The Red Queen is laughing

What’s the point? The more you want to fix it the more it all crumbles. You can wake up someone who is sleeping. You cannot rouse someone who is pretending to sleep. You can protect someone who faces an imminent threat of death. How can you defend someone who wants to kill himself? The human condition for you in the good year 2022.

In their book The Narrow Corridor, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson quote Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There to introduce you to the term, the Red Queen effect in the following words: In the book, Alice meets and runs a race with the Red Queen. “Alice never could quite make out, in thinking it over afterward, how it was that they began,” but she noticed that even though they both appeared to be running hard, “the trees and the other things round them never seemed to change their places at all: however fast they went they never seemed to pass anything.” Finally, when the Red Queen called a halt, Alice looked around her in great surprise. “Why I do believe we’ve been under this tree the whole time! Everything’s just as it was!”

“Of course it is,” said the Queen, “what would you have it?”

“Well in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

What do you do with a world that threatens to blow itself up every five minutes? And then all these crises have this weird The Truman Show-like sensation about them. The world goes to pieces on live television but our camera shot variations capture the spectacles perfectly. After 20 years of relative calm when Kabul falls, the Taliban live footage almost transmits the taste and odour of the desperation and helplessness in the air. The same experience with India’s sudden and heartless lockdown where millions were stranded and had to travel by foot. And now the air of hopelessness in Ukraine.

When recently President Putin delivered his long speech on Ukraine, and Nato, and 1991, shortly afterward he officially recognised the two breakaway territories. As the footage and the pictures of the signing ceremony circulated on social media someone noticed that the watch the Russian president was wearing showed time before the speech. And then started an avalanche of Twitter posts carrying pictures of his Security Council members, all wearing watches that showed a different time. Weird. Did they all wear broken watches? Remind me of another crisis with similar incoherence of time. And the piece se resistance. When the next day (22/2/22) President Biden announced the first tranche of sanctions he concluded his speech and turned back exactly at 2.22 PM the local time. There is some unmistakable hint of historic irony somewhere in there. I mention this because it was being discussed on social media in those days.

But before you join QAnon or some similar cult, here is a simple fact for you. All these sights and sounds are made possible because of technology. The better technology you have the better chances of capturing the sights and sounds of an event. And then there is the matter of the omnipresence of technology. Every smartphone is now equipped with a relatively decent camera. Naturally, you cannot then miss the kind of opportunities that time presents to you. Including some of the most distressing footage like people clinging to and falling from the rescue planes last year. Also, regarding date and time let us remember that they are quantified values we attach to random things and intrinsically these units of time do not have any value of their own. Nor is it the Biden administration’s fault that the year is 2022, the month February and the date happened to be what it was. All they could do was to pick the time and I can imagine the grinning face of a young prankster among the policy circles

Even so, everything that happens seems to want to hurt you. And the cherry on the top: the technology that makes these visual sensations possible seems to be failing to provide mankind with antidotes.

I do share with you these random thoughts because they stand out in daily observation. But then I am always cognizant of the fact that they can easily be weaponised to resemble conspiracy theories. I can only add disclaimers and shrug off. Throughout my working life, people have mercilessly taken and used my ideas without any credit or acknowledgment. Why should I get the blame for the weird stuff when you wouldn’t credit let alone reward me for the good ones that you have taken.

Sharing personal distress about these global events is incredibly difficult in these polarising times. Especially in a region where a sizeable chunk of the population (I can only hope not a majority) by default roots not for Abel the slain but my man Cain. When you do not comport to the predominant view you get marked. The Mark, again, not of Cain but the slain. The most pitiable stigma imaginable.

It worries me a lot, dear readers, to think how this constant reminder of televised cruelty and barbarism will shape the minds of our children. Will it not make it a new normal for them? And what frightens me the most is the lot that can easily rationalise the wholesale disenfranchisement of young women in Afghanistan in the name of realpolitik and national interest. Will they do not the same to our and their children if circumstances brought us to that fork in the road?

The worry continues. The worry to preserve human life. The worry to preserve the difficult status quo, to borrow Galtung’s term, negative peace? With one fault line (Ukraine-Russia) already exploding, what will happen to the other ones that threaten to do the same? Like the ones between China and India, India and Pakistan, China and Taiwan, Russia and the West and on?

And then you have the cheerleaders of strongmen to whom moral nuances are meaningless.

We spent an entire cold war under the threat of a nuclear brawl. The leaders of that time did not let it happen. But with hotheads and angry leaders all over the world, we now have those who act on the wild impulses and have fun documenting it all for the viewers. There is a reason why Donald Trump, the reality TV star, got elected to the world’s most powerful post. It is the age designed for reality television. What is life when the Red Queen effect is the end in itself? Why not come to terms with own mortality and be done with it.

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