When you hit the big Five-Oh, life takes on a slightly different hue. I’ve managed to get through half a century with no broken bones, the usual number of limbs and organs and only a few nights in a hospital bed, staring at the blinking light on the ceiling. The fears of the previous five decades crept away with a sullen, backward glance, and a new collection of worries slid into my mid-life existence. This new set of dreads seems to be more related to the big things in life, rather than earlier anxieties about career, relationships and the opinions of your peers. The English comedian and activist, Mark Thomas, puts it beautifully. He says that when you get past fifty, there is an epiphany. It’s the realization, you just don’t give a f**k about anymore what other people think of you. That Road to Damascus blinding light is a wonderful thing. It’s liberating and allows the middle-aged man to look at life with clearer, though undoubtedly more cynical eyes.
So with that preamble, here are my top four fears for the future, in no particular order.
I’m a European. We have a head start on the New World when it comes to authoritarian regimes and tin-pot dictators. We invented them and we’ve been exporting them rather too successfully for centuries now. If you scour back through our history, you can see patterns emerging.
I’m sure you can find many examples, but here’s one that occurred to me: 1625, England. Charles I ascends the throne. He’s not a wise and beneficent king, in fact, he turns out to be something of a despotic egotistical idiot. Not surprisingly, the commoners decide they’d rather look after themselves and the English Civil war eventually kicks off. Charles is executed and Cromwell takes over, though, for the Irish, this is not a good thing.
Move on to 1700 and Europe is in turmoil with wars in the North and South of the continent. Another eighty years, and in response to despots, we’re in revolutionary times, both in Europe and America. The 1860’s were a mess and so were the 1940’s. And that’s eighty odd years ago from our current predicament.
It seems to me we get these long cycles of authoritarianism followed by resistance. And that is what we must do, good men like us must resist. In the past, that was by force of arms, but stronger still is the belief in good and the will to hold on to our humanity and shared values.
Resistance takes many forms. For me, it is teaching my kids what is right, morally and ethically. It is challenging the isms daily. It is being the good human being. As the Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke, said ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’
2. Global Warming (or climate change if you must)
Back when I was a kid we had defined seasons in this part of the world. Summer was warm…ish, Autumn (Fall) was damp and misty, we had snow in Winter and the Spring brought showers and sunshine. It’s not like that anymore. Winter is mild, gray and damp, Spring is grayer, April and May are hotter, June and July are wetter and the Indian summer of September and October confuses the wildlife.
It’s been said 97% of the world’s climate scientists believe that human carbon emissions are to blame, and being a believer in science rather than conspiracy theories, I’m inclined to agree. 2015 was the warmest year on record until 2016 happened; the ice sheets are collapsing and we’re on course for a truly global catastrophe.
The saddest fact of all is the worlds’ poorest are the most at risk. The UN’s work in setting targets for limiting the global temperature rise to two degrees is admirable, but without significant behavioral change by all of us, those targets are aspirational at best. It comes down to a very simple choice between leaving our grandchildren with a planet where countries are at war over water, while the great cities of the world disappear under that same precious resource, or doing the right thing now.
Our reliance on fossil fuels has to end, and not in fifty years. We can make a start by questioning every purchase we make. Simple questions, like is it over-packaged? How far did it have to come to get to the store? Do we need to eat meat every day? Do we need to drive to work? Does the next political hopeful understand these things, or do they deny the science in the interests of a few oligarchs? It’s your choice. The good man (and woman) makes the right one.
3. Religious Extremism
My God is better than your God, because my God is totally awesome, and because of this, I’m going to bomb you and anyone who happens be in the radius of collateral damage.
I’m pretty sure that religion has been the cause of more suffering in the world than political despots. It seems to be an utterly ridiculous state of affairs, given that most religions preach a doctrine of love. Whoever your preferred imaginary friend is, I’m sure they are sitting on a cloud somewhere, shaking their head in disbelief.
We’ve had our own sectarian strife on the island of Ireland. It’s been going on for a while, and the most recent iteration of it saw more than 3,000 people killed. Admittedly there were socio-economic and political reasons behind that conflict, but religion was a factor. The great global war between East and West has raged for centuries too, with no outcome other than coffins draped in flags and grieving parents, partners and children.
In this regard, we should take heed of Martin Luther King:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
4. Old Age
Ah yes, the seventh age.
‘The last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything,’ as Shakespeare put it so eloquently.
It isn’t my old age I fear, that is a journey we must all make. What does keep me awake are the ethical questions future generations will have to answer. The advances in medical science and improvements in diet over the last fifty years are leaving us with a Pandora’s Box.
In the developed world, we are living longer, and we haven’t worked out how we are going to deal with that scenario. The inevitable economic issue of the ever-deepening pension hole is bad enough, but there are more disturbing problems ahead and they go to the very root of our humanity. What price do we put on a human life? At what point do we withdraw medical treatment on the grounds of cost? Where do we find the balance between cure and palliative care?
These questions will need to be addressed all too soon, and we have to find the moral courage to find the right and good thing to do, for all of us.
It won’t be easy, but if we are guided by love and wisdom, we will find a way.
You may not agree with any of this, but I hope you accept we need to talk about the issues before we’re sans everything.
Photo: Getty Images