We do live in interesting times, which, as you may know, is considered a curse in some cultures. In an incredibly fast process, the entire structure of international relations that had been built up since the end of the Second World War is tottering right before our eyes. The latest illustration, the recent G7 conference in Quebec, underlined the fact that everything we have come to accept as normal in international affairs is rapidly being destroyed.
Historians will tell you that this is not unusual, much less unique: the comparative peace and prosperity which the West, in particular, has been enjoying since 1945 was both novel and illusory. The post-war reorganisation of alliances, through the United Nations and what has become the European Union, as well as the rise of the United States as the world’s superpower, was a remarkable achievement. It led to economic prosperity for the countries involved, a period of economic and social stability in Western Europe, and the growing belief that Democracy was the irresistible wave of the future for the rest of the planet.
Canadians could rest content in the knowledge that they shared the world’s longest undefended border with a close ally and economic partner, and was part of NATO, a strong military bulwark against Soviet and, later, Russian, aggression. Canada’s role in the United Nations, exemplified for many in its development of the concept of Peacekeeping, brought the country into a respected and rather safe position as a middle-power, admired and depended upon by other, smaller nations.
In short, we became quite complacent, believing that this was the norm, the way things were meant to be, and would always be. What we may not have noticed until very recently, is that the very prosperity and security we enjoyed and celebrated was also leading politicians, business people, and most of the population to become more self-centered and arrogant, less and less interested in anything that did not affect us directly. We are still arguing about climate change, refusing to take any serious measures to counter the effects in spite of growing evidence that our children will have to deal with some potentially catastrophic climatic conditions. Instead, we debate how much we really impact the whole climate change thing, and whether we need to actually sacrifice some level of comfort to protect the future.
We have watched the rise of the new Czar in Russia, a man who has grabbed total power, enriched thieves and mobsters in the process, and is determined to restore the glories, and boundaries, of the old USSR and the Empire of the Romanovs. He interferes in elections, encourages Brexit and the rise of Trumpworld, and does whatever it takes to undermine the stability and unity of the West. And he is successful.
We congratulated ourselves, until very recently, that China seemed to have abandoned the old Communism of Chairman Mao, and embraced a more capitalist and almost democratic path. The past months have shown the error of that belief, and we see that an autocratic ruler is slowly coming to dominate world economic systems, with little regard for human and civil rights.
Israel has been forgiven for gross human rights violations against Palestinians because, we are constantly told, it is the only democratic nation in the Middle East. This may be true, but is that an excuse for what has been happening on the West Bank and Gaza for decades? Are we just feeling guilty because we allowed the Holocaust to happen by turning a blind eye (and closed ports) to what was happening to the Jews of Europe?
But now, now we are suddenly faced with the unthinkable: our great neighbour and family member turning against Canada, calling us a threat to national security as an excuse for economic isolationism. Trump, that stain on humanity, has had nothing but praise for dictators and autocrats like Putin, and even called Kim Jong-Un “honourable”, while attacking the democratic leaders of the world. Whatever we think of our elected Prime Minister, to hear Trump denounce Trudeau, and by extension, Canada, as somehow an enemy of the US, after all Canadians have done to stand beside Americans in their many wars and conflicts, is so discouraging and indicates a fundamental change in how we live together on this planet. Yeats said it well many years ago:
“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, by W. B. Yeats, 1919]
When ignorance achieves the highest offices, and the evil and dominating ignore accepted norms of behaviour and respect, then a new age has dawned in our time. Mutual respect, honour, integrity and honesty: these are all traits we have gradually abandoned in social and political life. We are about to pay a high price, unless we rethink our ways and demand something better. Think globally and act locally, starting with our own neighbourhood.