We are in an age of great uncertainty and much of what we took for granted is no more. We were too quick to celebrate the end of the Cold War, believing that for once history would be linear and each new year would be better than the last. Globalization gained ascendancy at a rapid pace and the West rose triumphant to the top. Ideologies collapsed and lost their meaning, as Western liberal democracy became the only sustainable and dominant one. Ethnic, religious, cultural and class wars seemed things of the past. Technology promised solutions for all our problems. It was a perfect world, full of hope.
But history likes surprises and even a good hoax and, one by one, all of our certainties have collapsed in recent years. The economic crisis exposed the West’s vulnerability. The middle class has seen its prospects of upward mobility shrinking. Even the basics cannot be taken for granted anymore. So much that the previous generation took for granted in terms of quality of life has become out of reach for the younger ones. The West’s dominance is another certainty that is crumbling, as the global geopolitical scene increasingly resembles a jungle where no one can impose terms and rules anymore. Russia is getting payback for its isolation and China is feeling a well-deserved but aggressive sense of confidence. The European Union’s future, meanwhile, is unclear.
But even democracy itself can no longer be taken for granted. It is coming under fire everywhere, even in the country that views itself as the guardian of global democracy, the United States. The events in Washington on January 6, 2021, as well as more recent developments too, show the US to be in a deep institutional, democratic and political crisis. Donald Trump was a symptom, not the disease.
Behind all this, however, there are other movements tearing down certainties. There was a time when around 90% of the Western world embraced the same truth – not because the systemic propaganda was convincing nor because they were under some kind of dictatorship. Now we have an enormous number of citizens who believe a truth that has nothing to do with reality. It’s a truth born of anger, poverty, late-night TV paranoia and the dark recesses of the internet. It’s the truth of the algorithm.
The pandemic and the climate crisis swept into this stage and demolished every ounce of certainty we had about what tomorrow would bring.
History has won this round by razing that wondrous world of great expectations and unshakeable certainty. Now we’re waiting to see what the next bell brings, what all this turmoil will result in.