By Soumya Ghosh
The wise civil-rights activist Malcolm X had said these words back in 1965. He was right then, and he is right now.
2016, by any indications, has been quite a tumultuous year. From British voters deciding to opt out of the European Union to Trump’s triumph in the Presidential elections. Conventional wisdom has suddenly morphed into unconventional wisdom.
When globalism failed expectations
2016 was shaped by the incessant anger – felt by individuals who in their perception, had been left behind due to globalism. Globalism for that matter, in their parochial worldviews, didn’t usher in the prosperity they hoped for – instead, it led to wage stagnation and the erosion of their identities. The establishments, on the other hand, dwelled in their own echo chambers. Trapped in the Sisyphean paradox: repeating the same policies over and over again, and expecting different outcomes.
Their reveries and utopian descriptions of a globalised world now lay in tatters, as mini-revolutions sparked due to the innate rage of those left behind. This innate rage was born out of the disillusionment with the status quo that the middle Americans and “Leave” voters – quite vividly felt.
2016 was the year of internationalism vs nationalism, cosmopolitanism vs nativism. The old left vs right divide had waned away.
This seismic shift in public opinion was years in waiting due to the inability of neoliberalism to assuage the economic concerns of everyday individuals.
The era of protectionism and nativism dawned upon us. The 1994 Uruguay Round talks on trade liberalisation, the Reagan-Thatcher era of deregulation now seemed like a vestige of a bygone era.
Horrors of war & famous deaths
2016 was also a significant year for refugees and migrants. Over a million migrants and refugees entered the European continent seeking better life opportunities and living standards from their war-ravaged homes. But the positive perception of refugees took a sharp downturn after the events that unfolded in Brussels, Nice and now in Berlin. The equation of terrorism with refugees still loomed large in the psyche of an everyday European. This equation has provided space for the reignition of the phenomenon of identarian politics.
The horrors of war could not have been better encapsulated in the image of Omar Daqneesh. The five-year-old boy covered from head-to-toe with blood and dust, suddenly became the human embodiment of the horrors of the Syrian Civil War. Omar Daqneesh’s image was the testament to the fact that human beings could delve in pure savagery for minuscule tribalistic gains. The photo of Omar Daqneesh should also act as a stern repudiation of anti-refugee sentiments that shroud many Europeans.
Humanitarianism and the act of benevolence towards fellow human beings, in particular refugees, shouldn’t necessarily be an option but rather a moral compulsion.
2016, was also the year we bid adieu to many stars including (but not limited to) the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, the singers from Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Prince to the pop icon George Michael. It was also the year the Star Wars star Carrie Fisher, and her mother Debbie Reynolds passed away. 2016 was undoubtedly quite a sombre year for celebrity deaths. In fact, a recent BBC article pointed out that, there were more obituaries written for famous celebrity deaths – when compared to previous years
But well, 2016 wasn’t all that bad.
Victories of 2016
2016 was a momentous year for environmental activists. The Paris Agreement after years of negotiations was finally adopted. Ratified by many nations including the United States, China, and India. The main objective of the treaty was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and gradually phasing out HFC and heat-trapping chemicals.
2016 was also a breakthrough year for Artificial Intelligence – which can shape our world for years to come. It was the first year when Uber’s self-driving cars hit the road in San Francisco and moreover Alphabet’s AlphaGo a computer algorithm defeated grandmaster Lee Sedol in the Chinese board game of Go. Mark Zuckerberg, in fact, built an AI assistant named “Jarvis” – characteristically voiced by Morgan Freeman which can do preliminary tasks like switching off lights and recognising people at the door.
2016, from the Indian perspective, was a consequential year for female athletes. PV Sindhu defied odds at the Rio Olympics, to win a silver medal in Badminton. Sakshi Malik, on the other hand, became the first Indian female wrestler to win the Bronze medal. The successes of PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik brought laurels for India. Most importantly they inspired a generation to replicate their successes in the future Olympic games.
As this year draws to a close, a new year awaits us. If 2016 was the year of anger, 2017 could be the year of even more anger. A fractious European Union unable to address the concerns of voters across its member nations will be under the spotlight. The populist far-right long shunned away from the corridors of power could finally envisage themselves as governing.
As the conservative intellectual, William F. Buckley once said,
The ‘assertiveness’ of the citizenry can increase multifold. Only if those at the helm refuse to assuage the legitimate grievances of many voters. Many commentators depicted 2016 as “1989 in reverse”. But 2017 for that matter has the potential for being a full-blown 1789.
If there is one thing we the citizens of the world need now, it unquestionably is hope. Our civilisation is close knit due to our underlying rational self-interests and values. And that is what the voters who go to polls next year in Netherlands, France, Germany and around the world – should never relinquish.