My daughter came home from school and announced joyously, “Today was my last class of the decade”.
It had not dawned on me until then, that a decade was coming to an end. A whole ten years in human history was going to be in the past to reflect and learn from. How much we would learn from it was the big unknown.
The previous decade started with one of the most horrific events of my life time. Just over the bridge from where I live, two towers came crashing down in a pile of concrete and human flesh. Hundreds of innocent people were incinerated in jet fuel, while others jumped from windows in hope of flight.
This singular act of evil would cast a shadow into this decade in more certain terms than ever. That deathly blow, lead to more evil across the world through illegal and illegitimate wars, terrorism and hatred of the other, that continues till this day.
The eight years of a Neo-Conservtive administration of president George Bush Jr. in the previous decade started wars in Iraq and Afghanistan under the pretext of a global campaign against an amorphous enemy dubbed a “war on terror”. After thousands dead, the war continues and its unholy symbol, Guantanamo, still remains open like a pus wound on humanity. George Bush also oversaw a financial meltdown, that affected every economy of the world, questioning the virtues of capitalism.
A backlash to the chaos the world was plunged into, saw the most unlikely candidate ascend to the presidency in America. The eight years of president Barack Obama brought some pizzazz to the White House, while the military industrial complex continued with its excesses behind the scenes.
Liberal policies saw some reform in the areas of healthcare, environment and in the reigning of the banking system along the edges. The first African American president set a liberal tone to his administration, by signing the Paris climate accords, tackling nuclear weapons and engaging with the middle east while keeping the wars going. When he was given the Nobel Prize there was sharp criticism from all quarters for it being premature. But his charisma and infectious smile won him tremendous support around the world, but it also energized his conservative detractors.
The right wing propaganda machine was put into high gear via Fox News, to de-legitimize his presidency by calling him a birth certificate forger and a closet Muslim.
The constant barrage from Fox News eventually bore fruit in the election of Donald Trump.
The rise of Trump was not an anomaly. Large nations around the world decided to take a turn to the right in their outlook for the future. In India, the world’s largest democracy, a party came to power with a resounding mandate, twice under a nationalist populist leader. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro came to power by running a divisive campaign much like Donald Trump. Right wing parties across Europe gained more ground than ever before. In Russia, Vladimir Putin eliminated all opposition by any means necessary. In China, the communist party made its leader Xi Jinping, as powerful as their master and founder Mao Zedong, anointing him president for life.
The end of the decade saw a decrease in democracy and democratic values and an increase in authoritarianism both within democracies and inside established dictatorships.
The decade also saw technology companies become unshakable behemoths. Companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft became more powerful than nations and more profitable in all of human history. The words “Trillion Dollars” entered the vocabulary while defining market capitalization of some of these companies.
The obscene wealth generated by the employees and CEOs exposed the income inequality more starkly than ever before. Beyond all of the above, these companies changed the way humans interact in the most fundamental way around the globe. “Social Media” began to upend established societal norms. It became easier to polarize people trapped in their echo chambers. The slow and steady push into this world globally, was probably the most defining movement of the decade.
While some were kept entertained on Whatsapp and Tik Tok by imbecile human behavior and cats doing calisthenics, people with “followers” and an inordinate number of “friends” started to feel they and their opinion mattered. And so began a “war of narratives” as more and more people began to indulge in Digital Masturbation.
Companies like Cambridge Analytica saw a business opportunity. The Russians saw a weakness to exploit. A president found a base he could reach while in his bathrobe any moment of the day. And other leaders around the world and their followers began to harness the power and vulnerability of the digitally opiated masses, to swing elections and usurp power.
At the end of the decade the war of narratives was the only war that mattered. The war between religions. The beef between liberals and conservatives. The conflict between the right and the left. The name calling between the secular minded and the traditionalists. The feud between consumerism and environmentalism, capitalism and socialism, rich and the poor and men, women and everyone in between rages on into the next decade. And all that rises to the surface is a loss of civility and a banishment of discourse based on reason and humanity.
While wars are waged in cyberspace and elsewhere, there is one constant. The planetary engine keeps chugging along, as us as ants on its back mess with its timeless eternal motion.
We officially entered the Athropocene era. For the first time in the history of the planet, it is humans that are altering the crust far more deliberately than nature. Mining, agriculture, urban sprawl and heavy construction is altering the surface much more rapidly than the sun, wind and the waves.
The environment has been sending alarms for more than half a century, but humans have not been paying much attention. It is in this decade, that the urgency has been felt in the most dramatic fashion. But still many wish to let their heads remain buried in the sand.
Climate change caused by human activity is real. The pollution of our oceans with plastic is real. Toxic air in urban cities is real. Yet nations cannot come together to find a common solution. The COP25 talks in Madrid in December, failed after delegates from nearly 200 countries struggled to reach agreement on key issues on the framework underpinning the Paris climate accords.
It is more than irrefutable that making electric cars, hoisting windmills and solar panels, changing light bulbs, recycling garbage, joining the Greta Thunberg fan club and eating Kale is not going to solve the crisis we face today.
If there is one thing the last decade teaches us, is that it is all but certain that things are not going to change until they have to. The current leadership around the world is impotent and emaciated to make any tangible change. So we wait on the shore in hope of a miracle.
As we end this decade, looking at the past, I cannot say there was much progress made in tackling the big issues that face us. All the inhumane ideas that we thought we had left behind after the end of the big wars and colonialism, were resurrected by leaders who had no new vision to offer. Sectarianism, bigotry and the re-litigation of history was again on the menu. Common ideals that we had agreed on, regardless of one’s political bent and belief system, were no longer a given.
Yet we must stay hopeful. As it is only in the dark that the stars shine the brightest.
“Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul” — Walt Whitman