Sunday 25 August 2019

Editorial: 'Giant leap from raucous discord'

Stock picture
Stock picture


In the Sunday Independent today, we republish the inspiring words of President John F Kennedy which he delivered eight years before Nasa first landed and man walked on the Moon, the 50th anniversary of which is commemorated this weekend: "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard."

The era often referred to as the Sixties, to denote complex inter-related cultural and political trends around the globe, is more loosely defined as beginning around 1963 with the assassination of President Kennedy and ending around 1974 with the Watergate scandal which engulfed the lesser regarded US President, Richard Nixon. Yet it was Nixon, in his inauguration address on January 20, 1969 which well captured the spirit of that which could be equally applied to this age: "We have found ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the Moon, but falling into raucous discord on Earth."

At the end of a week in which another US President, Donald J Trump, who is showing every sign of becoming lesser regarded still, issued forth by social media message a racist trope against four US congresswomen of colour, and at a subsequent rally stood by as his supporters bellowed racist chants -"Send Her Home" - it is easy to become disillusioned at the failure of man to make sufficient advances from the raucous discord on Earth 50 years ago. All tendencies towards disillusionment should be set aside, however. There remains a hard job of work to be done.

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There is a tendency also to look back on the Sixties with nostalgia to describe the counter-culture and revolution in social norms which took place back then, best summarised for brevity in the term 'sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll'.

The Sixties was no nirvana either, however, its politics dominated by a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, expanding into developing nations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, which gave rise to a prolonged Cold War with an attendant nuclear threat, which so influenced the decades ahead.

This decade began amid a global financial crisis and subsequent international recession, the effects of which are still with us; and the scientific and technological advances of the 1960s, which put a man on the Moon, manifest itself today in the internet of things, the extension of connectivity into physical devices and our everyday lives, giving rise to a proliferation of new concerns from data privacy to hate speech, not to mention the psychological effects of social media on the minds of young people, especially children. Growing economic inequality in developed countries is also an important issue and concern throughout this decade. As a consequence, much of the Western world has begun to experience a neo-nationalist political backlash against globalisation, especially against immigration policy and free-trade agreements, a trend which grew more evident after the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump in the United States.

As in the Sixties, which gave us greater individual freedoms and allowed many to break free of the social constraints of the previous age, this decade has also been notably marked for the better by youth culture and social change, not least in Ireland, through the mainstreaming of LGBT rights and the fourth wave of feminism encapsulated in the #MeToo movement. It is also the decade of environmentalism as the world at last appears to be waking up to the ravages of climate change and threats to biodiversity, "to see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats", in the words of the poet Archibald MacLeish.

There is cause to be hopeful, then, but no reason to be complacent, that when we come to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Moon landing, in the words of President Kennedy, we will at last have organised and measured the best of our energies and skills in a forward giant leap for mankind.

Sunday Independent

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