Reflections for a New Year

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 3 2020 (IPS)

In a world shaken by so many problems, it is difficult to look
at 2020 and not make some kind of holistic analysis. While enormous
progress has been made on many fronts, it is clear that the tide
has turned, and we are now entering – or have already entered –
a new low point in the history of humankind..

Roberto Savio

Today, we face an unprecedented existential threat brought about by
the climate crisis. According to scientists, we have until 2030 to
stop climate change, after which human conditions will be under
several threats. Yet, we have just had a world conference in Madrid
on climate change, which ended in nothing. Not only that, but since
the beginning of the last decade, there has been a singular change
of the relations of politicians with climate. Climate has become
not a scientific but a political issue, with a number of
politicians of not minor weight, like Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro,
Viktor Orban, Matteo Salvini and Vladimir Putin arguing that there
is no climate crisis. Some of them, like Australia prime minister
Scott Morrison, take holidays in Hawaii even as fires have
destroyed an area large as Belgium.

Since the end of the last decade, we have seen also another
change in a vital environment: democracy. With the fall of Berlin
Wall in 1989, everybody was told that the threat of communism had
now gone. As Francis Fukuyama famously wrote, it was the end of
history. Capitalism and market would unify the world, and lift all
boats, it was said at the time.

Then came the big financial crisis of 2008-2009 which cost
governments (and therefore people) 12 trillion dollars and it
became clear that only some boats were being lifted. Budget
trimmings affected especially welfare, education and health, while
at the same time some people were becoming fabulously rich. World
debt doubled, (it now stands at 325 trillion dollars), and suddenly
nationalistic, xenophobic and right-wing parties sprouted
everywhere. Before the crisis of 2009, there was only one, in
France. Even Nordic countries, long-time symbol of civism and
tolerance saw the arrival of extreme right-wing governments.

The thirty years between the fall of Berlin Wall and the
financial crisis, left a culture of competition, individualism and
loss of values – a culture of greed. And the ten years between
that crisis of and our incoming decade saw the rise of a culture of
fear. Immigration became the catalyst We were being invaded, Islam
was not compatible with our society, our jobs were being stolen,
crime and drugs were coming in and the same leaders who do not
believe in climate change became the guardians of Christianity,
enacting restrictive laws to the applause of citizens, regardless
of human rights. In the last two decades, trade unions have become
irrelevant, and laws have been introduced that support the making
of jobs precarious and reductions in social protection. People
started having fear, looking at the uncertain future of their
children.

Historians affirm that the two main engines of change in history
are greed and fear. We enter the decade of the 2020s with both.
Worse, many analysts believe we do so with hate.

The fact is that two flags that we thought had been discarded by
history are making a comeback.

One is the flag ‘in the name of God’. We think of ISIS and
Al Qaeda, but this is the basis of the image of Putin, Orban,
Trump, Bolsonaro and Salvini. The use of religion by the right wing
has been able to rally the poor. Theologian Juan Josè Tamayo has
called politicians with bible in hand the Christo-neo-fascist
alliance. In the last elections in Costa Rica, evangelical pastor
Fabricio Alvarado won with a campaign based on the defence of
Christian values and neoliberalism, against abortion and the
paganism coming from Europe. This is precisely the electoral theme
of Orban in Hungary, Kacynsky in Poland and Putin in Russia.

In Brazil, the evangelical church was vital in getting Bolsonaro
elected. In El Salvador, the new president Nayib Bukele asked an
extreme right-wing evangelical pastor to offer a prayer during his
inaugural ceremony, and there is a draft law that would make the
Bible compulsory reading in all schools. You will all remember how,
after the overthrow of Eva Morales by the army, the new president
of Bolivia Jeanine Áñez and her supporters went around with a
bible in their hands at all ceremonies.

And let us not forget that Trump was elected because of the
support of the evangelical church, which has 40 million faithful.
He moved the US embassy to Jerusalem to get their support.
Evangelicals believe that when Israel will recover all the
territory of the biblical time, Christ will come to earth for a
second time, and they will be the only ones that will be rewarded.
The other country which moved its embassy to Jerusalem, Guatemala,
was also the result of the move of an evangelical president.

Theologian Tamayo speaks of an international of hate: hate
against gender equality, against LGTBs, against abortion, against
immigrants. Those who propagate hate defend reinforcement of the
patriarchal family, the submission of women, they despise what is
not traditional, they mistrust science and statistics, they deny
climate change, and they hate Muslims, Jews and blacks. What is
being totally ignored in all this is the problem of social
inequalities, the growing economic gap for reasons of ethnicity,
culture, gender, social class, sexual identity, and so on.

Tamayo observes that this is becoming a new international
movement, which is now coming to Europe, as the recent Spanish
elections show. Vox, the extreme right-wing party, created just
four years ago, now has 52 seats in the Parliament, and is the
third largest party, like AFD in Germany. The party of Italy’s
Salvini, with his rosary beads, has become the number one party,
and he could become prime minister at any moment. And we know well
of the very large conservative front against the Pope in the
Catholic Church which also wants to save traditions, is against
LGBTs, is for a patriarchal family, etc., etc. All this is about
using religion, fear and hate for political gains.

And what about the flag ‘in the name of the nation’? Well,
the best example is Benjamin Netanyahu who has passed a law which
makes being a Jew the requisite for Israeli citizenship. This is
how Narendra Modi in India is trying to deprive Muslims (170
million) of Indian citizenship; it is how the government in Myanmar
is treating over one million Rohingyas. Those cases join religion
with the fight against minorities and different religions in the
name of the nation. China has now launched a campaign for a Chinese
dream (also persecuting Uighur Muslim minorities). This is exactly
the same strategy as that of Trump, who calls for the American
dream. The United States has no allies, and anybody who makes money
in trade with the United States is an adversary, be it Canada or
Germany. “America First”, which in fact means “America
Alone”.

So, the flags “in the name of God” and “in the name of the
Nation” frequently overlap. Italian political scientist and
economist Riccardo Petrella observes that in recent decades, a
third flag has appeared with a large audience: ‘in the name of
money”, and also that in the last two decades corruption has
become another universal countervalue.

In its last report, Transparency International, the organisation
which fights and denounces corruption, analyses how corruption is
weakening democracy. Freedom House, a conservative US foundation,
found that since 2006, 113 countries have seen a net decline in
their freedom score, while only 62 have seen some improvement. The
Economist says that democracy was stagnating in 2018, after three
consecutive years of deterioration. Of the 62 countries which
transitioned from authoritarian rule to some form of democracy, in
the last quarter of the 20th century, half of them have seen their
level of democracy stagnate or even falter. Transparency
international highlights that while fight against corruption is
high on the populists’ platform, when in power they tend to
weaken democratic institutions, and engage into corruption like
their predecessors. It cites the cases of various country, from
Guatemala to Turkey, from the United States to Poland and Hungary.
When corruption seeps into the democratic system it corrupts
leaders. Economic corruption has increased in the last forty years,
after the “greed is good” campaign, as the market has
substituted man as the centre of society. It reaches the entire
public sector, besides obviously the private sector.

Two-thirds of humankind now have no trust in police and other
public services, because they are considered corrupt, and they
believe that corruption is so diffuse that it cannot be
eliminated.

We have become accustomed to hearing about corruption in the
last two decades, because it is in the news every day. We have
slowly become trained to look as natural things that are at all no
natural: a good sign of the extent to which we have lost a moral
compass.

If you ask children today if wars and poverty are natural, they
will probably answer yes. And, as adolescents, they will also
probably consider corruption as natural.

It is therefore evident that two fundamental environments for
humankind are in danger. One in the short term is the natural
environment. The conditions of life on the planet can worsen
dramatically, and we have all the forecasts. We have only the
coming decade to try to reverse the trend of climate change, be it
natural (some say) or man-made (all scientists). But then the
question is: how long do we have to protect our political
environment, which runs our economic, social and cultural life,
before that also goes into an irreversible decline?

Of course, a bloody dictatorship is less dramatic than seas
rising seven metres, temperatures 3 degrees, or l0osing all our
glaciers, and many rivers and water sources. Now that we have all
the data, why do citizens not act for the survival of their
environment?

On the other hand, 2019 will remain in history the year of mass
demonstrations. In 21 countries, in Latin America, Africa, Asia,
Europe, millions of people went out on the street to protest
against corruption, social injustice, the gap between political
institutions and citizens, the fear and decline of social welfare
as a political priority, Young people, who have deserted political
parties and elections, have been frequently at the forefront. They
are at the head of the campaign for a sustainable world, where an
adolescent, Greta Thunberg, has brought together young people from
all over the world. But the system does not appear to be really
listening to them, unless they become violent as in Chile, Paris,
Baghdad or Hong Kong.

These reflections bring us to three conclusions.

The first is that, not by accident, the enemies of the fight to
defend our natural environment are also the enemies of our
political environment. they do not care if the first is destroyed,
because they are intertwined with corporations, gas and oil
companies, farmers who want to take over land (like the case of
Brazil and Amazonia), or coal companies, like in Poland and
Australia. But they want to twist the political environment in
their favour, for their power. Orban of Hungary has campaigned for
am illiberal democracy. Bolsonaro has gone further, talking about
the good old days of the military dictatorship. And all of them,
from Trump to Salvini, look on international cooperation,
multilateral agreements and any initiative that reduces the freedom
of a country for peace and justice (like the United Nations or the
European Union) as enemies. They are all in favour of building
walls, forgetting that the Second World War taught us to abolish
them.

The second is that democracy is in danger, for the same reasons
that the environment is also in danger. There is no ability and
will among populists to reach any internal agreement. Would it be
possible today to create the United Nations, or sign the
Declaration on Human Rights? Certainly not just as there is no will
to fight climate change.

The third, therefore, is what is going to happen in the new
decade we are now entering. It looks like it will be a decisive
decade. In just a few years, we must take action on how we will
deal with two existential issues: how to remain in our present
environment, and how we will live together.

All this will be decided by voters. And this raises an issue: is
it legitimate to believe that fascism, xenophobia and nationalism
are the answer to our problems? Humans should learn from their
mistakes (like all other animals do). And we should have learnt
from the two world wars that those beliefs are not an answer but
the roots of war and confrontation.

So, here a final reflection. According to Steven Pinker, the
Canadian cognitive scientist, writing in The Economist, in the last
seven years humans have become healthier, live longer, are more
secure, richer, freer, more intelligent and educated. This trend
should continue. But humans have evolved, because they have
dedicated themselves mainly to the advantages of reproduction,
survival and material growth not because of wisdom or
happiness.

The first urgent step is to reconcile progress with human
nature. We have cognitive abilities, and also the ability to
cooperate and be emphatic, unlike other animals. Between the Age of
Enlightenment and the Second World War, we made important progress
on science, democracy, human rights, free information, market rules
and the creation of institutions for international cooperation.
This trend cannot be stopped, argues Pinker; it is now in our
genes.

Well, in ten years we will know if all this is in the human
genes or is just one of the many passages of history. Also, because
in 2022, Bolsonaro and Orban should leave office: Erdogan in 2023;
Netanyahu, Modi, Putin and Trump in 2024. So, in just four years (a
microsecond in human history), we will know how the world is, and
what damages are irreversible or not, and if we have made any
progress in halting the climate crisis. But Trump, etc, have been
elected…

The post Reflections
for a New Year
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Reflections for a New Year