• February 23, 2024

Nightmares never end

Something needs to be said about one specific aspect of the human condition. A fear that refuses to go away no matter what you try. The fear of a sudden crash, a devastating shock to the system. A paralysing, catastrophic blow that breaks your back. To offer one example, let’s look at the Ukraine-Russia war. As Russia increasingly feels it has walked into another bear trap, it hints at the possibility of using nukes. Granted, no nuclear weapon was used during the prolonged cold war. One would surmise that checks and balances work. But do they really any longer? During the cold war, the Soviet Union had internal checks and balances and a tenuous political order that restricted the ruler’s choices. Not anymore.

Concentrating power in President Putin’s hands means it is nearly impossible to read his mind. Since the war started, many western peers have hoped against hope that a tumult would push him out of power. A coup, some mysterious accident, or a secret disease. But as you have witnessed in history, wishes seldom come true. So, if he says he may attack Ukraine with nuclear weapons, you can’t be too sure he won’t. Now let’s go on the ground to Ukraine, where millions live and have already been subjected to the brutalities of a war they did not start. Imagine their anxiety regarding the possibility of a nuclear assault. If a nuclear war ensues, needless to say, it will not end there. The circle of insecurity expands across Europe. And hence the anxiety. I don’t know about you, but I’m not too fond of an equation where the safety of a continent hinges on the psych-eval of a single potentate. But that is not where it ends. Winters are coming. Heating Europe will not be easy. Anxiety multiplied.

Now factor in the prospects of a global economic recession. The 2008 economic recession destroyed a generation. I have dealt with it in my piece titled ‘Slow cancellation of the future’, dated June 18, 2022. If it comes this time, the recession will have far more devastating consequences. Because our parts are already vulnerable, whatever mental peace you enjoy today could quickly evaporate, leaving behind no trace.

For our country, even the IMF’s recommended policies which the experts call ‘shock therapy’ are not working. Imagine the outlook of an economy where even shock therapy doesn’t work. And then, the country is devastated by floods and rocked by political crises. The purchasing power of the commoner is already shrinking rapidly thanks to your shock therapy. How many of the influentials even think about the plight of the poor in this country? You are talking about the most rapidly growing demographic in the country. The poor. Or the damned. Censuses measure their numbers, not their anxiety. And to think that, like the recent floods, they may not even know what might be waiting for them shortly is another burden that is impossible to carry.

That is precisely why the decision of OPEC+ to cut oil production feels like such a stab in the back. Powerful people fight, and the brunt is borne by the poor and the unworthy. This anomaly, if you can call it one, is growing. And it will grow more because of the new breed of billionaires. Since these new centres of privilege now exercise power almost as exclusively as many nation-states, their ability to send shockwaves across the world is now a proven fact.

Then there is Hanlon’s razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Or in many cases, incompetence. Take the collapse of the Afghan government, for instance. One fine day the entire government just disappeared, leaving the control of the country in the hands of those most feared. Given that the now defunct government survived for two decades and some forty-five per cent of the country was 18 or below, it is safe to assume a vast number perceived the Taliban takeover as the crash of civilisation. More anxiety. And the kind that doesn’t seem to have an end.

If, to Peter Pan, death was an awfully big adventure to the people living today, life might not be anything less. This unending series of shocks resulting in anxiety asks a simple question. Are all these troubles organic and unavoidable, or at least some are caused by human machinations? If the latter part is true then what does it say about the political order, the states and the systemic safeguards? If those who cause these shocks can get away with whatever they want does it not mean that our established institutions have become redundant and therefore cannot cater to today’s needs? If they are redundant is there a way out?

The first part is answered easily. Can you call Putin’s invasion of Ukraine organic and unavoidable? Obviously not. It is the fruit of one man’s free volition. Likewise, the decision of OPEC+ leaders to cut oil production cannot be free of deliberation. Which means they knew well what kind of havoc it could wreak. And yet they went ahead with it.

I can understand the reasons why an oil cartel would want to see the back of a US president who is pro-green energy and who believes in the old democratic values. But do they not even realise the pain it would inflict on ordinary folks? And destructive could it be to a weak global economy struggling to find its feet after the Covid crisis? What is their fault?

The answer to the question about the irrelevance of the old institutions is self-evident. They are putting up a heroic struggle but let’s face it. They are all but gone. What replaces them is anybody’s guess.

And is there a safe recovery command hidden somewhere in the system? Sadly, no. No correction seems possible. Ergo the title of this article.

But do not all nightmares come to an end? Do we not need to simply wake up to end the nightmare? Well maybe. But not this nightmare. Unless people rise against the megalomaniac and create new institutions. That, as you know, is a farfetched possibility. In the end, time may provide an exit. But perhaps most of us will be long gone before that. So, we are shaping up to be the unluckiest generation that has lived. Go figure.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2022.

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