Not Another New Year Resolution

Ah yes. The beginning of another year. The time for a New Year resolution. But all is not well. I am sitting in my study pondering why I am less hopeful for the future of humanity than at any other time. It could be my advancing years of course. But let us imagine for a few moments that something else, less personal, hangs fire. What can we do?

I awoke to the captivating headline that the rogue royals, Prince Harry and his wife Megan, want to discard their royal status. That bought a chuckle. I nearly choked on my coffee. It shows exceptionally good sense from a couple in the entitled class. Who in their right mind would want to be a part of such a charade anyway — unless it were to get a kind of covert pleasure from airing your dirty linen and mad capers on a Netflix special?

I scanned online for more serious topics. A Ukrainian commercial jet was shot down. The US immediately blamed Iran before Iran admitted accidental culpability. No surprise there! The bushfires continue to ravage Australia, accompanied by happy-clapper politicians frothing at the mouth while digging themselves ever deeper into a bottomless pit of climate denial.

One third of adults living in Hong Kong report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. A female senior executive from the Murdoch press confessed to the misinformation and lies routinely fed to Australian citizens in her letter of resignation. Meanwhile, in the US, the House of Representatives voted to curb Presidential powers to take military action without the support of Congress. A non-binding resolution, so effectively a paper tiger…

There were the usual whines of a dying empire in the form of tweets from Donald Trump. Quite fascinating in a bizarre kind of way — a warped narcissism trying to distract and direct our attention to other, less important, issues… There was sport of course. Entertainment too, including Ricky Gervais’s scorn-laden performance at the Golden Globes. But that was that.

Although I scoured several online news sources, I discovered no deeper inquiry or questions into anything of any consequence. Every bit of news seems to be normalized. Sanitized and abbreviated for scant attention spans. Illuminating if you are in an induced coma perhaps, which many of us seem to be.

It is probably apparent from this description of my daily routine that I do not much like the world we have made. It revels in hype and overreaction but lacks the calm optimism, the expectation of a sustained peace and civility, as well as the promise of a better future for more people, most of us believed was bound to follow the end of the second world war.

Around 70–85 million people perished in that deadliest military conflict. Yet almost nothing those bravely naïve souls fought for remains intact today. That which is left vanishes by the day. We are not sufficiently attentive to that which we are intent on destroying.

Australia is spending $500M to upgrade the War Memorial in Canberra. Yet all that those combatants fought for — freedom, prosperity, and the Australian way of life — which must surely be regarded as their true commemoration, is under attack. While government leaders offer us prayers, it is left to private citizens and celebrities to fund the help so desperately needed to deal with the current firestorms. The political dithering is beyond contempt. As Australia burns I can imagine the dead asking themselves what on earth they fought for all those years ago. Their sacrifice would seem hollow. If we truly believe their aim was to see a grand monument, housing a museum, in the capital, we are fooling ourselves.

The clues as to why we should be so deluded are hidden in full view. Surface has become content. Growth is our panacea and our obsession. We behave like most other mammals. But the effects of our incredible inventiveness reveal us to be barely more aware than apes playing with fire.

It troubles me that those with slightly more confidence, or perhaps born with a dash more guile than the norm, are able to bully, buy and charm their way into positions of power. It used to be called leadership. We no longer know what leadership means. The purity and vocational nature of leading has been defiled by sociopaths around the world who brazenly serve their own best interests. The small number that manage to sustain a semblance of personal integrity are marginalized or scorned. Either way they cannot fight deep-seated corruption in a system that, intuitively and so rapidly, detects any kind of deviant moral impulse and moves instantly to neutralize it.

It concerns me that we are addicted to materialism, to the extent that an unbroken cycle of desire and consumptionprevents any sane reinvention of industrial business models and practices. If we are unhappy, then we should simply buy more stuff. Or so the mantra goes. But such marketing-induced fervor has backfired on us. We are depleting the world of its incomparable treasures, while fewer and fewer people benefit from what should be our common wealth. And we are actually unhappier. Dissatisfied, fearful, and more unfulfilled than ever before.

With 7.7 billion people on the planet all seeking a higher quality of life it should come as no surprise that our most life-critical systems are at risk of collapse. We have put so much CO2 into the atmosphere, destroyed soils, polluted the oceans with our plastics and chemicals, and killed so many other species, that we have become the agents for our own imminent extinction. Our only recourse is to blame each other for this situation. But blaming others is counterproductive and leads to more and more lonely, anxious and depressed individuals.

It is demoralizing to think that human nature holds us in a cognitive gridlock from which escape seems improbable. Our animal-like response to confrontation of any kind is to strike out first and to ask questions later. Indeed, these days, old empires delight in declaring their self-righteousness, while committing unspeakable atrocities as they force themselves on others, extorting untold suffering and destruction in the process. What used to be totally unacceptable — in the form of preemptive violence, the utter disdain for the rule of law, keeping citizens in the dark by using lies and propaganda to justify their immoral acts — has somehow become acceptable. Indeed expected.

I am saddened, too, by the amount of money we spend on wars and conflict as well as by our seeming inability to link that budget with environmental damage. The enormous cost of the military machine in the US alone gives the lie to claims that dealing with our climate emergency is unaffordable. For example, around 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending in the US, a total of $600 billion, is spent on war-related activities and production. That is eight times the amount spent on education. The results are too dire to contemplate.

Above all I am anxious about the future my children and grandchildren will inherit. What work will be available for them? How will they remain motivated and positive in an era of sterility, suppression and compliance, if that cannot be avoided? How will their lives be changed under constant surveillance from the ruling powers? Will the smart robots that run society be kind to them? Will the natural world regenerate before human numbers fall to what they were the year I was born? Around 2.3 billion people… Nobody knows.

The only thing we can be certain about is that structural economic, political and social change is now much more of an imperative than at any other time in human history.

I do not normally make resolutions. But if I did my resolution for 2020 would focus on just one principle: hope is everything. We must never stop dreaming. Never give in to lies. Act always in the knowledge that anything is possible.

Unlike most commentators I believe increasing civil disobedience and social activism, calling out the truth to corrupt powers, and sharing resources for change, will be the inevitable consequence of a world dynamic and world-system that no longer works for the benefit of the human family. If it feels as though our world is spinning out of control it is because it is. Today we are inviting more pain. We see it everywhere we turn. But perhaps more pain is what we need in order for ordinary citizens to wake up to the realities we ourselves have encouraged.

There is still time to change. But we must really want that, as individuals and as a collection of societies, much more than maintaining the status quo. That is the code for our survival and future prosperity. It must also be our resolve.


Philosopher-Activist and Executive Director at Centre for the Future

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Richard David Hames

Philosopher-Activist and Executive Director at Centre for the Future