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Hope, not nihilism, is the antidote to bleak times

  • 15 September 2016


There is a palpable sense that ours is a consequential period. I've been using that word a lot, 'consequential'. Every age sees itself as the cusp of something else, but there are developments that reveal the sharpness of that edge.

Our technologies continue to advance at breathless pace. Some gadgets resemble magic. I still remember my mum hiring a professional (which was just a guy with the right equipment), so we could record a message on an analogue videocassette that we could then post to dad, who would receive it at his next port of call, or so we hoped. Last weekend, I spoke to him face to face in real time, nearly 6000km apart, using a pocket-sized computer.

Technology has already disrupted the nature of work and democracy, as well as our understandings of privacy and national security.

A mobile boom in Africa is driving innovation in commerce. Recent scientific breakthroughs, in areas such as cancer and Alzheimer's, might be the basis for future therapies. Climate adaptation research will be critical to the survival of coastal populations. Science, technology and engineering are some of the areas that still bear hope in what seems like a very bleak time.

Yet even as these become more foundational to answering policy questions around living standards, they are being eroded via drastic funding cuts, conspiracy theory and borderline superstition. In parliament this week, One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts called climate change 'a scam' perpetrated by the United Stations.

There is a parallel disjunction in the way the composition of our societies is framed. People are more mobile than ever, and populations have diversified. Majority-minorities are set to become a phenomenon in the west.

Despite evidence that migrants have a positive impact on economies (in Australia, the UK and Canada), such open shifts have been met with virtual lockdowns, manifest in white supremacist revival, isolationism and culture war.

Post-factualism in the Information Age, hyper-nationalism amid high immigration, social change versus preservation: these tensions seem to be serving a kind of nihilism that is particular to our time. There are forces, sometimes embodied in real people, which are unravelling what remains of the things that hold us together, like our sense of interdependence and common humanity.


"Our time might be consequential not just because it could go so wrong, but because it might still go right."


For some, the antagonism is propelled in part by neoliberal failures. During the US primaries, the line between