2017 is not yet a week old, and despite the new gym clothes going through their first wash, despite the lists and lists of goals immortalised in phones and calendars across the globe, the world itself is much the same. The cycle of news continues: some good, some horrifying. In the BBC News‘ top stories this week there are tales of pop stars, murders, against-the-odds survival, and a routine look at the housing crisis. It could be any other week.
But it isn’t, not quite. We’re still blinking in the bright light of the New Year, still hoping that this time it’ll be different. And the thing is, many of the stories circulating, good and bad, are an opportunity for change. They can all teach us something, if we look.
1. Mariah Carey
As the New Year dawned, one popstar was already angry: convinced that the problems with her sound equipment were a deliberate ploy to embarrass her by a production company. To make matters worse, Carey did not keep her discontent to herself – instead making aggravated comments regarding her luck during the set. It was hardly in the spirit of the New Year. Her claims were and are ludicrous.
However, her little outburst is significant in its contrast to the hope of new beginnings and the celebration of a year just past. We need to be kinder. More tolerant. More reasonable. 2016 saw a decline in reason, a move to a ‘post-truth era’ where populism saw the election of Trump and contributed to the success of the Brexit campaign. Just as Mariah assumed her difficulties were manufactured by the production company, so too are experts and ‘liberal elites’ being blamed for the woes of the working class. Both accusations are without proper reasoning. We need to bring ‘reason’ back – in every sense of the word.
The government have announced the construction of 14 new ‘garden villages’ in the UK, to go some way towards solving the housing crisis. The planned developments are designed to be self-contained: providing jobs and community services, as well as the houses themselves. As ever, there is opposition from locals – and perhaps those locals might want to consider the needs of others in their protests – but there are other issues too.
Some of the planned developments are to be built on greenbelt land. This is a problem not only because it may limit urban residents’ access to open spaces, but because such land is preserved to encourage agriculture and protect the environment there. Usually, construction projects are not permitted on this land. The decision is even more nonsensical when one considers that greenbelt land makes up well under 20% of the UK’s total area, and that the new ‘villages’ are designed to be relatively self-sufficient: so they do not need great proximity to towns and cities.
This is perhaps one of the most important things to consider. In catering to human need – and it is important that people have food and shelter and dignity, of course – we must not neglect the environment. It is vitally important, and it sustains us too.
There are 39 people in Turkey who will never live through 2017. They were killed at a nightclub in Istanbul less than an hour into the new year. It is a killing that, some days later, was claimed by so-called ‘Islamic State’, who praised their gunman, a ‘heroic soldier’, for his actions.
The loss of those dead, and IS’s eagerness to lay claim to their deaths, is a harrowing reminder to not take pride in violence. Although reports in April suggested that the UK had not been responsible for any civilian deaths in Syria via air strikes, other sources disagree, and the coalition generally has certainly been the cause of civilian death in the area. The point is, is that although the use of violence may sometimes be necessary, and although presumably UK forces wish to take every measure possible to avoid civilian deaths – unlike IS – civilian deaths are still occuring. Perhaps it is unavoidable, but it needs to be considered at every turn.
Therefore, attitudes displayed by the MOD in the first report – proudly claiming the deaths of IS fighters while ignoring civilian losses – barely makes them better than those who they face. Of course gains are cause for some hope, but the cost must be acknowleged too. IS seems unable to do this – making it all the more important that we steadfastly do.
4. Razor Sexism
Tesco has made the decision, after some pressure, to price men and women’s razors comparably. Even when thinking about fighting sexism in the West, it seems a small step – women can now enjoy buying pink razors without being charged an extra 50p for the privelege of the more feminine colour. Wonderful.
The point is, is that it’s a step. It won’t change lives; it’s more gesture than progress, but it’s something. It’s another tiny step towards real changes in attitudes and a more level playing field.
Of course, women in Afghanistan are still being beheaded for appearing in public without a man, and yes, such horrific persecution is more critical than saving a few pennies.
So, really, what it is is a tiny spark of hope. If we can affect the little things, hopefully we can build it up and change the big problems in the world. Not in 2017, perhaps, but sexism can be dismantled globally. Unity is the thing.
Finally, a couple in Cairngorm survived Arctic conditions after being unable to return home from a dog walk when the weather turned nasty. Despite snow up to their waists, they used the survival kits they had brought with them, and were rescued the following day, unharmed.
The lesson from this story is perhaps more metaphorical than the rest. There are uncertain times ahead, regardless of one’s political persuasion. Trump is set to enter the White House. Brexit, presumably, will be triggered, although there seems to be little clue thus far as to what this will entail. All across Europe, elections are due to be held, and the threat of Russian hacking, supposedly a factor in the US election, looms menacingly above them. IS remain as dangerous as ever. Arctic conditions indeed.
Now is the time that we need to act as the Cairngorm couple did. Irregardless of political leanings, moderates need to come together to restore stability: to stop pointing fingers at ‘liberal elites’ to stop calling those we disagree with ‘racists’ automatically, and to figure out how to navigate what lies ahead. Ideological differences can sort themselves out tomorrow. For now: survival.