By Dr David Laing Dawson
As the year 2000 approached I wondered about backlash. There was, as you will recall, that unfounded fear of computer disruption, but I thought this magic number might be seen as symbolic of our new realities. And might not the people of this world who live within a pre-science, pre-knowledge bubble need to rebel against the onslaught of scientific information and truth? Won’t they need to recoil from this new millennium?
At the time I was thinking about those who hold medieval religious beliefs, of whatever flavour. How will they cope? How will they cope with the unavoidable (thanks to the internet) knowledge of our world from subatomic particle to an expanding universe, from the origins of life on earth to evolution and the human brain?
We got a taste of this, I think, with the rise of Islamic Extremists and their propagation of a way of life (and level of knowledge) my ancestors left behind shortly after the year 1000, or at least by 1700.
The Christian fundamentalists took a more nuanced approach concocting alternatives to evolution, modern medicine and quantum mechanics. (I just read a very bizarre conflation of biblical symbolism and the function of the human brain, most notably the pineal and pituitary gland, which, I did not know, are referenced in the bible as Joseph and Mary and who send some kind of oil down the spinal cord to the manger….but you get the drift).
Some Asian and Indigenous belief systems have been more easily adapted to this new age and the possibility there just might be some unseen forces we have not yet been able to detect and measure, and the fact there really is an almost magical ecological inter-connectedness between all living things. Even some trees “communicate” one to another when under threat of pestilence.
Though it is a surprise to see “alternative” medicine flourish, and people believing in unseen energy pathways running through the body from the big toe to the frontal lobe and which can be disrupted by a needle inserted according to a chart drawn up before we even knew about nerves and blood vessels, hormones and bacteria.
But a bigger surprise are the large numbers of people who are responding to Donald Trump and the other populist leaders. But then, of course, that is the real backlash, the recoil.
It is not just the religious fundamentalists our world is leaving behind, it is great masses of people who pine for 1950 (perhaps an imagined 1950) and a world of known order and expectation, a world of homogeneity, a world in which we feel we have some control and a bright future, a world without the daily intrusion of others, a world in fact where we don’t have to spend much time thinking about others, a world in which we don’t have to be frightened every day by dying tropical reefs, rising oceans, and Ebola outbreaks in Africa. A world in which most of us have at least a basic understanding of the tools we use. A world where we don’t ever have to think hard about our history, our heroes, our place in the universe.
That is the world Donald Trump is promising Americans. And wouldn’t it be nice: Pre-internet, pre-satellite, relatively clean oceans, large tracts of forest, just a touch of global warming, no mass migrations, no intrusions by the other, and a world population of two and a half billion.
But that is not reality. Our oceans are filthy; information of all kinds, the scientific truth and the most ridiculous lies, are being disseminated at the speed of light; our forests are being decimated by man, by disease and by fire; the population of the world is a coal burning seven billion, a decreasing percentage actually understand how our tools work, and more and more mass migrations will occur as each piece of unfortunate land becomes uninhabitable. A wall on the southern border won’t change this. Nor will a “Space Force”.
Just when we need our leaders to look reality in the face, to acknowledge the world as it really is, and to get together to formulate a plan to control the population, to feed everybody, to spread the wealth a little more evenly, to decrease carbon emissions, save the oceans and forests, to use our scientific knowledge for good, to learn to live as a global community, we get Trump.
God (if you will pardon my use of an anachronistic idiom) help us all.