Imagine that today is 7 January 2030 and we are looking back through the foggy reminiscences and self-invented truths that constitute our memory.
In 2030, the only thing we will be able to agree on is that things were better in January 2021.
The more astute among us will admit that we had something pretty good, and we fucked it up. Permanently.
I refer, of course, to our systems of governance and how these respond to both normal life and to life in the time of crisis.
No system of governance is perfect. No law is perfect. No parliament is perfect.
Human democracy in a law-abiding society is the practice of compromise. It’s inevitable that, if you put 100 Senators in a room, any law draft will be “watered down” and will coalesce around the tangible demands of multiple interest groups in order to be passed.
It’s also inevitable that mistakes will be made. To err is human. No individual is perfect. Certainly, no collection of individuals can be perfect. Especially not over time.
So, to expect some kind of immaculate perfection from our elected leaders is absurd. We can only expect a lowest common denominator of perfection. Mediocrity, if you will. But utilitarian mediocrity.
We can expect other things, above all a commitment to truth, and to an absence of illegal behaviour. After all, our systems are built on this. No system, however, perfect, can withstand human agents within it that seek its overthrow, or its manipulation.
It is this commitment to truth that engenders trust. And it is that trust that enables human society to work. This is the case whether we talk about something as simple as stopping for a red traffic light or something as complex as voting a law.
And that is where we fail today.
Far too many people think they know better.
They think that public policy decisions like whether masks are a mandate or whether lockdowns are needed are stupid and that governments are wrong to make them.
They think that because other people evade their taxes, they should evade taxes too.
They think that ranting on social media is equivalent to a universal truth, and that this can be adopted as a mindset without any critical analysis.
They think that because the justice system is dysfunctional, they can break the law with impunity, because who cares?
I’m not here to argue, or even to try to convince you that I am otherwise. I have and have had my own share of faults and errors.
But, acting collectively, these attitudes mean that as a collective system of decision making, we are bound for collective failure.
That failure has been visible for years in most societies. There are very few countries today where decision-making is rational and leads to a sustainable collective good. Even by the lowest common denominator nature of law making I have mentioned.
The United States is not one of them. But it is an extreme example. The problem is equally embedded in Europe.
As a result, we are going to see more of all the trends that have been apparent for years:
Regulatory capture by special interests;
Democratic elections characterised by lies and by vast amount of money spent;
Increasing shares of the population believing in fake news;
Growing economic inequality for both households and companies;
Increasing bureaucratisation without any tangible outcome;
Growing polarisation of political parties and wider society;
A growing and massive public debt.
Remember: all of this without a crisis. This is normal, peacetime decision-making. It’s the result of our collective behaviours and decisions made.
Imagine if there were a crisis. A serious crisis. Coronavirus is definitely not a serious crisis. Imagine an Ebola-equivalent pandemic, or a major war on national territory. That is a serious crisis.
This is why I am very certain that looking back, we will recognize that we had a great thing going, and we fucked it up.
Through our own arrogance, selfishness and stupidity.
Through the narcissistic echo-chamber of social media.
Through allowing lying to become mainstream, to the point where even the most privileged among us can no longer differentiate right from wrong. And of course, no longer care.
Through the endless hypocrisy that enables the loudest among us to ignore the fact that the very behaviours they condemn in others, they have been exhibiting for years.
The events we saw yesterday in Washington DC are among the few intersections of history where events crystallise into something recognizable. Something like 9/11.
But those events are based on decades of decisions and behaviours. And we are not changing them for the better.