Hopes and plans

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    I’ve always assigned a secret importance to numbers, untutored, frequently wrong, but somehow talismanic.  Sevens, 22, 49. Not five – that treacherous little number the let me down so badly on my second day at a new school near London when I put up my hand for the first and last time in my entire school career. The answer to five minus five was ‘nothing’, I said. Wrong, the teacher told the five-year-old fresh from the wilds of Cornwall during an excoriating five minutes during which he unfavourably compared me to the unfortunate girl who I already knew was his usual target before finally telling the class with weary patience that the answer was zero.

    I had great hopes for 2020 as a milestone in humanity’s transformation which, after a rocky start, it was, for a while, as the Covid pandemic and Jacinda Ardern made kindness fashionable. Sadly 2021 dissolved further optimism in an orgy of party political hectoring and bad behaviour and 2022 – nice number – saw politics and power plays pretty much on a par with Lord of the Flies at home, while a torpid world order looked on as Ukraine was being razed, raped and pillaged in front of our eyes. 

    Politicians equivocated and the drear truth of Nato and the West’s complaisance and complicity with Putin’s long-time neo imperial military adventurism was all too obvious, while the worst excesses of invading armies and familiar blackened landscapes of two world wars were back in nightly technicolour,

    Europe disappeared into a bureaucratic fugue and media pundits predicted cursory media ‘fatigue’ would prevent even the most rudimentary military assistance to an essentially demilitarised country without air cover, fighting to the death  in Mariupol, downing warships and tanks on every side and from the Snake Island bunker where soldiers made clear their disdain for the Russian warship that was about to capture them. 

    Shipping lanes and countrysides were mined, children stolen and articles of war flouted around captured Ukrainian soldiers including the heroes of the Mariupol defence and uncountable numbers of civilians.

    Yet another climate change COP seemed doomed.

    Then, at the year’s eleventh hour, some critical mass in the affairs of mankind was reached. 

    Usually remote and formidable, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission  looked excited, almost girlish as she announced the EU had agreed it would give Ukraine all the military material they need to continue their counter-offensive.

    As the year wrapped up, business weekly Forbes named her “the world’s most powerful woman”; deservedly since Putin’s Ivan the Terrible invasion of Ukraine has established her reputation for getting things done in Europe and as a crisis manager par excellence.

    Meanwhile an exhausted looking Volodymyr Zelenskyy was given a standing ovation by the American Congress after yet another powerful and indelible speech embodying the bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people in a moment of raw and poignant humanity with the House leaders.

    By year’s end, news magazines from Time to Austria’s Profil had put Zelenskyy on their covers as Person of the Year 2022 and statistics showed that Russia’s influence among Ukrainians was at vanishing point; the hostility following the brutal invasion having spread across much of the territory of the former Russian/Soviet empire that Putin aspires, in a figment of historical fiction, to reclaim for a new ‘Russian world’.

    Bombing enemy civilians and expecting them to run riot and turn on their leaders in panic should have stopped being a theoretical military narrative by the end of the second world war when first Churchill and then Hitler discovered the resilience of their own countrymen in the face of a foreign threat.

    Productivity in the war effort in the bombed towns went up, not down, and adapting to air-raids was matter of fact in the face of the threat to people and their communities, as Dutch author Rutger Bregman said in his game-changer book Humankind: A Hopeful History, which hit my desk about the same time.

     In a book that Stephen Fry describes as “hugely, highly, happily recommended” and “an extraordinarily powerful declaration of faith in the innate goodness and natural decency of human beings”, Bregman sets out to prove that an overwhelming proportion of humankind is actually essentially good.

    That we are hardwired for loyalty to tribe and community as a primary driving force in most of us. Even soldiers will fight for their tribal comrades rather than for any grandiose ideology and most will hardly ever willingly kill  if they are face to face.

    If the war in Ukraine creates a new world order, as Patrick Wintour suggests in the end-of-year issue of the Guardian, it behoves us to reclaim the essential narrative that we live by  and contribute best in groups and communities. And as equals.• Liz Waters

     

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