Tribune. brett hetherington

The best of times

Has there ever been a better time to be alive in the history of our tortured, super-intelligent species? At the press of a few buttons we have virtually all the accumulated knowledge of the last several hundred (or is it thousand?) years available. And it is available fast.

We have the answers to a billion conceivable questions and we can communicate almost instantly with the majority of people on the planet, language barriers excepted. For many of us, our taste buds can be stimulated by the food from dozens of cultures which, just a few short years ago were out of reach, either geographically or economically. In this increasingly mixed European society, young people have started to grow up sitting next to others from Asia, Africa and assorted parts of the wider continent and for them this is as natural as mother's milk.

On top of all this, there is a gentleness that in so many senses did not exist just a generation ago. A man can be intimately involved in the care of his baby or child without automatically being a figure of gossip or ridicule. He can be the main cook for his family and not be thought of us somehow suspect. Finally too, homosexuals are more accepted or at least tolerated in the majority of circles, rather than being chemically castrated as some were less than seventy years ago (in the UK for example.)

Today too, there are increasing numbers of people who are not only acknowledging their own depression or mental illness but are speaking openly about it in public forums and in the media. Such a development was virtually unthinkable merely a decade ago. Equally though, the average women in the developed world has a wider horizon than ever before. Her place in the workplace is now barely questioned at all, though she may still be paid less than a man or have trouble getting a full-time position or promoted according to her ability.

Yet despite this progress, despite the modern mind being freer from superstition and religious dogma than probably any time in history, what do we also have?

Underneath the shiny towers of vanity there is a great, putrid sewer stench of injustice. There is the distinct sensation of a nausea without relief and that comes from having both your eyeballs open and your ears unblocked. Anyone who chooses to not be ignorant knows, as Leonard Cohen wrote, “the deal is rotten.” And all those signs of enlightenment that came to view in the first half of the 20th century now have a faded quality and there is a hollow ring to the chants, songs and poems of social movements.

Throw into this mix the fact that the warming of the earth continues at pace. It is only those who genuinely don't understand or politicians who have been bought out by the polluting industries that do not accept the truth of the overheating globe that we walk on. Or think of the wealth that flows through financial systems. Shockingly, the 85 richest people on the planet now have as much money as the poorest 3.5 billion. And what else?

There's the vacant look of history's books

Slave labour and murder thy neighbour

Greed as a virtue and carers that hurt you

This is the present we have

We see the limp hand of the state and rape-a-date

The power of one at the point of a gun

And the good times are back with daily Prozac

This is the future that right now we have

See that liar's smile when the truth's on trial?

This is the justice we have.

Living and laughing in ignorance bliss

We have fashioned a world exactly like this.

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