The year behind us, 5778, has been a challenging one. For me, it encompassed a move to a new home in a new place, followed pretty quickly by a whole slew of random health issues: the flu, a thyroid issue, an ileus. Summer flew by in a haze of fatigue and frustration, bookended by pain and healing.
But the world continued on its path, with the earth rotating as science describes, on its axis, orbiting the sun. And its earthly inhabitants continued in their ways, angrier and more idiotic by the day, it seems.
By many measures, we humans are better off than ever in our history. Longer life expectancy; fewer nation vs. nation all-out wars; massive reductions in global poverty, and so on. At the same time, we are effectively destroying the only home we have through dallying and deceit about climate change. Mother Nature isn’t going to wait for us to act; that ship has sailed. So she’s showing us who’s really boss, and what happens when you run amok in her world, and think you can lord it over nature without penalty. We will be paying this piper dearly, and with massive disruption and destruction the one guaranteed result of our hubris and inaction.
Then there are the politics of our times, which veer from cruelty and idiocy on the left–Maduro and the Sandinistas, for example–to cruelty and idiocy on the right–in America, in Austria, in Germany, in Hungary, in Russia, in Israel, in the Philippines. And sectarian, old-school-tribal cruelty in places like Syria, Myanmar, and Saudia Arabia. What is lost at both extremes is our actual humanity, that core feature of who we are–or at least who we’re supposed to be–that gives us pause, that allows us to think of our fellow citizens and fellow travelers as equally human, as equally deserving of dignity and protection.
We have devolved in too many places into the worst version of ourselves. And we seem unable to get off the merry-go-round of recrimination and hatred. Life has become, in some quarters, an entirely zero sum game. That in fact defines America’s politics at the moment, which operate at a screaming pitch of partisanship, disallowing compromise and destroying a little bit more of our democracy by the day. I marvel at the glee with which America’s Republican arsonists seem determined to burn the house down. While they’re inside. I similarly marvel at the resurgence of old hatreds in Europe, of the rise of anti-Semitism, now embraced by Muslim immigrants to Europe, to add to the old-school neo-Nazis and white supremacists. There’s something both sad and just disgusting in people who fled their own co-religionists’ hatred of and violence toward them, bringing with them hatred toward others. But so goes the human beast, I suppose. And in Israel, whatever moral high ground the country once occupied, has now been entirely leveled. No, Israel has never gotten a fair shake on the world stage. And no, Israel has never really had a partner for peace since, for whatever reasons, Arab culture seems to view compromise as humiliation, so zero sum it is. And that is not just a Palestinian-Israeli issue; it’s endemic in the wider Arab world. Nevertheless, Israel’s retreat to its worst impulses, its demonization of everyone who isn’t a right wing Jew, is the bullet that keeps piercing its heart, and bringing the nation closer to its own undoing.
Much as the United States is increasingly resembling an unraveling spool of yarn, half enthrall to a raging madman, and half trying desperately to get him off his imagined throne and into the asylum that surely awaits him, too much of Israel appears to be enthrall to a corrupt, cynical egomaniac, who seems to think nothing of besmirching (and worse) the values and principles for which the early Zionists fought and died, and which they enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
Around the world, we see example after example of the ways in which people and governments are denigrating their own, making enemies of their fellow citizens, of their co-religionists, of anyone who is not with them. For surely that means they are against. And resistance, in these times, is only an enemy’s coin, if you believe those wielding power in Caracas, Manila, Jerusalem, Washington, Riyadh, Moscow, Beijing, and Damascus.
It has always been the case that man is his own worst enemy. The tragedy is that at the very moment when we have advanced human knowledge and skill to unimagined levels, we have devolved into the beasts we fundamentally are and perhaps always will be. We can outfit ourselves with smart phones, outsource our work to robots, let driverless cars take us hither and yon, but if our souls are sheathed in anger–or in the rust of disuse–then really what difference does it make? Perhaps we will snap out of our self-interested reverie long enough to attend to what we need to mourn. But by then, it might very well be too late…