In 2013 cartoonist KC Green created an image that became something of an internet meme phenomenon. A dog sits amidst a burning house. "This is fine," he says. The regularly shared image usually doesn't show the last panes of the webcomic, as the dog's flesh melts off its bones and its eyes pop out of its head.
It was and still is a pin-point accurate commentary on a baffling habit of humanity, which is the inability to appreciate the enormity of a disaster when it unfolds before our eyes. As The Verge wrote last year, it is about "shorthand for when a situation becomes so terrible our brains refuse to grapple with its severity".
I don't think Green had Times columnist Tom Eaton in mind when he created this timeless image, but it applies aptly. You see, he's taken a long look at the rise of fascism, the very worst sorts of populist politics and terrorism, and concluded that this is evidence that the world is getting better.
In his column this week, he wrote, "Most bigotry goes unexpressed because it doesn't need to be expressed. If their lives are comfortable and their world view goes unchallenged, people can sit on their prejudice for a lifetime."
He continued: "When their world changes, and the faraway people they feared or disdained become their neighbours and then their bosses, the smiles fall away. When their comfortable and reassuring assumptions are challenged, without apology, they begin to feel attacked. Besieged. Persecuted. And that is when they lash out, and when private disdain becomes public bigotry."
By this logic, we are supposed to see the election of Donald Trump, on a platform of naked bigotry and hatred, as a good thing. We're supposed to view the Paris terrorist attacks and the raids of Boko Haram as the last kicks of a fading ideology.
I can scarcely contain my astonishment. My god, where to begin?
Firstly, Trump's election is part of a broad continuum, stretching from Moscow to Washington. The post-World War 2 consensus is crumbling before our eyes. Trump's election wasn't an isolated incident in this new wave of populist outrage. Vladimir Putin's invasion of Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine are a part of it, as is the new rise of far-right popular politics all across Europe. The xenophobia, Islamophobia and stupidity that fuelled Brexit are a part of it. The same thing has been happening in the Philippines, and India. It is happening everywhere.
The Francis Fukuyama inspired smugness about the inevitability of neoliberalism is over. Ideological competition is back in a big way, everything is up for contestation.
Neoliberalism has failed to deliver on its promise of progress, peace and security for people around the world. Instead, people are feeling the pinch of the contradictory policies of increased internal inequality and exported conflict. Instead of turning to egalitarianism and a re-democratisation of public life and the economy, they are turning to puffed up Little Men like Trump, Rodrigo Duterte and Narendra Modi. These aren't mere blips in the eventual, and inevitable bend of history towards greater prosperity and peace. These are the signs of regression.
The Francis Fukuyama-inspired smugness about the inevitability of neoliberalism is over. Ideological competition is back in a big way, and let us not for one second kid ourselves: everything is up for contestation. Fascism, barbarism and authoritarianism are back on the table. Hell, Nazis are planning open marches on the streets of American cities, something I never thought I would see, having grown up on a diet of "Battlefield 1942"and Indiana Jones.
If you love peace and democracy, you must recognise that the opposite of that is currently winning.
I would love to settle back in my suburban comfort and reassure myself that this will all self-correct, and we'll go back to the world of Yes We Can and feel-good stories about a growing African middle class. But what is happening in the world today is a direct threat to all of that and it will continue to get worse until the people decide to do something about it. We need to resist. We need to organise! We cannot simply sit back and do nothing! We cannot assure ourselves that everything will be fine. We can not.
It must be cold comfort to the people of Iraq and Syria to hear that ISIS is a sign that things are actually getting better. The same could be said of the people of northern Nigeria, living under the fear of Boko Haram. Or the people of Eastern Europe, who shudder under the gaze of an increasingly emboldened Putin. Trump just signed an executive order that will make the lives of women, especially those living in some of the poorest countries in the world, considerably worse. I cannot imagine how Eaton can see anything other than disaster in all of this.
I want a world where we can all live in peace, good health, and prosperity. I see that this ideal is being threatened by people who would rather have mayhem and ruin. And I recognise that it is becoming increasingly necessary for me and the people who think like me to fight for these things with all the tools we have at our disposal.
Rage is winning. If we want respect, we'd best be prepared to struggle mightily for it.
In August last year, Green was moved to create a new cartoon. It's worth reading. It's called This Is Not Fine.Suggest a correction