In Britain and beyond, 2017 has been quite the year: A surprise general election result. The ongoing saga that is Brexit, and that is the Trump presidency, too. Famine, war and ethnic cleansing across large swathes of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Terrorism, foreign and domestic, actual and virtual. The North Korean problem. Revelations about endemic tax avoidance on the part of world elites. The toppling of Robert Mugabe. Political deadlock in Germany.
The list could go on. Suffice it to say, 2017 wasn’t exactly boring. Far from it. Yet neither was 2016 and nor, all indications suggest, will be 2018. The reason is that we are living through a period of significant upheaval. The internet and related technologies are reshaping every facet of human life. And in face of this digital revolution the tried and true ways of doing politics developed in the analogue age are fraying at the seams.
The stage is thus set for a paradigm shift, for the emergence of a new political lens (or set of lens) through which people can interpret and articulate their experience of the contemporary world. Yet when will this new politics arise and what will it look like? Will the forces of light prevail, in turn making for a more humane and harmonious world? Or will the forces of darkness triumph, with suffering and bloodshed following in their wake? Is it even possible to tell which is which? (The road to hell, after all, is paved with good intentions.) And can we do so before the point of no return is reached?
There is a battle—or perhaps more accurately a series of broadly concurrent battles—being waged for the soul of humanity. Battles surrounding future funding and provision of public services; transparency and access to information; quality of diet and lifestyle; provision, and given the threat of super-bugs, continued utility of modern medicines, in addition of course to battles over distribution of wealth nationally and internationally. These are battles taking place between as well as within ourselves, that are radically redrawing individual and collective socio-political identities and loyalties.
This is all happening under our very eyes, in plain sight. Yet as a species we seem lost in the midst of a transformation that feels beyond our control and perhaps also our comprehension. For paradoxically, despite all of humanity’s amassed knowledge about ourselves and the world we inhabit, the future has never appeared so uncertain to us. So confusing. So hard to decipher and rife with possibility. Meanwhile, in light of the grave risks to the planet and its assembled organisms modern industrial living continues to pose, the stakes have never been higher. So finely balanced. So riven with danger and potential for catastrophe.
What a time to be alive. What a time to be human.