Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

2021 and the summer of anxiety

It’s easy to draw parallels with times present and times past. As I pointed out in an earlier blog quoting Marshall McLuhan, our modern senses are so overloaded by information aided and abetted by technology these days that we slip into pattern recognition rather than properly processing what we see and hear. It’s tempting, if not impossible to not join the dots because that’s what our human brains are hard wired for.

Right now, and for a longer time we have been witnessing a new rise in consciousness with regard to sexuality, gender and self-expression. As it was with the summer of love back in the sixties, so too was it the start of the end of a costly and largely futile war in Vietnam (at least based on the outcome). The summer of love was short, the war longer.

In Vietnam it was a resounding defeat by a vastly out-gunned opponent with a worldview radically opposed to the one supported by the West. Ditto that for Afghanistan, which despite two decades of occupation, two trillion plus dollars of investment and the loss of thousands of lives, fell late this summer in a matter of days to a homegrown insurgency waiting in the wings for the Americans to depart.

Women’s rights have been thrown into sharp focus in that arena, and the West can only look on as the country devolves into a crude patriarchal theocracy with any hope for positive change snuffed out seemingly permanently. Paradoxically, women in Afghanistan enjoyed more freedom overall in the 60s than now. Like Syria, Afghanistan now exists as a running sore on humanity’s flank, seeping and oozing.

If there is anything to learn in the first decades of this century, nation building and the imposition by force of foreign values on other cultures is futile. Good intentions or otherwise aside, like the empire built around the statue of Shelley’s sneering Ozmandyias, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.

This sensory overload of a pandemic compounded by a litany of bad news and the tendency to join the dots to form devils on the ceiling for me personally, has led to a summer of anxiety. It all started with a short break to Tallin in July, the elegantly medieval capital of Estonia much loved by unburdening cruise ships.

The sun beat down on squares typically teeming with tourists, perfect conditions for holidaymakers, except there were hardly any. The disparity was glaring and one could sense the desperation of restaurateurs and small businesses everywhere, their revenue streams dwindling with every passing day.

The list of extreme climate events across Europe only added to the anxiety — floods in Germany, wild fires in Greece and Turkey, multiple swathes of North America ablaze and the darker specter of the Amazon asset-stripped at a rate unparalleled in history emitting more carbon than it could ever absorb.

And then of course, the geopolitical tragedy of Afghanistan…

The recent and ongoing pandemic has also laid bare our vanity of treating the world like a vast experiential travel destination. Not only this, but there was no real tension-easing when science and technology conspired to create vaccines to stop the march of the coronavirus.

To date only a little over 30 percent of the world population has been fully vaccinated against this disease. The remaining 70 per cent, the majority of whom are in populous less well-off countries will continue their journeys long into an uncertain future. Vulnerable to its attack and the consequence of mutation, new variants will rise up to impact everyone on the planet.

The trite message that no one is safe until we all are is falling on deaf ears.

Consciousness of such events unfolding comes with a price, and the price we pay today is anxiety. Conspiracy theorists play their part to derail rational thinking in favour of paranoia and hysteria. Perhaps it’s still a viable alternative to the reality on the ground that there really is no conspiracy and nobody is actually in control.

The outcome is nevertheless the same.

The odds seem to be stacked against us, given the scale and acceleration of the existential threats we face. Against a human population that is set to rise to 9.4 billion by 2070, resources are already in desperately short supply. On this blue planet, only 3% of the earth’s water is fresh water and of that 0,5% is available.

Think about that the next time you run the tap.

If you love wildlife documentaries, think of them as digital records because the animals they document soon will only exist only as bits and bytes. Measured by weight, or biomass, wild animals today only account for a dwindling four percent, with humans (36 percent and rising, don’t forget) and livestock — those poor captives of our insatiable appetite making up the remaining 60 percent.

The last thing to eat on this earth will undoubtedly be human in origin.

One more fact emerged in the news cycle this summer — one also that passes over many a personal radar here in the affluent west — given present life expectancy, a human life from start to end is a scarily short 4000 weeks. I had to run the numbers by just to check because it didn’t seem to add up. Unfortunately, it does.

Regardless of all other existential threats, we all face our personal extinctions in a shockingly short space of time, no matter how well we have lived. Like slow motion damselflies, we are here and we are gone. That fact alone should make us treat ourselves and all other even shorter-lived creatures on this planet with due reverence.

Scientists have confirmed our role as a species in the climactic tipping points now hanging like multiple Damoclean swords above. Based on current predictions and without any other force majeure events ahead, we have ten years to raise our collective consciousness and halt global warming at 1.5 degrees above what has been the norm for millennia.

The Anthropocene epoch, the one we created two hundred years ago at the start of the industrial revolution is on course. We have approximately 500 weeks to go to halt it –or one eighth of a full human life and counting…

Making piece with absurdity and cognitive dissonance