With longer, warmer days drawing ever closer, and last year’s resolutions long since forgotten, the new year tends to bring an irresistible sense of hope and optimism. With it, there can be some soul-searching too, about the state of our planet, about the position of everyone and everything in it, and how we can do better this time around.
If 2018 had been a fellow student, it certainly grabbed a few accolades in science and technology, with a steady performance in art, too. But when it came to politics and history, despite putting in a lot of effort, 2018 seemed to fall asleep at the back of the lecture theatre, and now has plenty of catching up to do. Let’s have a look at how we can do better in the next 12 months.
Fairer burden sharing
In the face of intolerance, inequality and conflict, certain states, which have so often led the way on collaboration, are turning their back on the world, as if in the hope that isolationism will somehow make our shared problems disappear. The scepticism of the current US government has undermined the Paris Agreement, the UN Human Rights Council and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty; the position of NATO and the World Bank have also been questioned by the US; and, of course, the weakened EU, whilst showing strong resolve, will suffer if Brexit happens. Blaming cooperation for failures is a trend that must change. Multilateralism doesn’t just pool ideas and resources, but also understanding and empathy. And in that there’s perhaps a lesson for us as individuals as well as for nations – about sharing and using our knowledge and ideas, and never underestimating our ability to open minds, even if it’s not always an easy task.
Many of the UK’s greatest problems right now, including the new welfare system, and, of course, Brexit, are rooted in an insistence in ploughing on with something because it’s been decided upon, no matter how compelling the evidence to the contrary. Resistance to changing course can be ruinous when it comes to good governance. There’s a need now, more than ever, for reflective, responsive and diligent leaders. What do we take from this ourselves, aside from the need to influence debates? Perhaps increasing self-awareness or developing a new habit, however small, to gradually achieve a small goal in day to day life.
The quality of our representatives has taken some odd turns. While we’ll always be stuck with the Nigel Farages and Boris Johnsons of the world, driven more by ego and self-promotion than public interest, we see growing numbers of politicians like Bernie Sanders, David Lammy and Ruth Davidson, who seem to strive to do better and view politics as a duty and service. The more engaged we are – voting, petitioning, standing up for whatever matters to us – the greater the chances that our voices will be heard
Intermittent Tech Fasting
The perpetual stream of belligerence and insults from the White House via Twitter has undoubtedly become worse through the media’s insistence on reporting every syllable, turning it into a tool to avoid confronting real policy issues and debate. If as much effort was devoted to holding politicians to account as to analysing a tweet, standards in politics would rise. And for the rest of us? Maybe an occasional bit of tech fasting might do wonders, leaving a bit more space to be present in the real world.
Raising the bar
The world is becoming ever more educated and tech-savvy, including innovations like fact checking sites and community cohesion projects. Yet in response, the quality of debate seems to have plummeted in many areas of politics and the media. The problem is epitomised in the Washington Post’s observation that more media coverage was devoted in 2018 to Meghan Markle’s wedding cake alone than to all coverage of Africa and climate change put together. It might be worth considering the ‘butterfly effect’ analogy, that every little act has consequences – and that can go in both directions. Disinformation spreads quickly; but so too can fact. Ultimately, the more we demand higher standards, not just of ourselves, but of others, the more we raise the bar.