The obituary for 2016 will be full of obituaries.
However, contrary to popular belief, we won’t only be mourning the year’s incongruously large loss of people we made famous. We shall also be grieving for things more fundamental; the loss of our decency; the loss of our humanity.
It was a year when we lost truth.
Politicians finally abandoned their centuries-old policy of subtle subterfuge in favor of outright, brazen lies. On both sides of the Atlantic, unscrupulous, would-be leaders and their cronies shamelessly fomented fears of their own creation. Perhaps surprised, but definitely galvanized by our collective gullibility, each lie became more outrageous than the last. All that remained for them to do was to take their lies and make them true somehow. It felt as if we were in the middle of a sinister social experiment, designed to test when we would finally say, “ENOUGH!” We didn’t.
It was a year when we lost pluralism.
Unable to look beyond the stifling confines of its bigotry, and only a little more than 70 years after its finest hour, the population of the world’s original super power voted for global irrelevance. Not to be outdone, its current super power voted to abdicate its self-appointed moral leadership role, aided by a tirade of absurd, inflammatory, 140-character nonsense. In our ignorance, we decided to no longer listen without prejudice, but to trust those who speak without knowledge.
It was a year when we lost empathy.
As ancient cities burned, countless starving souls travelled thousands of desperate miles in search of the shelter of our better lives. Our xenophobia stalked each one of their painful steps; finally welcoming them with suspicion and barbed wire. An ocean away, with an audacious amnesia, people whose families – many in our lifetime – were welcomed with open arms and invited to share in an improbable nation’s impossible dream, decided that they want it all for themselves. We will build walls. We will make lists. We will keep you out. We won the race; get out of our place. The future may still give you a chance – but we won’t.
It was a year when we lost understanding.
Religious zealotry, never far below the surface, was unleashed against those who happen to have a different faith. With cynicism’s broad brush, each difference was painted with the same color, staining millions of devout believers with the despicable acts of those who pervert their religion’s message. Irresponsible, incendiary rhetoric stoked our ill-informed judgement. If that’s our road to heaven, it certainly feels like the road to hell.
It was a year when we lost history.
Without the inconvenience of having to look beyond our own shores for objects to despise, we found new justifications for intolerance. As the New South became old again, lawmakers failed to recognize that sometimes the clothes do not make the man. Fifty years of progress against discrimination was unwound by a hasty, angry legislative pen. Its target was different this time, but it was the same prejudiced ink of the Sixties.
It was a year that gave us precious little to smile about.
Is this how we demonstrate our values? Is this the dream life to which we think humanity should aspire? Is this is how we treat a liberty hard-earned by our predecessors?
From Berlin to Charlotte; from Brussels to Istanbul; the motivation may have been different but the message from the ever-swelling ranks of the disillusioned was the same …
I don’t want your freedom.
4th January 2017