I was always very optimistic regarding the future of the world. The resilience of civilization and humanity. The faith that in the long run, things would turn out OK.
I had some of this optimism for myself, too. Faith that things would improve. That bad times would pass. That I would end up finding a way.
It has served me well.
But this is not about me. This is about the world. When I was younger I wanted to believe in God. Or at the very least, in some spiritual realm that gave meaning to life and all that goes with it. I failed at believing, and at some point came to terms with it.
The world is as we see it, matter and energy as defined and measured by physics. There is magic in my world, but that is a topic for another day. It’s probably not the kind of magic you imagine.
I believed in some kind of self-regulation of the huge systems that are our societies, and even humanity as a whole. I believed that things could not, on a global scale, become fundamentally worse. That there would only be improvement, even though we would witness what looked like setbacks.
I do not believe this anymore. I have lost my optimism, over the last years. My faith has been shattered.
It started with Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump. Those were the big blows. I did not see either one coming, comfortable in my little idealistic bubble. Oh, I knew they were on the table, but I never in a million years believed they could happen.
After that, I would often think, or say, “remember Iran”. You know, those photos from the seventies? Yes. And now. Things can get much worse. Things can go “backward”. Meaningful freedoms can be lost.
Of course all this also has to do with my age. I’m closer to 50 than 40 now. When you’re a young adult, the world you’re living in is the world you’re most familiar with. Your child and teenage eyes turn into adult eyes, and you finally see things as they are, you think, doors open in front of you and you walk forward in life, hopefully with a smile, but at least with a sense of order in the world. Well, that’s how it was for me, in any case.
When you’re in your forties, you see the world change. You slowly use the world of your youth, the one you thought was “the world how it is and is supposed to be”. As years go by I find myself slowly starting to struggle with some of the changes our society is going through. I find myself looking back upon the “good ol’ times”. I pinch myself when that happens.
Brexit and Trump also finished shattering some of my beliefs about technology and the resistance to exploitation of the systems built upon it. I was aware, of course, of the plague of those who would always try to “game the system” in social networks. But I never thought – or wanted to see – that the real-world, political implications, could be so dire. I saw what good could be done, but closed my eyes to the evil. Optimism. Blame the seduction of the full half of the glass.
Then there was the pandemic. If Trump’s election made me fear for the turn our world could be taking when it came to politics, and the value of Truth, the pandemic was here. Here, there, and everywhere. I had seen things going on in Wuhan, but naively didn’t think it could hit us. It hit us hard. It hit me hard. I remember. I was at my chalet with a friend. The first cases had been detected in Switzerland. Friday, March 13th, 2020. We watched the federal government’s announcement. Schools closed. That shook me. It shook me badly. I remember thinking that the world as we knew it was over.
That was two years ago. Here in Switzerland, for most people, we’re gently trying to drift back into the “normalcy of before”. It’s a façade, of course. We know there’s no going back. But life feels back on track. Not quite, though. As if we were in a slightly alternate reality.
I think of those for whom these last two years were “formative” years. It’s not the same thing to go through two years of pandemic when you’re 45, 25, 15 or 5. I think of those, children in particular, for whom post-covid life will be “just life”. For us, older ones, there is before and after covid. The old world, and the new world. But for children, and teenagers, there will pretty much just be a world after/with covid, when it comes to the story of their lives. Just as for me, coming of age in a world where AIDS was already an established threat, the only world I know is a world where AIDS exists.
The pandemic shook me because or the disruption in our lives, the death, the exhausted medical staff, the economic impact – immediate and long-lasting. We are not out of it. And worse that that, it shook me because it brought home the fact that pandemics were possible. This one was bad. But it could have been worse. And there is no guarantee the next one is not waiting around the corner. Actually, it is – just like this one had been waiting around the corner for decades, jumping from bat to bat.
As if the craziness of the first three years of Trump’s presidency hadn’t been enough to drive home that we were living in a post-truth wold, the pandemic allowed us all, wherever we lived, to witness the damage wrought by cognitive bias, conspiracy theories, and capitalist media together.
And now Russia has invaded Ukraine.
I thought the pandemic was bad and would change our world forever. This is worse. Far worse. I never thought WWIII could happen. Now I’m not so sure. And even if it doesn’t, however this ends, the balance of power in the world is going to undergo a major shift. There will be “before”, and “after”, just as with the pandemic. I was 15 in 1989. I remember listening to “France Infos” radio, which gave news every 15 minutes, as the Berlin Wall and Nicolae Ceaușescu fell. The world felt like it was opening. Now it feels like it’s unravelling.
As I listen to news about Ukraine and cry, I realise I’m also grieving for the world I lost, a world I thought had a certain stability I could rely on, a world where autocrats don’t win, pandemics don’t kill six million people and leave so many others broken, where civilians and maternity hospitals don’t get bombed, and where truth prevails.
This shattering is not easy, as I look at it through the lens of my personal life. But however discomforting it is, it also tells me that I have the luxury of such philosophical considerations, rather than fleeing for my life in the cold and fear, and for that I am infinitely grateful.