2014 – The year of change?

In many ways 2014 has been a somehow ‘extraordinary’ year – most of all in the negative sense. Yet, was there really something new or different?

Maybe in 2014 you have sometimes experienced the same as me, moments that gave you a feeling of not really being awake, a sensation of having a bad nightmare from which you can’t wake up? While millions and billions of dollars flow into aid and development, the poor get poorer while the rich ever more powerful and wealthy. In 2014 millions of people were forced to leave their home country, thousands of them dying on the way, whereas many of those who survived needed to undergo inhumane treatments in the places they arrived. When even planes disappear out of the blue sky while innocent citizens are shot dead in public only because of their ethnicity (or in other words ‘having the wrong skin colour’), then we can arguably question the integrity of our society’s moral. For me it seems that in 2014 everything has changed for worse and one’s indeed right to ask ‘what’s wrong’?

Digging a bit deeper into the question I came to the conclusion that 2014 was however not really that much of a change. From my viewpoint the only innovation is that politics have definitely proved to be dead. What our governments call politics has evolved into a farce that is worse than any reality TV. Proud of our oh-so-democratic political systems, we Westerners have tended to condemn dictatorships of autocrats such as Putin, Erdogan and Co, but what has become of our own systems? Is it the right way forward to set cars afire and smash shop windows in an attempt to ‘reclaim the streets’ as they do in Zurich? Is it democratic to denunciate corruption in developing economies while supporting highly corrupt soccer (FIFA) and Formula1 tournaments week for week? Is it the right strategy to have hundreds of ignorant politicians flying around the globe to meet once a year and talk about climate change, while the planet is getting ever warmer without anyone taking even the slightest action? As a taxpayer I only feel that paying taxes is all but a bad investment and somehow I start to understand those trying to evade paying them.

‘People do wrong whenever they think they can, so they act morally only if they’re forced to, because they regard morality as something which isn’t good for one personally. The point is that everyone thinks the rewards of immorality far outweigh those of morality – and they’re right.’[1]

So, when I think clearly, then 2014 was just a prolongation of the post, namely the consequences of inaction. I have praised her works before and I still believe that Hannah Arendt is who best described this phenomenon which is so subtle yet so destructive. What Arendt described in ‘Banality of Evil’ is usually only discussed by ethicists, for whom the term omissions covers all inactions. In contrast, the general public prefers to limit itself to judging actions, namely to talk bad about what we see. The fatality of our modern society are not our actions, it’s the omissions. We prefer to look away from the things that nobody addresses explicitly and instead focus on the irrelevant. In that sense we are just the same as today’s politicians.

The point however is that history will repeat itself until the majority of us understands that ‘not doing anything’ can be more harmful than ‘doing things’. Likewise the chances for a better world diminish with every day that we accept injustice. A happy New Year 2015 to all of you!

[1] Plato: Republic. Translated by Robin Waterfield (Oxford University Press)

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About blaubear

Born in 1973 in a small village in rural Switzerland and into a society largely dominated by cows (not only was the human population of one-hundred-and-forty outnumbered by them, but politics driven by unreasonable subsidies for diary products) I was connected with nature from early age on. Observing nature on one hand and the deficiencies of a dysfunctional Swiss agricultural policy with farmers that had lost connection to the land that provided their income on the other, I soon started to question society and the meaning of life. Suffering also under a farcical public education I developed curiosity to discover on my own. That was how I soon learned that little of what I had been taught was true. Skepticism and interaction with people from for me new cultures fostered my interest for the world and eagerness to leave a life shaped by federalistic layman-ship. At the age of twenty-three I hit the road for the first time, an event that later translated into passion. Traveling between cultures has since become part of my life. At the age of thirty-three I finally realized my dream and did a degree in Environmental Engineering from which I graduated in 2009, only to leave Switzerland once more for my "real home" Spain. Unfortunately, the stay was a short one: a couple of months later I was offered a job in Southeast Asia, where I worked and also lived (with some interruptions, e.g. I live in Melbourne since late 2012) ever since. Having worked for a Japanese company earlier in my life, I soon felt captured again by Asian culture and thinking which makes a lovely contrast to my European heritage. My journey through different countries and cultures has taught me that regardless of how different our thinking and values are, no matter what approaches we take, we all can learn from each other. And if we are open enough to see the common instead of pointing out the differences, then we have a chance to live in harmony and peace: Life is all about integration, not exclusion! It's an old wisdom that "knowledge is power", as such I never get tired of being around new people, having interesting talks, and reading lots of good books. I hope that my blog can contribute to the conversation.
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One Response to 2014 – The year of change?

  1. It’s true there are some troublesome signs globally. I’ve been thinking about the Asia-Pacific area a lot, especially after reading the book ‘When China Rules the World’ in the middle part of the year (http://www.amazon.com/When-China-Rules-World-Western/dp/0143118005). Picking up on your theme of democracy’s struggles in both the West and developing world, the author Martin Jacques suggests there isn’t a realistic chance of rapid democratisation in China, given their very long tradition of a strong (and often authoritarian) central state. He is more positive about China being fairly responsible in terms of international diplomacy and peace as it becomes a dominant global power. More concerning is how well the US can manage the painful process of (relative, and possibly absolute) decline, especially as being a superpower is very tied in to their identity.

    The big drop in oil prices in 2014 has been a big surprise to me. I’ve long generally subscribed to the peak oil view of the world, that we would have a tough time in liquid fuels in early 20th C. Oil production and use is part of a very complex system, and its hard to draw out causes between the geological, technical, and political (e.g. possibly some countries pushing production to the max deliberately to hurt Russia). Some peak oil commentators are arguing it could be due to the global economy reaching limits in ability to carry debt and actually pay for oil extraction – so we’ll have to see how it all plays out.

    I am a little bit more positive about human nature than that Plato quote! Plato was notedly skeptical about democracy and I understand in the Republic outlined a proposed much more authoritarian political system. Perhaps you would find value in reading other Greek philosophers, like Diogenes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diogenes_of_Sinope) who while he had some strange behavioural quirks did praise the value of simple living, which later lead to the Stoic school. I saw an etching of him at an art gallery recently with a lantern, searching for an ‘honest man’ in Athens.

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