One side of me is tempted to join the chorus of those who are glad to see the back of 2020 in order to hope for something better in this new year. I might think of our present time becoming a repeat performance of the 1920’s. They emerged from World War I and then the Spanish flu. Then the dictators came onto the scene and the world only seemed to find some semblance of sanity in the 1950’s except for the arms race and the Cold War. The enemies have changed but the humanity / inhumanity goes on as before. I too am faced with that terrifying mystery of “other people”. A long time ago, I arrived at the conclusion that this is society and how society has always been and always will be. However, individual persons are generally good, kind and human – just as long as they have something of their own souls and haven’t succumbed to “mass humanity” as men like Rob Riemen and Thomas Mann call the sort of people who worshipped Hitler in the 1930’s and became fanatics.
Were the 1920’s like the 1820’s? They were the heyday of the Romantic Movement in the wake of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Does history revolve in cycles of one hundred years? I think a long and critical look would cast doubt on such a theory. We are all concerned that everything is becoming politicised and polarised. We are no longer debating like gentlemen but shouting at each other to make the opposite person shut up. The Coronavirus has brought bitterness, conspiracy theories as all epidemics do, political conflict and cultural strife.
For a long time, I have made a distinction between the human persons I know and the anonymous mass of “other people”, to which I add that I am their “other people”.
We enter a new year. One of hope? The vaccines against the Coronavirus are coming thick and fast, but many people are minded to refuse them. Personally I fear the vaccine much less than the disease itself. I will stick to the mainstream narrative that affirms that there is a disease that causes death and disability for life, and that science has come up with these vaccines. If we refuse the vaccine, we can only be less afraid of the disease – or deny that it exists. Collective humanity seems to have a very low level of intelligence, the same lesson we learned a hundred years ago with the upsurge of populism and the dictators.
Isolating and observing the lockdowns have been very difficult for many people. An advantage is that there is very little flu, and even the common cold is severely limited by the precautions we take against the Coronavirus. Going a little deeper, the curb that has been put on our social life has forced us to live with ourselves. Solitude is not loneliness. All too often, we look for supply in other people when we need to find God within.
Insofar as such lessons are learned, I am optimistic that our 20’s might bring the optimism and the fruit of resilience as when the world slowly emerged from the hecatomb of 1914 to 1920 (if we indeed include the Spanish flu). That optimism was short-lived and ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the causes of political extremism as we are seeing again now. Perhaps those years were fun, at least for privileged people, as described in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted, the halcyon days of Et in Arcadia Ego. If we want a longer-lasting peace, then its roots must be that much more profound.
I wish for us all the end of this virus, not that we may “return to normal” but find a new mind and spirit, one of reason and creative imagination.