Contradictions at the heart of chaos

By Heiko Khoo
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 1, 2018
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U.S. President Donald Trump [Photo/Xinhua]

Coping with dramatic change is difficult at the best of times. Births, deaths, marriages, divorce, relocating homes, changing jobs; all these dramatic experiences alter and upset our engrained self-perceptions about life and the future. So, when the world of politics, economics, and global systems impose themselves on us like an unstoppable force emanating from outside our immediate entourage and experience, it appears that chaos and madness has become a material force. 

At the root, the reproduction of life and humanity is based on the satisfaction of material wants and needs. Every society must also reproduce the social relations of dominance and subordination, which correspond to the maintenance and enhancement of the power relations that exercise command over economics, the state and society. 

Life tests us all with its dramatic contrasts between the mundane and the extreme. And it is those characteristics commonly associated with the elasticity of the mind that underpin many positive human attributes: like endurance, strength and tenacity. These qualities, combined with inquisitiveness and persistence, give rise to the creative impulse. This enables humanity to forge the tools, both material and psychological, with which we envisage, shape, and guide our future.  

Naturally, a conservative instinct in all of us yearns for stability and for a gradual improvement in the external environment. So, the political and economic tumult of recent years seems to the logical mind, both shocking and disturbing. Do we not have enough on our plate without Brexit, Donald Trump's trade wars, his bizarre antics, and the growth of far-right nationalism? And yet, despite the protestation of many rational voices, "madness" keeps marching on, as if it were an army mobilized for war. Called-up by Sirens, like those from Greek mythology, they lure the uninoculated with their strangely enchanting songs. Songs that will surely cause the passing sailors to steer their vessels to disaster, crashing their ships into the rocks and drowning the crew. 

As we mark the centenary of modern barbarity since WWI, when the rotting corpses of millions of our bravest and strongest men lay scattered in the mud, we should reflect on our common causes and experiences. For that which gives rise to the historical repetition of catastrophe, has its genesis in identifiable patterns and roots. Furthermore, the distinct features of our age are all the more discernable, the deeper our grasp of basic commonalities with the past. 

Playing to the ahistorical emotions of our day, President Trump bangs his fists on the table, upsetting diplomatic protocol. His posts on the internet lash out at his nation's former allies, using angry words, and the whip of tariffs and trade sanctions. This is designed to beguile his mass support base, those made insecure by the vicissitudes of capitalism, a system in which the pursuit of profit determines one's objective fate. It is the same music of a century ago and more. It has been reinvented for the age of universal information, and simplified to match every prejudice generated by systemic insecurity. 

Incoherent mysticism is flourishing. It blames migration and refugees for the competitive pressures of global capitalism. And the political correctness of so-called 'cultural Marxism' is made responsible for every problem - undermining the old certainties that held communities together in the past. 

In Europe and the United States the road to hell is being paved with bad intentions, couched as good. As Hegel, the great German philosopher of dialectical change said: "reason becomes unreason and right wrong." And yet, within this trajectory toward disaster the alternative is still discernable, as a distant light. Out of the first imperialist war that ended 100 years ago came the necessary rebellion. It did not come from those who organized the industrial slaughter. But the marching songs that our ancestors sang as they killed their neighbours, were eventually drowned out by the collective awakening initiated by the Russian revolution in 1917. Soon the oppressed of the whole world marched to a different tune. They ended the war and initiated the era of the socialist revolution. And just as the mythical Owl of Minerva rose at a moment of darkness to herald the new, so we can confidently expect these times of darkness to give way to the voices and movements of hope. 

Heiko Khoo is a columnist with 

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