In which I utter platitudes

One of the most telling memes on Facebook in the last few months has been a picture of a row of history books or chronicles: 2014, 2015, We Don’t Talk About This One, 2017, 2018….

For many people, 2016 would be a nice year to forget, except that we’ve still got to live with the consequences.

Lots of lovely things happened for lots of people in 2016. Babies were born, people got engaged or married, and it was a great year if you’re a fan of British tennis, rowing or gymnastics. (Or Leicester City.)

And if a lot of famous people who were greatly loved died, that does happen most years.

But for Syria and Iraq, it was generally a year of horror, despite a ceasefire on 30th December.

And, to restate my colours that were nailed to the mast long ago, I am still in shock that six months ago the British electorate opted to leave the EU, and that the US electorate (acting according to its constitution) elected Donald Trump as President. These things will last.

(Millions of people were pleased about the result of the referendum, for all sorts of reasons, many of them legitimate and completely non-racist. There is no doubt that the EU was and is a very imperfect institution.)

Looking to the immediate future of our world and our nation, however, it is hard for me to be sanguine, and I will give you three reasons:

  1. It seems that the winning side (sometimes both sides) both in the US election and in the referendum took a worryingly lax attitude to the truth, or indeed to civilised debate, and profited by it. The “£350 million” bus claim was over and over again declared to be nonsense, yet it remained on the bus;
  2. Whether or not it’s sensible to leave the EU, we have already seen that the decision means a mind-bogglingly large amount of time, money and attention is going to be devoted to Brexit negotiations and arguments (confusingly and bitterly) for the foreseeable future, at a time when surely British and European governments could really do with focussing on a few other things (climate change, housing, refugees, the health service);
  3. We are told that these results and others happened partly because ordinary people feel let down and ignored by the political and economic establishment, and their living standards are static. I live comfortably, and I know there are genuinely poor, even destitute, people in Britain and the US, but where is the right to a constantly improving standard of living? If this is the anger of the British and Americans, what will happen when the world’s truly poor get angry?

So what do we do about all this? How do we live? How are we (dismayed people like me) being tempted to live?

We’re being tempted to be very very angry, to spend a lot of time finding new and clever ways of saying how angry we are on Facebook. There’s a joke about four people on a crashing plane arguing about how to divide up three parachutes, and it ends with the line “America’s smartest President took my schoolbag…” And there are a lot more. I know this sounds sanctimonious, but I’m reminded of Screwtape’s comments about the use of Humour as a way of saying or doing things that you would otherwise be ashamed of as cruel. Similarly, just because certain campaigners were casual about the “facts” they used to attack Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz, we need to be more careful, not less, about what we say and post about other people or politicians. Please challenge me if I get careless about spreading rumours just because I’d like them to be true.

We may be tempted to let an agenda we disapprove of dictate our attention. If I say (as I just have) that the government should be spending more time on combatting climate change than on negotiating Brexit… well, I can’t negotiate Brexit anyway, but I could put on more jumpers and buy local and campaign…

And we may be tempted to ignore and condemn people who are different from us, lumping all those who voted for Donald Trump in the same category. Not all migrants are terrorists; in fact almost none of them are. But not all UKIP voters hate foreigners and gay people; perhaps almost none of them do either.

(Sigh) So nothing’s really changed. In 2017 we should redouble our determination to be honest, kind, committed to what’s important (which may mean taking on something new), and open to other people. Last year I quoted “Lord of the Rings” in church:

“How shall a man judge what to do in such times?”

“As he ever has judged… Good and evil have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men.”

And one could add:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“..So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Love from the PPI Blogger

  • Malachi Malagowther

    13th January 2017 at 6:26 pm Reply

    I’d like to think that the world of early 2017, at least in most places, is not in as parlous a state as the Middle earth that Frodo and Gandalf were talking about. The question is whether or not we are living in a time analogous to the early 1930s. The League of Nations had many faults and countries felt justified in leaving because their national interests were not being supported. One of the reasons the EU was established was to try and prevent war in Europe but if strong nation states like Britain start to leave then that role starts to be lost. It is much easier to abandon International institutions than it is to make them effective and fair.

  • Clint Redwood

    13th January 2017 at 7:49 pm Reply

    To start be quoting Screwtape, and follow with an assiette of Tolkien is sure result in my approval…

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