become the platform for all kinds of activists. It provides social scientists new data to investigate grassroots mobilisation, yet what we need most are parliamentary results. How do governments respond to the outcry for justice?
A decade of pertinent crisis is the result of powerless governments to resolve the issue of a polluting economy and control powerful transnational corporations. Detrimental industries such as biochemicals and weapons; and transport and resource exploitation preclude a highly positive vision on the future.
Climate change, human and animal extinction seem to be a direct consequence of the above. In a sense, it is a natural process that could reduce the likelihood of the earth's survival. Natural laws does not provide for everyone to stay alive if an ecosystem is overpopulated. Species, including humans, are eventually to disappear. Look to what happens in Australia.
Yet, inertia is not an option. Solutions are at hand. The European Commission announced that it will spend €11 billion in new solutions for societal changes and drive innovation-led sustainable growth. Although ambitions are high, 2019 lacked the necessary results to keep up the positive spirits. Nevertheless, a few hours ago, the EU has unveiled its €1 trillion financial plan for moving to a green economy, with the aim of making Europe the first climate-neutral continent.
How cynical it might sound, with droughts and starvation in East Africa, a continuous war in the Middle East and ongoing epidemics around the world, things are rough and unlikely to change in the near future.
Ten years after the Arab Spring, civil wars in Syria & Libya are still on. Nothing has substantially changed in the Arab world. Since last summer, the Mediterranean countries have again become the gateway into Europe for those fleeing armed conflicts and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Greece has to struggle with the highest number of refugee arrivals since 2016. The number of migrant-loaded boats has boomed in the Greek islands near Turkey. Also, Cyprus has sounded alarm over a resurgence of arrivals and Italy, Malta and Spain remain affected by the phenomenon.
The annexation of the Crimea has left East-Ukraine in absolute turmoil and destruction. The War on Drugs in Latin America still causes the deaths of thousands. Rebel groups, vigilantes and death squads are fighting fractions of the army and private racketeers in Congo and other African countries.
It's a harsh reality, and like Naomi Klein explains in her book No Time: climate change will most likely pave the way for a whole new form of living. Destruction of old ways creates space for new ways. One organism dies and gives birth to another. Yet, in the 21st century, it remains the question of whether organic life is still our primary priority? What with Artificial Intelligence, bio- and nanotechnology: what does the future behold?
Facial recognition technology, for starters, is somewhat hot these days. Although the state of California banned the technology, Huawei’s surveillance cameras have been installed in several major cities both in China and Southeast Europe. But with all the hype surrounding what AI can automate and relieve human beings from manually having to do themselves, is AI truly the blessing it’s presented itself to be - or a curse? AI will determine the way we think about life, politics, law and much more. The bio-ethical consequences are striking. We don’t know yet what it will mean for us. Who will be able to decide over life and death; how will reproduction be organised; what is left of our right to water?
For now, Hollywood did a great job in capitalising on the dystopian AI science-fiction genre. Blade Runner, The Terminator, I Robot, The Matrix, Elysium, Minority Report, the Hunger Games, Transcendence, all have their say about the future. And while it seems very drastic, some of its elements are already a reality today.