Friday, January 20th, 2017, will be remembered as the day on which Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. Just like his predecessors, he used the occasion to give an inauguration speech (the full text of which can be found in many places, for example here, provided by The Washington Post [retrieved Jan 21, 2017]). Over the coming days, weeks, months, and years, much will be talked and written about the contents of this speech and its consequences for life in America and beyond.
We all carry stuff around with us. Some of it is material, tangible, and more or less heavy, bulky, or cumbersome. Some of it is immaterial – which doesn’t necessarily make it any lighter. Most of the time, I write about the latter. This time, however, I’ll write about what’s actually in my bag when I take off for work.
A year comes to a close. Some say, it was a good year. Some say, it was a bad year. Some say it was just another year, neither good nor bad. In this ambiguity of how people see it, at least, this year is no different from all other things that surround us: Owls that are nightingales, nightingales that are larks, larks that are dead serious, serious deaths that are fake news, fake news that are wiser and truer than owls.
The truth is struggling. Ever since The Economist, in one of its September issues, discovered and described the “post-truth world” we’re living in, it has become fashionable to complain about the disintegration of truth. More recently, this complaint has been further intensified by a broad debate about the nature and role of “fake news”. If only, common sense and common opinions seem to say, we could get rid of all misperceptions, errors, lies, and outright deceit once and for all – then, we could live in a peaceful world made of truths, happily ever after.
“No taxation without representation” was the battle cry that eventually led to the United States independence from its British motherland back in 1776, sometimes also rendered as “Taxation without representation is tyranny”. It was complemented by the times’ enlightened thinkers’ belief that human beings are capable of rational decision making, sometimes even abstracting from their most immediate needs and wants in favour of some common good. A consequence of this double conviction – similarly enacted in other revolutionary movements in various places and times – was the emergence of the modern state as the main form of organising our ways of living together.
Today, the state is in crisis.
We live in digital times. Our universe is suffused with digital devices, digital communications, and global ideologies constructed from and around digital structures – physical, virtual, and intellectual. We can’t help but be permeated by this digital space in all its forms and formats, from the finest dust particles in our pockets clogging our smartphone’s power jacks to the vast and all-encompassing data clouds containing our memories, plans and projects, and current locations. Some say this pervasive presence of the digital takes us away from our true potential as human beings, destroying our jobs, scattering our attention, confusing our minds; some say it can help us to get closer to what we can be,
These days, many sad and worrisome things are happening in various places all over the planet. Human beings are committing arbitrary (or non-arbitrary) acts of violence, hurting and killing other human beings – from random individuals to groups of dozens and hundreds. Political structures that we were accustomed to consider solid foundations for a free society are crumbling – from erosive tendencies across Europe and the European Union to the political rise of obviously unpredictable and most likely dangerous individuals in a growing number of countries around the world.