As a society, we seem torn between fear and optimism – Alastair Stewart

Where has the hope for a better future exemlified by Star Trek gone, wonders Alastair Stewart

Monday, 9th March 2020, 6:00 am
Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant

A big problem with the new Star Trek series is they’re missing the utopic joie de vivre that defined the 1960s incarnation. This is not a happy future any more. People age. Characters die. Those buoyant and virtuous organisations are corrupt and decadent.

So much of the EU debate was (or is) rooted in an almost primal view of human nature. Are we destined to grow and better ourselves or grow to become a better, kinder, better global society that works together? The biggest problem has always been our line of sight.

The philosopher Peter Singer used the example of a drowning child. If we see such suffering, we’re more likely to dive in and try to help. If we hear about it from ten miles down the road, we’ll assume someone else will handle it.

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William Shatner as Captain James T Kirk in the original series of Star Trek

Yes, post-scarcity politics plays a part. Coronavirus just exemplifies humanity at its best and worst. Panic buying is a reminder we’re petty, and resources are limited. Some are going so far to say it’s like Black Friday.

And yet, you have thousands at the frontline of the healthcare service who are prepared. They’re steady. And they’re willing to support thousands more who may or may not be affected by the virus.

It’s not too esoteric to stop, look, and just think. It seems there are two cultures at war in our society. Sure, they’ve always been there – and it’s wrong to point to Brexit and say “it started with that”. But more than ever we seem torn between scarcity politics, greed and outright fear and our altruism, our good and our vision for better days.

This isn’t to sound schmaltzy. Look around at your neighbours, your friends and family and compare that to a national and global narrative where you’d think everything was bleak, nightmarish and close to an end.

Fear is measurable in that regard. When you continually tell people there’s something to be scared of or things are wrong, the wisdom of crowds begins to take hold. When you weigh up the social, political and economic decisions of the last few years, you have to stop and ask how much was rooted intangible fear, versus presumed fear?

It’s the burden of our natures to be more afraid not of the unknown but the unclear. A specific set of issues can be headed off and dealt with. Climate change or social reform are more difficult as concepts because it’s hard to bond with what people don’t know or have direct experience of.

Migrants or the poor or the sick are concepts. The European Union is a vast concept. One can lend a sympathetic voice to them, but it’s a far harder task to get that spirited and defining and wonderfully human response to humanitarian issues.

So as the headlines get dominated by coronavirus, as immigrants are lambasted as not contributing enough, or the EU condemned as something it’s great to be free from, let’s consider the common thread. Line of sight and the lesser ability to sympathise with anything not connected to it.

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart