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We shouldn’t be alone. 

It should have been the case, that when astronomers first pointed their listening devices into the stars, they would have heard sounds, blips, buzzes and screams from all corners of the universe. An unintelligible cacophony, akin to leaving a tape recorder in a rainforest. A universe alive with civilisations, some much older than us, more wise, more knowledgeable. 

Instead, we heard nothing. We continue to hear nothing. 

The signals we receive are repetitive, inorganic, mechanical. Products of immense forces, for sure, but not intelligent. No rainforest. More an arctic wasteland, stretching to infinity.

This, I think, is strange. Nobody doubts that intelligent life, capable of communicating across the galaxy, is a rarity. It took billions of years to emerge on our planet, but there are multiple trillions – quintillions – of stars out there, many with their own multi-billion year stories. These numbers overwhelm the improbability of our existence. Yet all we hear is silence.

Maybe we are listening to the wrong frequencies. Maybe our devices are not sensitive enough, or fast enough. Maybe they are using physical phenomena well beyond the reach of our technologies. Maybe advanced civilisations have no need for broadcast signals. Maybe civilisation is too short lived to get its sounds out there. Maybe you learn Maxwell’s Equations, then you learn to split the atom, then you die. 

Or maybe we are just this one time cosmic fluke. A brief flash of awareness, before the cosmic dark once again envelopes the universe. A fortuitous event in one planet, at one time, never to be repeated.

In the absence of knowing for sure, we become immensely significant. We are nothing in this vast amphitheatre of stars, yet what we know, what we represent, is precious beyond all imagination.

63 million Americans voted for him. 63 million people deciding that a racist, TV addicted sex pest should rule their country. A man with autocratic instincts to his very core. A man who fawns over dictators, seeks enrichment, cares little for the media or the courts and sees his family as next in line.

The only problem: he’s an incompetent ass. All bluster and show. He possesses neither the wit nor the guile to take on the mantle of sole ruler and saviour of a fractured nation. To him, the presidency is a part-time job; a distraction from his golf outings. No governing on weekends thank you very much. 100 days in, and still no sign that he has what it takes to run the White House, let alone the wider nation.

But, 63 million Americans voted for him. If not for the man, what he represented. They were looking for someone who could change the country to the way they wanted it to be. Full of cruelty and horror, but who cares when you are on the winning side? This ideal appears undiminished. If anything, it has been given legitimacy and a strong voice in recent times.

Out there, standing in the wings, another person may be waiting. Biding his time, learning from the missteps of his predecessor. A more intelligent person, more manipulative, more strategic. The Caesar to Trump’s Sulla.

And at the right time, when he gets his chance, he will start his campaign, using the same ticket that Trump used. The same exploitation of fear and nurturing of hatred. He will come to power some day and soon afterwards, American democracy will finally end. 

This is my worry.

And yet, it moves.

Galileo is alleged to have said this as he was being lead away from the Vatican Inquisition, to be subjected to house arrest for claiming that the Earth and all the planets moved around the Sun. The Earth was moving, not fixed and immobile like the authorities wanted to believe.

400 years later, we are here again. This time with a Presidency that does not believe in global warming. For all their insults and their rhetoric, for all their attacks on science and scientists, for all their clever economic arguments and their power plays, it doesn’t change a goddamn thing. The Earth is warming, and it’s us humans who have caused it. We broke it, and if it’s fixable, it’s us who must fix it.

The US government can deny all this. It’s their prerogative. They can lie, cheat and denigrate. They can censure, silence and control the message. They can burn the books and hide the evidence. They can do all these things, and more. And worse.

And yet, it warms.

Eppure diventa più caldo.

Yippee. I was meant to be going to America next week, but I pulled out of it. I can do my work from Ireland instead. I have no desire at present to visit the US. I expect I’m not the only person who thinks like that. 

Our Taoiseach (Prime Minister / head honcho) was in Washington schmoosing and plámásing the Trump administration, on the day they have announced draconian cuts to public service broadcasting, meals on wheels and food programs for school-kids. He even invited the King of Orange to Ireland, presumably on our behalf.

I feel ashamed. Tomorrow is our national holiday and while we are used to the top of the morning tooralloo bullshit from our American neighbours, this feels like abject prostration in front of our betters for the sake of a few bob. Echoes of when Ireland was an English colony with us poor peasants doffing our hats at the landlords in the big house. 

I’m sure Enda Kenny had his advisors telling him it was better he kowtow to Trump as it was in the nation’s strategic interest to do so, but where does it end? It makes us all feel weak. Strong people across the US are taking difficult, principled stands against the type of government Trump represents, and our principal representative has ignored them. Our nation is almost entirely anti-Trump, yet Enda has blithely ignored our views too. Even worse, he has invited Trump to Ireland on our behalf. Surely he realises that this could be a public relations disaster?

The art of politics is in marrying the furtherance of vital strategic interests with managing national sentiment. Politics fails when the two are divorced. In embracing Trump so wholeheartedly, he has shown how out of touch he is. This can fan the fires of populism. 

We can only call ourselves a nation when our representatives are willing to take principled stands for what is right. Some years ago, in confronting the Vatican, there was hope that Enda might surprise us. Alas it was too much to hope for.

The world is in the middle of a hurricane right now. A torrent of viciousness has been unleashed. Great damage is being done. Severe pain is being felt. The carnage is not yet over – not by a long shot – but I have decided to stay optimistic. I might not be right, but I remain optimistic all the same.

Here are twenty reasons for staying hopeful.

  1. Because nothing lasts forever. Not even 70 year old orange haired monsters.
  2. Because for every action there is a reaction, and the stronger the action, the more forceful that reaction is likely to be.
  3. Because good people exist. In their millions and millions and millions.
  4. Because he will be unable to sustain his momentum. Sooner or later, even the strongest efforts run out of steam. That momentum, once lost, may rebound against him. Powerfully.
  5. Because career criminals and sociopaths can’t help stabbing their allies in the back, given half a chance. It’s in their nature.
  6. Because he is no Putin. It took Putin years to take total control of the Russian state apparatus. He doesn’t think long term and he can’t wait that long.
  7. Because America is not Russia. It has known two hundred and forty years of democracy and constitutional law. Such freedoms are not surrendered easily.
  8. Because too much piling on of straw in too short a time tends to break the backs of even the most patient camels.
  9. Because he has no real friends. None at all. Will his ‘allies’ be there for him should things turn against him? Don’t bet on it.
  10. Because he is not as popular with the public as he thinks he is. His enemies grow by the day. His supporters? Look at the inaugural crowds.
  11. Because most things fail, and the bigger, the more complex the changes, the more likely they are to end in chaos.
  12. Because he has offended and insulted strong people who have spent decades fighting for recognition and parity. Let him try roll back the progress they have sacrificed their lives for. Let him try.
  13. Because events, dear boy. How he handles the many crises to come will dictate so much. 
  14. Because of women, immigrants, blacks, Latinos, gays, Muslims, Jews, thinkers, educators, liberals, professionals, students, scientists, feminists, environmentalists and all those who strive for fairness and equality. This is their America too, yet he has decided to wage war on all of them at once.
  15. Because the millions of people he has made enemies of have collectively deep pockets. They can damage all those who support him, simply by deciding judiciously where to spend their money.
  16. Because music, art, comedy, satire and independent journalism will continue to speak the truth and erode his authority, despite anything he tries to do. 
  17. Because when the going gets tough, the tough get creative.
  18. Because this is not a revolution. It’s a cynical counter-revolution, instigated by elderly and middle-aged men on the young. If you are looking for energy, longevity and staying power, you will not find it in the ranks of the victors.
  19. Because it’s one thing to give out about ideas, but when real people – friends, colleagues and neighbours – get hurt by him, allegiances will change too.
  20. Because of the shame he has inflicted on America. The deep shame so many now feel while he rules the roost. Land of the Free? Right now, those words ring very hollow. It’s not what freedom is about. It’s not what America is about. 

Because of all this, and possibly more, I feel hopeful. The game is not over. It’s barely even started.

After the hurricane, it’s the good people who are left to pick up the pieces. To heal the wounds. To comfort the broken. It’s the good people who clear away the mess, building new structures on the old. It’s the good people who bring back hope, sowing new life amid the ruins.

Don’t expect goodness from the loudmouths, the braggards, those with their flags and their fists. They are worth nothing but fear and fury. Their legacy on this earth are the shameful stains of their actions. Where are they when the work of rebuilding has to be done? 

The stronger and more violent the hurricane, the sooner it blows over, a trail of catastrophe in its wake. Then the good people will set themselves to the task ahead. And they, in the comforting hugs, the gentle encouragements, the soothing voices, will prevail.

Many of them love the trappings of freedom. The flags. The anthems. The guns. The pagentary. The solemn vows. The hands placed meaningfully on their heart.

They are not so gone on freedom itself. Live and let live. Rights for all citizens. Giving everyone a fair chance. Hearing every voice.

If it’s just the trappings of freedom, it’s not freedom. It’s a hollowed out husk. An empty cask, to be filled with whatever poison you care for. It’s not freedom. It’s something quite the opposite. It’s fascism.

So a vaccine denier will chair a “safety committee” on vaccines during Trump’s administration. I hate to say it, but prepare yourselves. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Expect climate change and environmental science to be gutted. Expect food science to be devastated. Expect reproductive science to be destroyed. Expect space science to be harmed. The worst is yet to come, and in a post-truth society, rational counter-arguments no longer matter a jot.
What does matter are the consequences. And they may be very severe. Kids dying of preventable diseases, catastrophic storms, flooding and loss of habitat, food safety problems and the curtailment of basic human rights. In a fight between empirical truth and ideology, the truth will win out eventually, but at an enormous cost. If people won’t listen to rational arguments anymore, then the consequences will do the talking instead. Ultimately, the consequences will be Trump’s downfall, for him and all the crooks and cheats who sail in his tawdry warship.
It’s going to be a challenging time for science if not humanity as a whole, but I believe that despite it all, two good things might happen. Firstly, it may spur a sense of creativity; the sort of creativity that only happens in adversity, which changes society in a fundamental way and may have beneficial effects over the longer term. Secondly, it’s going to be a time for great people. Inspirational, courageous, good people who will stand up against the worst of our kind, providing the leadership we need to get us out of this mess.
I am pessimistic about the world we are going into, because as a species, we prefer denial and fantasy over facts and clear thinking. We only ever learn our lessons the hard way. But I do have hope. Amongst us there are many people who have seen plenty of adversity in their lives, for whom their current freedoms have been hard won. This is just the latest in a long line of setbacks. They are already preparing for the battles to come and they will not easily be silenced or mollified. If we cannot be these people, we can support them in their fight.

Another week, another atrocity against defenceless people, whose only fault was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I can understand the reaction. You want blood. You want someone to blame. You want the keys thrown away and the perpetrators to rot. I understand this. You want a party or grouping to stand up and say “no more”.

Inevitably, the loudest voices come from the far-right. “We’ll solve your problems”, they’ll say. “We’ll sort them out”. Damn right, you’ll say. I’ll vote for you.

But there’s this small problem. Because, underlying these promises are technicalities those far-right groups also need to solve. Technicalities such as the Constitution. Technicalities such as the rule of law. Technicalities such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Technicalities such as restrictions against torture, illegal detention, the right to protest and assemble peacefully. The right to freedom of speech. The right to a fair hearing. Innocence until proven guilty. Lots of technicalities that get in the way. Get rid of them and you can really sort out the bad boys.

But all these inconvenient technicalities are not just there to protect the bad boys. Strangely enough, they are there to protect you too. And, once they are dismissed and diminished, the protections go down for everyone.

So, go ahead, vote for the politicians with the easy promises, the salve to your outrage. 

After all, that’s what you want. You want a wolf. 

But what you’ll get, if you’re not careful, is a wolf you were not quite expecting. 

A wolf that might just come for you.

Right now, Mowgli is like Schrödinger’s Cat. In my mind, he is alive and dead at the same time. I have to face both realities simultaneously, both of which are not encouraging.

He disappeared yesterday morning; possibly one of the most engaging and delightful little creatures you could imagine. He could literally walk on walls. I called him “a dog of a cat”, such was/is his playfulness. It’s unlike him to be away for so long. 

I don’t know whether I should use the past or present tense. Alive and dead at the same time. 

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