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Monday, April 04, 2005

An ill wind on the rise

Individual deaths are the twine which binds history together. Not lives, or even births (the lifeblood of the Annales ESC has washed away the "Big Man", with biography suspending him in human time, of which more later). Deaths are the punctuations of history: they provide a temporality we can understand. Eras are marked by deaths: Tiberius Gracchus, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Naploeon III, even Jesus of Nazareth. The past ten days or so have seen three deaths which provide the punctuation for the moment we are in. Fugyama has never been more wrong than now: history is not dead. We are at a moment of change, and history has never been as alive as it is now.

An old man dies. He was a major politician in the four decades after the war. He was Foreign Minister, Home Secretary, Chancellor and Prime Minister. He had lived through remarkable changes, not least the wild thrashing of the normally steady pendulum of British politics. He died shortly before an election which will not involve the party he served; an election where integrity is almost entirely absent. He was a politician who ultimately failed, but failed partly as a result of acting with integrity.

A young woman dies. Severe, prolonged bulimia had led her body to fail her: to leave her in what has been described as a permanent vegitative state. Having pushed her body to accept her control over it to unsustainable limits, she had lost control. Her ultimate weapon in her battle for personal control had become the arsenal of a battle she could not participate in. She died in a country whose political pendulum was swinging on a diffrent arc to that of Britain. Integrity had become supremely important. Voters had been mobilised by integrity, and their new representatives fought to prove that their integrity was solid, based in action. Inegrity was expected, even now from the leaders of the three great Abrahamic religious movements. From Judaism: she must be allowed to die!; from Catholic Christianity: she must not be allowed to die!; from Islam: it is supremely important, but we cannot decide!

The head of one of these religions died. Guidelines for the care of the young woman had been developed under his leadership, twenty five years ago. They did not look as unambiguous as the pronouncements of his Cardinals would have them appear: they provided for that tenet of Catholic doctrine, the grace of God. Should the essential fallibility of the human condition allow Theresa Schiavo to submit to the weakness of her God-given body?

This century has seen the rise and (sometimes) fall of political extremeism. The age of dictatorship is not yet over, but would seem to be on the wane. A glance around the globe supports this view: from Pinochet to de Klerk, from the Ukraine to East Timor, oppressed minorities are inspired by examples of resistance, and being emboldened to take their desinies into their own hands. These attempts have not all been successful - Rwanda and Kurdish Turkey provide differing examples, but the impetus is with insurgency.

As political extremeism dies, the political imperitive of extremist regimes to supress of control religion dies as well. Instead religious movements are resurgent, continuing to grapple above the heads of those who will not heed or participate.

Globalisation includes the globalisation of knowledge, awareness. We can no longer see the Holocaust as unique. We can no longer see evil as strange. The globe is covered by evil, murderous, exploitative humans, clinging to group identities, and lashing out at difference. This isn't how it was supposed to be. The Enlightenment was exported with Empire, the world acquiesced to greater good. But this myth was blown apart by explosions in power vaccuums the world over.

The natural world stuck its oar in too. Unable to be ignored for long, the world wreaked a havoc which could now be seen by the peple it did not touch directly.

In a world of unanswerable questions, rationality cannot provide security. Only faith in the unfalsifiable can do that. The secular era was not the end of history, it was an era. Faced with the burning certainty of unquestionable, unfalsifiable belief, the secular world will be blown away by the unshakeable conviction of religious teleology.

Fernand Braudel divided time into three levels, or orders: human time (a lifetime), historical time (an empire), and geographical time (between two ice ages). We exist in human time, we wonder about geographical time, and we are unsure how to objectively view historical time. The Times have been a'Changing since a long time before Bob noticed. But those three recent deaths hint as to the direction these changes are working in. Callaghan died a man from a previous age. The Pope died just as the age for such a man was beginning. And Terri Schiavo died, the symptom of these changes, a religious, political, moral, ethical contest waged over the fate of her frail, liminal body.

5 Comments:

At 12:25 AM, Blogger UK plc said...

Not sure about much of this. East Timor gained independence when the Indonesian army committed an enormous act of mass-murder, sparking Australian outrage and subsequent US instructions to Suharto that the game was up (see Chomsky - "New Generation Draws the Line" where this is especially amply documented, even by his high standards). Kurdish resistance in Turkey failed because similar sympathy (or even knowledge) was not forthcoming, while decisive US and British support was. Mention these facts here and people think you must be from another planet. In one memorable exchange, I was informed that "if any of this stuff was true, it'd be on the front of all the papers!" I don't know much about what happened in Ukraine, but suspect it's more complex than you imply here.
As for the Enlightenment being exported by Empire, I feel this notion has more to do with imperial justifications than anything else. Only with this interpretation can I reconcile Said, who I think is right about this, with what I have found out about the much-neglected matter of Germany's short-lived colonial empire.
I agree the end of history is not upon us, but I'm uncomfortable with defining "eras" before we have a degree of distance in time from what we're talking about. I get the feeling 1989-92 was a more significant moment in terms of defining the dawn of a new era than 2001-3.
Perhaps more on this to come...

 
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