The Ragged Trousered Optimist

I feel like we’re at the end of the beginning. It’s been a long time coming. We, and by “we” I mean all or some of the adults currently alive, may not be around to see the next chapter. And that’s fine. Karl Benz, Henry Ford and the rest didn’t stick around long enough to see hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles, although the part they played in their inception was vital. But this beginning has been going on much longer than the gestation of environmentally-friendly personal automotive transport.

The internet can be a terrible place. It’s also glorious. For a start it’s a huge repository of research. Seek and you shall find almost anything. Its strands of connectivity bring people together in ways we couldn’t have imagined even twenty years ago. It’s both magnifier and torch, although rabbit holes and mazes abound. Pick your path with care. Question your own truth. Ask where it came from. 

Today’s rightful, righteous causes go back a long way. All of them. Exploitation of workers? The industrial revolution was built on it. And before that, the tithe system, feudalism, manorialism, serfdom. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Black lives matter? The need for such a slogan didn’t begin in Detroit in the 1960s. Slavery didn’t just involve a few ships and a few appalling episodes. It literally enabled the origins of the modern economy, worldwide. Today’s aristocracy were yesterday’s slave ship owners. The patriarchy? The Bible was its handbook. 

The moments of enlightenment along the way appear so far to have been the blips. The rays of sunshine piercing the darkest corners. Parts of the 1960s counter-culture. The briefest of flashes in the 1990s. The eighteenth century’s intellectual and philosophical thinking that heralded a new form of humanism. Each glimmer made advances into the fields of knowledge and a true meritocracy but were quickly snuffed out by the wealthy, the settled, those who would prefer the status quo to prevail. It’s appropriate that many of those resistant to change question Darwinian evolution, even now. Or else they’ll use its maxim “Survival of the fittest” and assume it means them. It rarely means them. 

So this end of the beginning, conflated with the internet. The blips leave their traces. Their valuable palimpsests. I think what we’re living through is the final breakdown of those long-established barriers built on race, wealth, class, gender. It will be the longest revolution. Not a tsunami of change. More a relentless sea, lapping daily at the shore of privilege and protection. The difference is the immediacy of the communication. The eyes and ears of the witnesses are no longer just those in physical attendance. 

As we’ve seen with the emergence of COVID-19, some things really are still beyond the control of those who would have it all. Climate breakdown will bring another such set of circumstances. The old rules will not apply. Cannot apply. 

The consumerist playbook was the last throw of the dice. Slowly we will learn to value each other, to value creativity (surely mankind’s greatest triumph and asset) more than consumerism. More than stuff. When they can’t sell us any more shit because we’ve no desire for it; we’ve either got enough, or we’ve seen through it, or both; when we’ve learned to say no. When we realise that having each other can be better than having the unnecessary item. Then maybe the new beginning can start.

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