Do you remember what you learnt about WW1 and the epoch surrounding it when you studied it in school or at university? The story went like this: world war 1 was the conflict which was meant to end all conflicts, it signified the end of the long 19th century and ushered a new world order. All these notions are relatively easy to grasp; what I had more trouble with until recently was the oft heard idea that all throughout the war and after, people lived in an atmosphere where the end of an era was felt. Apparently, one could feel the world changing, hear the dizzying sounds of life lived at new speeds, see it in vivid Technicolor, smell it through the new scented soaps of newly discovered public hygiene, taste in rapid succession the bitterness of war related poverty and post-war abundance…all this creating an eerie sense of momentous change and revolution.
I simply could not grasp, imagine, let alone experience, how that particular state of things would feel. Yet, this summer, these turbulent and at times surreal months of June, July and August 2014 have solved that particular problem for me, and I think I can say with some degree of confidence that these past 3 months I have been living fully immersed in the sensation that the world as we know it, is not only changing, but literally falling apart.
It’s not just that institutions and arrangements which we have been accustomed to are slowly coming apart at the seams; that, as I say it so often, states no longer seem capable to fulfil the social contract of protection of their own citizens, let alone those in other parts of the world who need it; what goes away with all this are also, more importantly, the relationships and values which kept a system in place. Admittedly, some of those values, the least useful, such as crude individualism, indifference, self-satisfaction, are in fact growing stronger, while a certain sense of morality, solidarity, common sense, really, are regularly undermined. This, with devastating effects, of which the crimes such as downing “by mistake” a plane full of innocent civilians and beheading people in filmed public executions are only just the pinnacles, not the exceptions. Impunity and the sense that in the name of a cause, be it ideological or commercial, individuals can be exempt of personal responsibility and free of ostracism for morally questionable actions is the substance that steadily dissolves the social fabric and justifies personal vendettas and crimes.
We should not let ourselves fooled: while our screens and tweeter feeds are flooded with the horrible crimes of rebels whose only cause is the advancement of their own interests, other, in appearance more peaceful, actors are weaving their toil, too. Undaunted by conflicts, on the contrary, some even profiting from them, such agents are more than happy to use the legitimacy of state and international structures in order to further their own agendas, which, if pushed to their final consequences, will enslave individual citizens to the whims of corporations and their irrational race for profits. The “unholy trinity”, as it is known, is the set of free trade agreements, the transpacific, Transatlantic and free services agreements that are currently negotiated in secret by the world’s governments. Come to think of it, given the barrage of news that conflicts from Gaza to Ukraine provide, they do not even need the veil of secrecy to go unnoticed.
At times, when reading the “fragmented news agenda” that some experts talk about, and thinking of all that I’ve just said, I have the feeling that, beyond 1914, our world resembles rather that of 1614, the beginning of the absolute monarchies era, a time of religious and civil wars.
Like Thomas Hobbes, who also happened to live in those times, I feel like saying: the current chaos is a symptom of the broken social contract between citizens and their representatives and as a consequence, political and social responsibility is fully reverting to individuals, who have the duty to exercise it actively and wisely. To conclude this first episode of a new season in the tales of the world series: hiding behind the “it’s not my responsibility” phrase is no longer an option; humanity has enough imagination and resources to come up with a better adagio.
With music from Chilly Gonzales, Never stop.