Something to Live and Love for in 2016
Kevin P Clements.
The period from Christmas to New Year is a strange, liminal time. It is an arbitrary transition from one year to the next. Here in Canterbury Kent and in London many public and private institutions have closed down for the year . So for some this moment represents an opportunity for pause and reflection before we hurtle into 2016.
Despite the pre Christmas consumption frenzy, however, many people keep shopping and the cash registers keep ringing and the global economy keeps spluttering along. This is the time of the year when divorce rates spike , domestic violence spikes , and suicide rates spike as work pressures are lifted and people confront their existential loneliness and aloneness .
The deeper messages of Christmas always seem to get lost in the ephemeral seductive lure of the market . Far too many people persist in believing that a meaningful life can be generated alone rather than in relationships and that consumption will generate happiness.. Mobile phones, I Pads and computers continue to generate both real and illusory relationships but I’ve noticed from restaurants and other meeting places that direct conversations are far too often replaced with remote messaging even by people sitting at the same table.
We are bombarded with random messages, facts and statistics many of which continue to challenge any idea of our common humanity.
United States police , for example, killed 1,103 American citizens last year ( mostly Black) . This is nine times more people than were killed in acts of terror in Europe, North America or Australasia.
The great majority (78%) of the 32,685 killed in acts of political violence this year were from just five countries, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. This violence mirrors the violence that the West initiated in the Middle East and Central Asia in response to the Al Qaeda attacks on the US. So over the past 14 years the world has been locked in self defeating vicious cycles of revenge and violence.
Violence and poverty have displaced 59.5 million people by the end of 2014. That number has increased in 2015 but we do not have good data on this yet . An estimated 13.9 million people were newly displaced by conflict in 2014, including 2.9 million new refugees. Syria is the worlds top source country for refugees, overtaking Afghanistan which had held that title for 3 years. There are 38.2 million people who are internally displaced by war including 7.6 million in Syria alone . 32.3 million of these IDPs are under the protection of UNHCR. Many of these IDPs and refugees have been knocking on Europe’s door for the last two years. Angela Merkel was the most compassionate political leader but even she has come under enormous domestic pressure to pull up the German drawbridge and not provide safe haven to those knocking.
New Zealand, the UK and most other Commonwealth countries ( apart from Canada) have been pathetic in response to the global refugee crisis and equally pathetic in devising creative non violent solutions to violence. We opposed the expansion of UK bombing to Syria but John Key, Malcolm Turnbull and others gave their enthusiastic support to a policy which does not assist any political settlement and which complicates the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
On climate change, the world’s nations finally agreed to work towards a 1.5-2.0 % cap on global carbon emissions at the COP conference in Paris. But here again the New Zealand Prime Minister said it was “Business as usual” which was not what the Prime Ministers of Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands wanted to hear. If there are any slimate change skeptics out there they might want to notice the extreme temperatures and flooding that has occurred in England this winter or in Missouri in the US or in Brazil and Australia. Oince again this is a challenge that we cannot deal with alone . We have to do this in solidarity with like minded everywhere to hold our leaders to the agreement that they signed in Paris.
On Human Rights and the Death Penalty. The world has been moving in a positive direction with 140 countries now having abolished state executions. The Asia Pacific region, however, and the Middle East have an appalling record. China leads the countries on the execution stakes but countries like Iran, Pakistan, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia continue to execute indiviiduals rather than seeking ways in which they might be rehabilitated.
Finally, as we ponder the state of the world , its important to remind ourselves of the huge and growing gap between the rich and poor everywhwre in the world. This year the UN replaced the Millenium Development Goals with the Social Development Goals. These are a set of seventeen goals comprising 169 targets and indicators for reducing poverty and improving environmental sustainability.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the SDGs, which would replace the MDGs in January 2016, are based on six essential elements: “dignity, people, prosperity, our planet, justice, and partnership.” Many development experts have noted the ambitious sweep of the goals, which include:
- Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere;
- Ending hunger;
- Achieving gender equality;
- Ensuring healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; and
- Ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.
The SDG’s are intended to be different from the MDG’s which were focused on transfers from the relatively affluent North to the South . These goals are based on a recognition that every country in the world has to end poverty, hunger , advance gender and class equality, build sustainable and resilient development strategies, tackle climate change and generate peaceable societies.
I am somewhat crittical of the SDG’s for adding peace on as a final goal rather than a central goal /consequence of all the others but they represent the best chance we have for thinking about tackling equality, promoting social and economic justice for all and building a sustainable and peaceful world. But once again the achievement of these goals will require political will and resources which most coutnries pursuing the economics of austerity will feel reluctant to provide. The UN Conference on Trade and Development says the SDGs face an annual funding gap of about $2.5 trillion (PDF). It is this gap that we will need to bridge both publicly and privately if there is to be any chance of removing the root causes of violence.
So at this liminal moment , as we pause to reflect on what a mess we made of 2015 and what we might do better for 2016, lets focus our attention on the development of a world where poverty, inequality, and the unsustainable consumption of the world are addressed positively , creatively and non-violently. Lets also build relationships of love, empathy, altruism, compassion and tolerance so that we might begin breaking the appalling cycles of violence that have afflicted far too many people over the past few years.
The good news is that if we can transform ourselves personally, mobilise political will around these more positive ends, forge relationships of love ,solidarity and active resistance to those who would like to isolate us, we will have a chance to ensure that the 21st century will become a century of maturity rather than one of fear and barbarism. Such a vision should end any residual existential angst we might have and give us something to live and love for in 2016.