COMMENT: By Bryan Bruce
Every time I wrote a sentence to describe the slow motion collision of social, economic and political forces that are simultaneously destroying and reshaping societies around the world, I would erase it .
Not “writer’s block” so much as “writer’s inadequacy” – feeling torn between using “revolution” or “evolution” to describe the events on my news feeds over the last few days.
I tried writing a list. (An old trick I have when trying to find a pattern in an apparent chaos):
- America has an absentee President
- The murder of George Floyd. Black Lives Matter.
- Stock markets are on the rise.
- Peaceful Whitehouse protest attacked by police so Trump can hold up a Bible for a photo op.
- Houses are selling again – some below CV, some ridiculously above.
- Worldwide covid-19 is still killing thousands of people everyday .
- A second virus wave is a real fear so our borders are closed… except, entertainment is suddenly deemed an essential industry and Hollywood moguls get a free pass.
- Essential workers who helped keep us alive during the lockdown still receive the lowest pay.
- China is back to a 90 percent economy.
- America has the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression.
- Locally there are a lot of empty shops, a sudden rash of “for lease signs” on office and warehouse properties, and evidence of a hotel industry in trouble.
The list doesn’t help.
For every positive sign I find suggesting a new more egalitarian post-covid-19 world will emerge, contra-indicators reveal the vested interests in the old order are still very much alive and kicking.
Another old trick
So I try another old trick. The History Review:
I ask myself is this moment unique? Have we been here before?
Answer? Yes and no.
Yes – in some societies there have been moments of very rapid social change when the existing social order has been suddenly overthrown. The French, American and Russian revolutions being three obvious examples.
No – because, this time, whatever is happening is a global phenomenon made possible by the invention of the internet and global air travel – two technologies that have transformed our mental and physical world so that Queen Street is now just around our mental corner from Wall Street and a virus born in Wuhan today can fly to Washington or Wellington and be living in us tomorrow.
So where are the words to describe what is happening ?
I turn to some old friends for help.
“It was the best times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period.” (A Tale of Two Cities)
W.B. Yeats writing after the chaos of WW1:
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.” (The Second Coming)
Pandemics are not new.
Social chaos is not new.
The battle between Good and Evil is as old as human conscience.
Somehow, despite all our short comings as a species, we are still here.
Perhaps, in that, there is some hope.
Bryan Bruce is one of New Zealand’s most respected documentary makers and public intellectuals who has tirelessly exposed the NZ neoliberal economic settings as the main cause for social problems. He blogs at The Daily Blog where this column was first published here. Republished with the author’s permission.