I’ve started to use a phrase often muttered by somebody I used to work with. ‘Going to hell in a handcart’ seems to totally sum up the current state of humanity. What’s brought on this doom and gloom? Well, many things, but the tipping point this weekend was reading a newspaper report on the US House select committee investigation into the attack on the Capital that followed Trump’s defeat in the presidential elections. One commentator said that despite the damning inditement against him we shouldn’t rule out the return of Trump. What? If this happens I see no future for humanity.
What is it about us that makes us elect popularist political leaders like Trump and Johnson? They are cartoon characters who better belong to a TV soap opera than the political world stage. What is it about us that desires, and puts our faith in celebrities rather than serious politicians who have a genuine understanding of the issues we face? Why do we dismiss serious politicians with phrases like ‘they’re only in it for themselves’ yet keep supporting those over-inflated egos who are only it for themselves? That we do so says as much about us as it does about those charlatans we elect to office.
Part of the problem is that humanity is, on the whole, crap at assessing risk and making predictions. We are only motivated to change things when the we are directly experiencing discomfort, not beforehand to avoid discomfort. And we seem to have an inbuilt faith that things will either continue as they have done or get better in some way. We seem intoxicated by the notion of progress and blind to the all the existential storm clouds building on the horizon. Why do we resist realist assessments of our situations in favour of ‘happy ever after’ fairy stories?
Another part of the problem is that we are nowhere near as intelligent as we like to think we are. We seem to make sense of the world through the use of simple narratives like those used for soap opera story lines; narratives with easily identifiable heroes and villains – characters like Trump and Johnson and their evil (often foreign) nemeses. We seem unable to deal with complexity and nuance, with important debates quickly descending into a simplified polemic. As a recent Radio 4 programme on the loss of nuance pointed out, in a world of increasing complexity we are more and more seeing things in black and white, yes or no, support or reject.
Yet despite all this we somehow believe that we have a special place in the universe. Unless we quickly wake up to the reality, the precariousness of our situation, I fear that our arrogance will be our downfall. If we want to avoid that trip to hell onboard the handcart of our self-belief we need to start having proper and meaningful public debates and discussions about the future of humanity’s place on Earth. We need to understand that we are part of the natural environment, not separate or above it, and that this relationship is complex. If we don’t, if we keep with the soap opera story lines and characters, we’re “doomed, we’re all doomed!”