Some end of year reflections: plagues, parties, and penury

I had intended to write a long, detailed piece about the past year, but to be honest I just can’t be bothered. What follows, then, is a mishmash of reflections personal, political and other.

Starting personally, despite the inauspicious circumstances 2020 has forced upon us, I’ve had a pretty decent year. I’ve continued to write steadily for Areo Magazine and was published in the illustrious periodical Free Inquiry. I have some other projects in the works for the upcoming year. And I’ve had lots of fun. Pre-lockdown, I had a party at my flat for my birthday which was very dissolute and therefore very enjoyable. I’ve had some good conversations throughout the year with lots of interesting people on lots of interesting topics- you know who you are (shout out to Josep in particular). I’ve interviewed some great people for the Pondering Primates podcast; highlights include but are not limited to Ben Sixsmith, A.C. Grayling, and Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens. University has been very good this year- I’ve taken some great courses with some first-rate teachers. I’ve read some wonderful books. And even the March lockdown was fun since I was stuck inside with Shankar, dear friend and comrade (and flatmate).

For all that, I’ve also turned twenty four. Nearly a quarter of a century old! How did that happen?! Yes, I know it’s still a young age, but it does sometimes feel as though time is speeding up and running out. My love life is as dry as ever. And, yes, of course, it’s been a hell of a year all round. Plagues, lockdowns, impeachments, Brexit, Hong Kong, and, er, murder hornets*, to name some of the notable nightmares inflicted upon us. But even so, there is cause for hope. Dissidents have continued to fight for democracy and freedom around the world, from Hong Kong** to Iran to Belarus (and have been victoriously proceeding apace in Sudan, which is well on the way to modernity after years of suffering under a backwards theocratic regime), and the wondrous development of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly the ground-breaking Pfizer one, is a tribute to the power of science and reason. There is a rising threat from the illiberal and the authoritarian. It comes in many forms and with varying degrees of danger, from jihadism to China to the woke. But we have also seen a new swell of internationalism and solidarity (think of the global support for Hong Kong or the Harper’s letter inveighing against cancel culture).

Dare I say that there is scope for a new International, one dedicated not to Marxist revolution but to those ever-radical (and ever in need of defending) principles of freedom, secularism, democracy, and human rights? The Liberal International, The First Liberal International, something like that? And one of the New International’s core values should be a commitment to the principles of the First Amendment, which every country should have by law and every private organisation should aim for. In any case, there is much to take heart from as well as to despond over.***

We have got rid of that vulgarian lump Donald Trump. In other science news, phosphine was (probably) discovered on Venus. Whether that is a harbinger of life or not, it is interesting and the discovery is a demonstration of scientific ingenuity. Much else has been thrown up by this strange year (BLM, the idiotic peace deal with the Taliban, my crystallised concern for the long-term future of humanity) that I could discuss or pontificate about. But my main point is that alive and well as stupidity, genocide, dictatorship, and all the rest are, the opposition to these, founded on the principles of humanism, is also vibrant.

What of 2021, then? I dare not offer any predictions, but it will be interesting to see how the pandemic changes the world. Personally, I hope to become more disciplined in my writing and to write more and to try and become at least a little less weighty and a little more fit. Mostly I’m just looking forward to the huge bacchanalias that will spring up in the wake of the plague. I’d also appreciate any job offers in the writing business since I’ll be finishing up university next spring. Or any financial support for that matter (if you’re feeling charitable, you can help a poor student and writer out through PayPal). To finish off, I’ll importune you to go to the Archive and read some of my stuff from this year. Some of it is alright, I think. Happy New Year!

P.S. I’ve named a few people in the foregoing, but there are many others who I would, if I had the time, nominate as flames of camaraderie and comradeship. And there are many others I would like to thank for various things as well. But don’t feel slighted- a matter of space and time, as I said, and you know who you are anyway, and take this as a personal salute to you.

*Properly the Asian giant hornet or Vespa mandarina, the story of its interaction with native and imported honeybees is an astounding demonstration of the power of natural selection. The story is told by Jerry Coyne in chapter five of his excellent book Why Evolution Is True (and a précis can be found at his site).

**One of the Hong Kong freedom-fighters, Joshua Wong, is a hero of mine, and I was honoured to exchange a few words with him on Letter. He has recently been imprisoned again but his resolve, it seems, is undiminished.

***Note added 18th Feb 2021: I’ve just found out that there were a couple of ‘Liberal International’ attempts in the 20th century, one of which is still in existence. I notice too that there are various other Internationals, including, er, a centrist one. But I think my proposal is different- not an alliance of the world’s liberal political parties, but a global alliance of all shades of liberals dedicated to the radical values I outlined above, including parties and other organisations. Such an International would be more radical and vigorous than what’s come before. A staid and purely party political movement, it would not be! Political internationals are usually fairly weak organisations where parties can share things, so my proposal is different. What could the name be, then? Perhaps the New Liberal International? The Radical International? The Radical Liberal International? Something like that. Conservatives, socialists, and everyone else welcome, if you have a commitment to the spirit of what I outlined above. Somebody should start this!

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