Artillery Row

Year of the blackpill

Farewell to 2023 — a year for losing hope

When was the last time a year was as grim as 2023?

Granted, it has been a somewhat grim year for me personally, so I could be accused of projecting my own discontent onto the world. But I feel fairly optimistic about my own prospects for 2024 — I’m just concerned about humanity at large.

It is not so much that awful things have happened — though they have. Awful things happen every year. It is more that hope seems to be receding from those grim situations that we might have thought could be resolved.

In the UK, Rishi Sunak has been stumbling from embarrassment to embarrassment. The Conservatives appear to be heading for electoral defeat and not even Prime Minister Sunak’s mum could make a stirring case that it is undeserved. The economy has shrunk and the UK risks recession. NHS waiting lists have reached record heights. Unemployment has been edging upwards (though, granted, wages have as well). Immigration has hit unprecedented levels. Any hope — granted, always a quixotic one — that the Conservatives can turn things around must have fallen from their thread, and anyone who thinks that Keir Starmer — a man who has as much consistency as he has charisma — can turn things around should contact me about a bridge.

In Israel, the atrocities of October 7th have led to carnage in response. Granted, Israel has been doing damage to Hamas, but thousands of young and old civilians have been killed. I suspect that the resentment this has been fuelling will ensure that the conflict continues for many years to come. The hopes that Israel’s diplomatic agreements with Arabic nations briefly fed in 2020 have been buried in the rubble.

In the first months of the year, it seemed as if Ukraine had the upper hand in its defensive conflict with the Russians. Ukraine had recovered a lot of ground and the Russians faced internal disputes, not least when Yevgeny Prigozhin launched his ill-fated coup. Then the Ukrainian counter-offensive failed, and the war in Israel drew Western attention and resources away. Zelensky is nowhere near triumph, or even from a deal that can end the bleak immobile slaughter of Ukraine’s young men.

I could go on. Global temperatures have reached new heights. People smugglers have been organising record crossings of the Mediterranean, and the “far right” Georgia Meloni has defied her voters by, in the words of Reuters, “throwing open the door to hundreds of thousands of migrants”. The US elections in 2024 look likely to be held between an 81-year-old and a 77-year-old — both of whom have already had uninspiring terms in power. Welcome as it is that the richest man in the world enjoys irritating self-righteous journalists, it has also been depressing to watch my Twitter timeline fill up with adverts for crypto events, online prostitution and businesses with less of a sense of scrupulousness and good taste.

Again — it’s not just that miserable things are happening. I don’t want to sound like the sort of millennial who is convinced that they live in a uniquely grim period of history, as if the 1930s, say, were filled with peace and prosperity. Hell, even 1994 had the Rwandan genocide, the Siege of Sarajevo and the launch of Friends

But the problem is not just that miserable things are happening. It is that it is so hard to imagine them stopping. Indeed, it is hard to imagine them not getting worse. Granted, we should be careful to distinguish between miserable things that affect us personally and miserable things that don’t (the situation in Gaza is depressing, for example, but we should not speak as if we are among its victims). Yet the sense of sheer futility is much the same. Our politicians, when they are not plainly useless or malicious, seem impotent in the face of history. 

Immersion in gloom might have some salutary effects

A counsel of despair? Yes and no. We should feel grim when we consider world events. But our inability to deny the magnitude of the problems that we face is actually somewhat cheering. For too long, we have maintained a blithe sense that war, migration, geopolitics et cetera will just work itself out. Even amid the pandemic there was a sort of strained optimism, expressed in bouts of sentimentality over fundraising and fits of maniacal applause. Immersion in gloom might have some salutary effects.

Secondly, grim events need not make us grim people. If soldiers on the front can maintain their sense of humour, and their dedication to the cause, then we — in safe, warm homes, and with food in our stomachs — have no excuse for wallowing in gloom like pigs in mud. I’m not just imploring you, dear reader, to enjoy the sunrise and a bottle of wine. Enjoy your cause, whatever it might be — uncovering a truth, or averting evil, or promoting virtue. We might not have cause for optimism, no, but meaning is not forged in times of pure simplicity.

Happy New Year.

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