plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

The world is changing.   The world is the same.

We hear so frequently that “everything is different”…”since 9/11”…”since the internet”…”since social media.”

Sometimes it does feel like very fundamental changes have taken place — and are taking place — on a global scale.  It is undeniable that dramatic shifts have taken place in some areas:   the ability to communicate across geographic distance and the speed of access to information and the breadth of transmission of information exceed all but the most prescient expectations.

At the same time, there are gaping holes even in the areas that have, apparently, changed the most.   Access to the means of communication is, despite the internet, despite social media, primarily mediated by enormous corporate interests and by state control.   Texting and cell phones may have fueled social change, particularly in some middle eastern dictatorships, yet repression still is far more the order of the day.  Enlightened social policy founded on human rights and freedom from oppression remains the exception, not the rule, even in the most technologically advanced countries.

The abyss between wealth and poverty has not been bridged.  What is perhaps “new” is the degree to which this abyss appears more and more unbridgeable, permanent.   Terrorism has replaced communism as the most fearsome image.   But the nuclear time-bombs in the hands of nation-states, including the United States, are still ticking.   If anything, we are closer now than ever to apocalypse with barely a wisp of hope for progressive change, for change towards a more just, equal, humane social order.

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