Johnny Lyons writes: In the very recent past I have heard President Bolsonaro of Brazil telling foreigners to stop interfering over Amazonia. I’ve heard that over 70,000 people have been left homeless in the Bahamas. I’ve heard Boris Johnson’s chancellor of the exchequer refuse to say that the UK government would obey the law. I’ve heard the Iranians saying they’re resuming uranium enrichment. I’ve heard the US president keep up his endless bullshit and shameless lies. I’ve heard that the ice sheets in Greenland are likely to disappear. I’ve heard Putin crowing that liberalism is virtually obsolete. I’ve heard that roughly half of the Great Barrier Reef is bleached and that its outlook has been downgraded from poor to very poor. I’ve heard that China has begun branding the Hong Kong protests as a prelude to terrorism. I’ve heard that nearly half of all child deaths in Africa stem from hunger. I’ve heard that Trump is likely to get re-elected and that Boris Johnson’s popularity is surging the more contempt he shows towards parliamentary democracy.
So what are the tell-tale signs that humanity may be entering the abyss, and forever? Is it when politics is unable or unwilling to rein in the increasingly genocidal tendencies of global capitalism? Is it when truth is dismissed as ideology propagated by experts? Is it when the hubris of a populist ruler trumps the survival of humanity at large? Is it when our current non-violent state of political chaos feels as if it could collapse easily and quickly into a war of all against all? Is it when we recognise that the difference between the crises of the past and the one we face today is that the latter seems increasingly irreversible? Is it when the distinction between hope and optimism loses its meaning and both are rendered irrelevant by experience? Is it when we feel a weird mixture of terror and nausea every time we look at the news? Is it when post-apocalyptic scenarios strike us as both inevitable and imminent? Is it when your child or grandchild asks why you look so unhappy when they get excited about visiting all the beautiful places you once told them you saw on your world travels? Is it when you reflect that no matter how bad things may seem today they are going to get only unimaginably worse within half a lifetime? Is it when the precious things you believed to be inviolable, such as compassion, knowledge, decency, the careless luxury of being bored, the sense that there will always be another day, lose their tenuous grip? Is it when Friedrich Nietzsche’s words begin to ring true?: “In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of ‘world history’ – yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.”
Image: President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.
Johnny Lyons taught political theory at Trinity College Dublin before joining the commercial world, where he works in corporate communications. His book on the philosophy of Isaiah Berlin is due out in January 2020.