I had a nightmare about a breakdown in society last night, and I woke knowing that that this fear has been there all along.
I am not scared of what might happen, but of what is happening- and what happens when perspectives of the past are shifted, and we see what has happened, in new light.
Our brains seek narratives – with an well understood focus on the background stories and happy endings (for us). Yet, the lesson from quantum theories in science is that we sit on a more delicate balance between possible futures and presents.
It has always been thus. Perhaps it’s just middle-age, but for the first time in my cushioned life; much of which I have protected by the post-war consensus and techno-capitalism of Western privilege, I am afraid.
In our time, we see diplomacy distorted by demagogues, in America and Korea; idols and leaders unmasked as sexual predators; economic wellbeing rocked by plebiscites, and radicalism and religion prosper.
Racism, misogyny, and hate of all shades seeps through the open doors of our liberal society.
Yet, the really shocking thing is that we are shocked by these realities. We knew. We knew and know that these horrors are there. We have always been aware of the parallel truths. It is the voluntary blindness of adulthood. And, while hope is forgivable, not protecting each other is not.
To pick on the current issue of the day; Spacey, Cosby, MPs and other easy to turn on public figures are being forced into the light for Weinsteining. Yet, we still cannot face the abuse of grooming of more ‘likable’ figures, such as John Peel and Bill Wyman.
It’s hard not to note that this movement is currently mostly focussing on those bad people who are also not attractive, straight, or normatively needed. I hope I am wrong, but my guess is that there will be a cull of those who were easy to pick out for being bad, powerful and gay, Jewish, black, or in some way disruptive. I know it will be hard if/when(!) my heroes get re-positioned by some ‘discovery’ – but, perhaps we need to wonder where this is going and where this will lead.
I am nervous of the unpicking of these threads, not because it isn’t right to call out sexual predators and abusers, but because it shows how immediate the risk is that we could jump to an alternate timeline – one with more danger for my children. One where difference is not safe in a liberal world – but where it is exposed in a sea of big data, amoral AI and surveillance.
My Grandparents watched their worlds descend into moral and actual wastelands. As a Jewish kid growing up in middle class privilege, I heard the stories of our family histories in detached confusion. How could the world have been so twisted?
My Dad was taken from India during the fracture of Partition; as my Grandfather, a servant to the Raj and from the Jewish Bene Israel community, realised that India was no longer the civil multi-faith society it had been for them. My Mum’s family are from the European diaspora of Jews fleeing direct and historical persecution, in the cultured continent of Goethe and Spinoza. These immigrant families met in the East End of London, in a mixing of cultures that seemed to offer healing to the horrors of their past. I am a product of this hope.
This hope is baked into me. I believe, and have wanted to believe, in the good in human nature. I have made choices based on faith in the transformative nature of education and liberal values, aligning myself to movements – signing petitions and joining hashtag trends. I don’t regret these choices – but I do wonder at my own naivete in thinking that I could negate the existence of the opposing forces.
Maybe the stench of hate is still too fresh from my nightmare, but today I needed to write about the lessons from our pasts. Not from history, because there is no one historical truth – but to learn from the quantum states of society that we can see on the edges of our vision.
The lessons that my grandparent’s generation taught me might relevant:
- Always be ready leave – keep passports upto date and small but valuable items ready. No home is worth saving without those you love in it, in a community you can trust.
- Love your neighbour – but love your values more. Don’t assimilate for approval.
- Call out the shadows – they are always there. Keep a light on the dark corners.
- Revolutions and Wars are always waiting – they are closer than you think.
Last night, I had a nightmare. Today, my eyes are wide open. I hope they will rest easy tonight.