• Sat, 23, Jan, 2021 - 6:30:PM

The new nature of world issues

Working on laptop / Tatiana Syrikova / Pexels

2021’s days-without-disaster counter hit five, and then dropped back to zero on January 6th.

Pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol, the world at large watched in horror, and not many were surprised. At the very least, I wasn’t. Trump has been stoking the flames under the political pot of the U.S.A. for all the years of his presidency, and it eventually had to bubble over.

For everyone hoping for better prospects this year, the news — both of the riots, and in general — can really kill our hopes. So I’ll be the first to say it. It doesn’t look good: the issues we’ll face this year are going to be global in scale.

Covid-19 rages unchecked in several countries still, most notably in the U.S.A. An all-time high of new Covid cases after their winter holidays happened only this year, even as vaccines roll out across the country. Economies have dipped, tourism has ground to a halt, and bubbles have inflated in most every country.

Climate change continues to transcend borders as we head into a make or break year for staving off the worst effects of global warming. 

Political and civil unrest in other countries can easily influence trends halfway across the world. After the riots at the Capitol, a march was staged in Auckland with Trump 2020 flags among the vanguard. On every front — environmental, social, economic — problems seem bigger than ever. 

But statistics say that, in a relative sense, the world is the least problematic it’s ever been (dubious, I know!). Over the last generation, metrics for literacy, health, crime, and poverty have improved.

So why is the outlook so damn bleak?

Reason number one: statistics don’t say it all. 

People aren’t entirely rational, much as we think we are. We can refer to objective measures of what makes a ‘good time’ — like rooves over our heads, electricity, enough discretionary spending for the occasional gals’ night — but we’re subjective beings.

Social scientists have responded to this delightful contradiction with two different measurements: the Q.O.L. (quality of life, though my brain tells me kwol) and the S.W.B. (subjective well-being). Even as incomes rise and medicine advances, thereby raising the kwol, the elusive factors that influence our well-being might not change.

These are wide and varied. It is incredibly fortunate if we have all the material provisions a person could want, but being fortunate might not always make us happy. Is your job fulfilling? Would you feel safe walking around your neighbourhood alone? Do you have time to experience arts and culture? Are you seen and affirmed by society? 

Hard to rate those from one to a hundred.

Reason number two that everything seems to be getting worse: our standards are getting higher.

Perhaps the world has been like this for a while. A hundred years ago, the world was similarly ravaged by pandemics, racism, and patriarchy to the detriment of everyone. What’s changed between then and now, is what we expect from the world.

All the gains made in the fight for gender, income, and racial equality don’t sate us — they make us hungrier. They make us fight harder and demand better. “The more progress we observe, the greater the remaining injustices appear,” writes Andrew Sullivan. So it can hurt deeply when current events impede the fight for justice.

And reason number three: the world is shrinking. 

Not literally. But with digital communication and lightning-fast internet, things can circumnavigate quicker than ever. Mail, messages, and news. Technology has enlarged our reach, shrunk the world, and brought everything closer to us. 

Because of that, bad news can feel that much more pressing and inescapable. If you’ve ever fallen into a vortex of alarming, depressing headlines: congratulations! You’ve doomscrolled, and probably dampened your mood for at least one afternoon.

But I like to think my optimism hasn’t been squashed, however. The flip side to all of these factors is what they could do for us, wading deeper into 2021.

The very things that make it feel like death and destruction are nipping at our heels are what allow us to combat the new nature of world issues. 

Our connection to each other. 

Our ever-heightening empathy for people like and unlike us.

Our demands for a better future.

We learned firsthand that politicians can make profound, rapid change for the good of society if the call is strong enough. I saw scientists coming together and small businesses rallying each other. The batons of numerous social movements were outstretched from one location and picked up by cities all over the world, passing from hand to careful hand. (So, too, did numerous monoliths but — eh — what makes us bad, makes us weird, makes us funny, makes us good.)

This year I am bracing for more, and for worse, but I am also looking up towards lightness.

It travels as fast, if not faster, than the dark.


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