Image Credit: Angela N.
In his preparation to vacate the chair he has occupied for eight years, Barack Obama gave a speech that will deservedly go down as one of the best American orations in recent memory. While the outgoing leader took a short victory lap, the body of his final address took the form of a warning. Four horsemen that threaten to shred the cohesion of the United States and drive it apart.
Inequality. Racism. Stratification. Apathy.
These four things, Obama said, threaten us all immeasurably more than the gun or the bomb. There is more that connects us than that tears us apart. But if we choose to only see that which causes friction; if we ignore our commonalities and focus solely on our petty deviations from each other; that dangerous fallacy will become self-fulfilling.
Directed to a public that must always remember it has the power to hold accountable it’s elected leaders (whether though petition, protest, or armed revolt), Obama made his remarks in the looming shadow of the monolithic cult of personality that is set to take his place. He’s big. He’s brash. He’s not afraid to “tell the truth”; a quality that was billed as a plus despite being absent any shred of social empathy.
While Obama addressed these words to a nation that has seen a spike in divisive rhetoric, I feel that his impassioned message should be extended to all across our planetary home. So please permit me to do so.
The United States elects a man who threatens a retraction into isolationism. The figurehead of Russia suggests that only those with approved ethnic roots belong within that nation’s boundaries. The United Kingdom declares by public referendum that it is better left on its own. The German far right gains record levels of support touting an anti-immigrant platform. The president of the Philippians is praised for his admission to dolling out summary justice.
All of these events have occurred recently and illustrate on a global scale Obama’s four threats to social cohesion. They are symptomatic of a world that has more lenses than ever to see into the struggles of our fellow humans yet increasingly chooses to splinter into homogenous tribes. We feign ignorance to these issues. We downplay our personal role. We fail to make those in power accountable.
There was once an event that leapt from this same kind of geopolitical splintering and rampant otherism. A conflict that engaged new contraptions and new horrors that had never been seen before. A fight that we were promised would be impossible today due to our interdependence and greater level of global community. A war that consumed the lives of 38 million people across it’s many battlefields in Europe and elsewhere. 100 million if you count its sibling.
In a world that is seeing the rise of rampant nationalism, proposals of ethnic purity tests, movements toward isolationism, and the wider acceptance of extremist ideologies; I fear.
I fear that wide spread conflict will ensue.
I fear that pride of nation and pride of race will stoke an engine of violence and hatred.
I fear that those structures of power, which had previously been weakened to allow the common person to flourish, will be restored to their former, ensnaring, grotesque glory.
And while I do not pray at night for the failure of these new leaders so that I might be proven correct; I fear.
I fear that our world is feeling the thunderous onset of a new era of global conflict. One in which, like the world’s great war in the early twentieth century, will see the rich and powerful and entrenched persons of the world capitalize on the chaos of those below them. Obama’s four threats to social cohesion are easily observed today. Not just in the United States, but across our planet. The stamping of hooves and the tightening of leather reigns can be heard from four horses named Inequality, Racism, Stratification, and Apathy.
Yet while we could stand against this force and demand for ourselves an ever improving world for all humans, and indeed all life that calls this planet home, we seem willing to capitulate to fear. A fear of each other. A fear born out of our refusal to recognize our overwhelming similarities. That capitulation has been, and will continue to be, manipulated by those with social, economic, and political power for their own personal gain.
And so, I fear.