"When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
But in battalions."
- Hamlet (Act IV Scene V) by William Shakespeare.
2016 was an excellent year for Red Admiral butterflies, which were up 70 per cent compared with 2015, but alas, they seemed to be one of the few species on this planet (including our own) that weren't depleted, diseased, or depressed. What a dreadful year. Where does one begin? So much has happened, but there's been so little time to come to terms with it. I decided to write this post just to get my head around some of the madness.
One of the hallmarks of 2016 was how fast-paced it was. The world was shocked on the 10th January when David Bowie died. Four days later, another great Alan Rickman followed suit and from there a steady procession of world famous figures and national treasures left us. Terry Wogan, Prince, Tony Warren, Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Richard Adams, Leonard Cohen, A. A. Gill, George Michael, Jean Alexander, Pete Burns, Gene Wilder, Ronnie Corbett, Paul Daniels, Frank Kelly, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, and more besides, these big names that were important to so many people.
Throughout all of this the numerous political shocks. Some small and inconsequential, I don't remember them now really; silly things - the battle of the Thames, for example, bizarre and random, or the rather surprising but yet not world changing Michael Heseltine incident (who can forget that BBC Headline "Heseltine: I did not kill my mother's Alsatian"). But then on 16th June the Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered on the streets in her own constituency, her killer shouting far right slogans as he shot and stabbed her to death. That was one of the first and one of the most profound shocks of 2016. Following it a week later was of course the EU referendum result, itself very surprising, but the ensuing events perhaps more so. David Cameron, named in some polls as one of the worst post-war Prime Ministers, resigned and sparked a leadership contest for the Conservatives. George Osborne, a leading figure in Cameron's Britian, now sits on the backbenches as Theresa May takes on the role of Prime Minister. And that horrible moment when Britain waited for some clarity hearing Faisal Islam, political editor of Sky News, tell us that there was in fact "no plan". As this played out, the Leave campaign finally admitted it was lying when it claimed (on the side of a bus no less) that the NHS may not after all be getting the extra £350m a week. Nigel Farage, who had already resigned, unresigned, and resigned again was replaced by Diane James after one of her rivals Mike Hookem hospitalised Steven Woolfe, himself a contender in the second leadership contest after Dianne James resigned 18 days after being elected. Paul Nuttall, a climate change denier seeking to bring back the death penalty is now the leader. Mercifully the Green Party were more peaceful, electing Caroline Lucas (for a second term) and Jonathan Bartley as joint leaders. Jeremy Corbyn, whose leadership was also challenged, remains leader of the Labour Party though however much as I may like him, I doubt he will bring Labour back into power, potentially leaving us with at least another eight years of Tory rule.
Politics in the United Kingdom had reached a peak of divisive hatred. Certain Leave campaigners encouraged distrust and elements the campaign had some of the hallmarks of fascism with it's anti-intellectual immigrant blaming. Some agreed with that angle, joyously rejecting "experts" as they went, whereas some people voted Leave for fear of an imminent collapse of the European Union, an objection to the perceived disproportionate distribution of power, concern with globalisation, or the EU's apparent unwillingness to allow the UK to do certain things it wanted to do. Others, misguidedly I think (but at the same time understandably), voted as a protest against Cameron's government, austerity, and the London-centric politics that hurt the poor and ignored the North. Here a conversation could have been had, but it wasn't, we didn't talk, we shouted, but we cannot now say that all those who voted for Leave are racist bigots.
All of this was a farce, but I think it was well and truly put in perspective by the US Election. Donald Trump as we know won it, partly thanks (it is alleged) to a little help from Russia, if true well and truly undermines the image of the US as a democracy. I don't need go over the hateful things Trump has said this past year, his twitter rants, bizarre feuds (I'm thinking of the Vanity Fair feud but I'm sure Americans can think of better examples), the disgusting things he's said about women, non-whites, mocking disabled people... It is potentially catastrophic for both individuals and for nations, but we all know that, and it's all fresh in our minds, no need to go over it.
And here we are now. Regarding the media, the hard and extreme right are positively jubilant, their bigotry now legitimised, and some of the left, centre, and moderate right newspapers (I'm thinking particularly in the UK) have an air of really wishing to punish those who voted Leave or for Trump. After a very long period of articles warning how voting Remain or for Clinton would essentially signal the end of the world, the left and centre papers certainly have taken over with terrifying articles such as "Frightened by Donald Trump? You don’t know the half of it", "The 13 impossible crises that humanity now faces" and the Indy100's unhelpful "This map tells you how likely you are to die in World War Three", despite their criticisms of the right wing press' scare-mongering contributing to actions such as the murder of Jo Cox. Wading one's way through media bias has never been fun, let's face it, but another one of 2016's less welcome features was fake news. Just yesterday it was reported that Queen Elizabeth II had died and there was a 24 hour blackout. Being informed just became even more challenging than ever.
All of that and more. At no point was there a moment to stand back, catch one's breath, just a tiny gap to take a moment before feeling ready to deal with whatever was next. It was just hurled at us; as ever, it doesn't matter if we're ready or not, it just comes. Whatever the case, this is where we are and it's not enough to acknowledge that and do nothing more. They say this is the time for action, but that does not necessarily mean demonstrating outside the House of Commons or the House of Lords, or marching on Washington, joining sit-ins, or what have you. Those who go out and demonstrate, face the freezing cold or pouring rain, being kettled, being arrested, looking ahead and a line of galloping horses in order to promote the greater good are to be praised very highly indeed, but let us not forget who we dismiss as the "armchair activist". By signing a petition one can contribute to making a discussion in parliament actually happen. By sharing articles, one raises awareness. By donating money, or even just retweeting the donation page, one can make a small contribution. Those who can donate will if they know about it. Those who are able to join in in a demonstration in London will if they know about it.
Other action can be apparently smaller but also of great value. As they say, no act of kindness is ever wasted. It's not easy in a world so divided and so against each other; it sounds as though it is full of people whose ignorance and hate is, as I've said, legitimised by the likes of Trump and Farage, those such as the folk who proudly tweet with the hashtag #AllLivesMatter (who simultaneously get and miss the point of #BlackLivesMatter) or mistake the terminally offended with political correctness (which is, essentially, a way of saying people should be treated with respect) and throw the baby out with the bathwater. But kindness, awareness, finding common ground, discussing matters without shouting or meeting aggression with aggression could go a long way with some, but sadly I have to admit not all. Learning how to argue, debate, and put one's case will be exceptionally valuable in 2017, I think.
Solutions are what is needed now. Solutions make people feel less helpless and afraid, and less inclined to hide away shouting "I'm alright, Jack!". Solutions, in short, make it easier to carry on and be helpful to others, and identify some of our strengths and actually have a practical vision of how they may help those who may need it. Fake news, I've mentioned, is rampant, for example, so what do we do? As I've talked about it, here's a solution from the BBC in an article published just yesterday:
What you can do
So whether you read, repeat or repost news in 2017, here are things to ask yourself:
- Have I heard of the publisher before?
- Is this the source I think it is, or does it sound a bit like them?
- Can I point to where this happened on a map?
- Has this been reported anywhere else?
- Is there more than one piece of evidence for this claim?
- Could this be something else?
There's a similar article in the Indy100: The answer to the question everyone's wondering about Facebook. And other things: articles such as those telling of how bumblebees are down some 85% from 2015. It's not enough to know that, there are potential solutions: bee-friendly plants (that help butterflies too), making the bees little shelters (a fun project too, especially I dare say for those with children), feeding them when they're visibly ill (yes, that can be done), and above all else not flattening them out of fear that they will sting. Hedgehogs are also in dramatic decline but there are ways in which they can be helped. On a global scale, the refugee crisis is one of the worst human crises of our time, but there are ways to help: 5 practical ways you can help refugees trying to find safety in Europe from The Independent, Refugee crisis: what can you do to help? from The Guardian, and websites such as HelpRefugees.org.
The lessons learned, hopefully, from 2016 is on the importance of knowledge and awareness as well as the art of rhetoric (hence one of the reasons I'm looking forward to Aristotle). Another important lesson that is, at least, in the process of being learned is on how to not be overwhelmed by events. Finally, one of the best lessons of all in politics: no matter what the outcome of an election, one is still allowed to continue to make the argument, something Ian Hislop spoke on very eloquently:
Yes, 2016 has had some hard lessons. Who would have thought that Kylie 'the sibyl' Jenner would be the one to make an astute prediction at the start of the year? When words such as "post-truth", "alt-right", and "project fear" are in vogue we know things have gotten a little dark. What 2017 will bring I don't know, but I hope all of us can find a quiet space to deal with some of these absolute shockers we've suffered socially and even privately, and be able to move forward and up safely and with kindness, understanding, and empathy. What I hope to see on a grander scale is moderation in politics. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but I don't ever want to lose hope. I nearly did in 2016, but not quite.
And so, again, I wish you all a happy new year - a happy, safe, calm, and kind new year.
And so, again, I wish you all a happy new year - a happy, safe, calm, and kind new year.
|Illustration by Nadezda Fava.|