2023, and reflections on a troubled, and troubling world
By Femi Olugbile
In a few hours, bells will be ringing all over the world, and fireworks will be going off to celebrate the arrival of the New Year 2023. The countdown is always a fascinating watch. In many ways, it illustrates the complexity of the world, and the sheer difficulty in trying to compress its story into a single human narrative.
By 2pm on Saturday, when the people of Lagos will be hunkering down to begin preparations for celebration, and those who attend ‘watchnight’ service will be thinking of when to set out in the evening to get front-row seats in Church, the people of Vanuatu will be already welcoming the New Year. By the time it is midnight in Nigeria and the shouts of ‘Hapi Nu Yeah’ are ringing out and people are hugging family and strangers and pumping their hands, the crowds on Princes Street in Edinburgh, Scotland, will still be revelling in beery celebration of Hogmanay as they wait out the remaining hour before it is midnight and New Year, and the world-famous fireworks of their city can erupt.
The world is complex, as is the mind. The human mind, which powers all behaviour, is not just the thin veneer of socialised, civilised behaviour, carried out with good manners for the best of motives, but a deep cesspool of dark primordial ‘drives’ that lead the child to want to kill his father to replace him, and that lead almost inexorably to behaviour guaranteed to bring about self-destruction and the destruction of others, as described by Sigmund Freud, the great psychoanalyst. Embedded in the construction of Empire is the seed of its own destruction. Think Rome, the Ottomans, or the British Empire. The American hegemonic era, while it may not exactly qualify to be called an Empire, may be seen as one, in terms of its reach, and its influence. It gives a sense of déjà vu to watch its slow unravelling.
Admittedly such gloomy reflection is not the best way to welcome a New Year.
2022 has seen a lot of good, afterall, in Nigeria, and the world at large. The attenuation and gradual de-mystification of COVID19. Science has advanced by leaps and bounds. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is opening tantalising possibilities, including the prospect that machines may be created which are more ‘intelligent’ than the human beings who created them, and that the future of War may be powerful drones and deadly robots able to kill human beings on an industrial scale. The secrets of small particles are being intrusively prised open in huge ‘colliders’ in a determined, some would say foolish, effort to find the origins of all life. Space tourism, previously Science Fiction, has become a reality.
And, oh, there is the Russo-Ukrainian war. And there was the magic of Qatar 2022. And Tobi Amusan setting Nigeria’s first World Record in Athletics, to the initial shock and chagrin, not just of a few ‘whites’, but of some powerful ‘expert’ voices in the black diaspora.
There is fear, and confusion, in a Nigeria unstitched at its seams by governance mischief and misdeed in the past seven years, concerning elections and choices due in the new year.
The dislocations of war and poverty, in much of which the West is complicit, are leading to mass migration of populations to the European mainland and North America. As example, the French routinely appropriate the wealth of their former colonies, making them unliveable vassal-states.
Simplistic social commentary sees the tensions rife in the Western World as a battle between right wing ‘conservatives’ eager to go back to the past, and liberal democrats pushing for a just and better future. The ‘right wing’ are not above telling lies or breaking the law to achieve their ends. But the often youthful, idealistic left wing are no saints either. They control the social media and enforce ‘political correctness’. They have appropriated the battles of disadvantaged groups – black and brown races, LGBTQ+, abortion rights, climate activism, and lumped them all together into one, so nobody has a right to cherry-pick, and anyone who raises a voice against any of them is not only ‘cancelled’, but ‘finished’, sometimes literally. The Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie recently gave a celebrated lecture on Freedom of Speech, in which it emerged she herself risked being ‘cancelled’ for trying to draw a line between feminism and transsexuality.
2022 is emptying its unfinished business into 2023. The possibilities are both exciting and troubling. In Ukraine, where Western liberal media feeds its captive audience a single narrative that brooks no need to discuss the genuine grievances and worries of the other side, the world could sleep-walk into a nuclear war.
Somehow, human society will need to find the will to make intrusive laws to monitor research into Artificial Intelligence and other cutting-edge Science. Should electrodes and microprocessors be planted in human brains, creating cyborgs? How much should human genes and chromosomes be altered or cross-matched in the laboratory? Should homosexual couples be allowed to order ‘designer’ babies and bring them up in their own image? What constitutes a human family, and the building block of human society? Should everybody, and every society, have a say in these matters, or are they already settled, by Western fiat?
Surely there will need to be frank discussions on the limits of freedoms, something Western ‘liberals’ are adamant is not necessary or desirable.
Does the West have a right to judge other people and other cultures for holding different views, as CNN and powerful media voices tried to do with the Qataris and their stupendously successful World Cup?
In Nigeria, 2023 betokens perils, but even greater, tantalising possibilities. The further liberation of the creative energies of Nigerian youths universally. The inevitability of restructuring of the federation and more localised governance responsibility and initiative, lending itself to more scrutiny and control by the people themselves. The harnessing of the human and material resources of a great nation and a potential world power out of the cacophony.
A Happy New Year to all readers of this column.