Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Darkness Descends

leave a comment »

“この世界は, 暗黒に包まれている. 風は止み. 海は荒れ. 大地は腐っていく.” — Final Fantasy

Translation: “This world is surrounded by darkness. The wind stops. The sea is rough. The earth is rotten.”

Noah Smith uses that quotation as the epigraph for his post:

There is a Darkness creeping over our world.

That is a melodramatic thing to say. But when I reach for words to express the profound unease that I feel watching the advance of illiberalism across my planet, the language of fantasy novels, children’s movies, and video games is the only one that seems up to the task. Throughout my youth, I consumed a great many stories that all had the same basic premise — an ancient evil, long ago banished from our world, is now returning, and once again we are called upon to rise up and fight it. Perhaps all those stories shaped my worldview and made me see complex, gritty reality in epic, Manichean terms. Or perhaps the stories were written by people who had themselves lived through a global wave of illiberalism, and were trying to pass down a warning.

There is plenty of darkness in the world even at the best of times. Wars, ethnic cleansing, rights violations, suppression of speech and religion…these things are always, or almost always, happening in some part of the globe. No leader and no country is spotless. And yet observers of comparative government and human rights are able to clearly identify times when respect for the rights and liberties of human beings begins to gutter and wane.

We are now in one of those times. The news headlines from around the world give us a continual stream of dark portents. Concentration camps and forced mass sterilization of minorities in China. Millions rendered stateless by a new law in India amid a retreat of secularism. A coup attempt and election denial as a normalized political strategy in America. Rising authoritarianism in Turkey, in Hungary, in Brazil, in the Philippines, in Israel. Protesters massacred in Myanmarmassacred in Iransuppressed in Belarussuppressed in Hong Kong. Mass surveillance everywhere. Internet shutdowns. “Anti-terrorism” laws.

But headlines are just anecdotes. Unfortunately, data tell the same story.

Freedom House, a think tank that tracks political and civil liberties around the world, warns in its 2020 report that “democracy and pluralism are under assault”. You can quibble with Freedom House’s measurements and definitions, but at least they’re consistent across time, and for a decade and a half now they’ve shown a world inching toward illiberalism: . . .

Continue reading. The charts are chilling. And later in the column:

Trump did various nasty things (family separation, using federal agents as cops, etc.). But the biggest threat here by far is the apparent rejection of electoral democracy by the dominant faction of the Republican Party. Trump’s attempt to brazenly deny the result of the 2020 election and use every means short of civil war to overturn the result might not a one-off thing; they provided a blueprint that the GOP now seems to be embracing for the future:

If electoral democracy in America relies on Democrats never losing an election, it’s doomed. If the GOP doesn’t change its tune and agree that the rules by which Americans choose their leaders are legitimate, the next decade could be one of rolling constitutional crises…or worse.

But beyond America’s flirtation with autocracy, the coalition that it assembled to win the Cold War is just much weaker now than it was in the 1980s. . .

Read the whole thing. There’s much more.

Later in the column:

How did our world begin to fall into Darkness? Why did a 25-year trend of increasing human freedom and human rights stall and go into reverse? Everyone is going to have their favorite answer to this question. Those will include the death of the WW2 generation, the rise of social media, new disruptive technologies, economic inequality, the failures of late capitalism, and so on. Any and all of those might well be contributing factors. But while we’re here, I might as well tell you my answer.

My answer is “fear”.

If Freedom House and V-Dem are to believed, the Darkness began to return right around the mid to late 2000s. Two notable geopolitical events occurred in that decade — the rise of China, and the Iraq War. And both events can be interpreted as being broadly part of the same overarching trend — diminution of the United States of America.

The Iraq War did incalculable damage to the moral standing the U.S. had accumulated since its intercession in World War 2 and its construction of the postwar liberal order. We invaded a non-threatening country on the thinnest of false pretexts (don’t deny it), inflaming an entire region of the globe. Hundreds of thousands died. A few of our troops committed well-publicized atrocities. If I had to tell you a single moment when the Darkness was released from the barriers that sealed it beyond the boundaries of the world, it would be this moment:

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2021 at 10:37 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: