When you look at human history, the paradigm seems to be stability over a human lifetime, rather than constant change.
This has led me to consider the contemporary era. We are living in an age of instability and divergence in the West at the moment. In my relatively short life, I have witnessed the biggest loss of wealth since 1929. The global food crisis of 2008. One of the largest migrations of humanity since the Second World War and some of the hottest years on record.
I expect that if someone had told me years ago that piracy would be a major issue to commercial shipping and a group would try to establish a caliphate in the early years of the 21st century, I wouldn’t have believed them.
I was a child when the Cold War ended. For better or worse, it seemed to ossify political and economic life. The decade after the Cold War now looks like a golden era of economic expansion, with the British economy growing every year from 1992 until 2008.
I in no way mean to glorify these eras. The threat of nuclear annihilation in the 60s, 70s and 80s and then having to tolerate the Spice Girls in the 90s probably wasn’t much fun.
Politically over the last few years, I have lived through one extraordinarily divisive referendum on Scottish independence, another on the UK’s membership of the EU and am now being told that it’s “highly likely” that there will be a second Scottish independence referendum.
To add to this, the most unpredictable US president has just taken office and looks set to be a destabilising influence. All at a time when mortgages, careers and “adult” life should be taking precedence for us.
Being a “millennial” I can only look jealously at the lives and times of recent generations. I have known people who said they worked at the same firm for decades. Others have told me they were head-hunted by local authorities after leaving university.
In the UK, politics is diverging along lines of identity. Unionist or independence. Pro-EU or Brexiteer. Rural or urban.
Identity politics tends to be far more divisive and aggressive than the old left-right dichotomy. Politics is often no longer about ideology, but about your sense of self which is less liable to be questioned or open to interpretation.
These political battle lines are exacerbated by social media, which now resembles a void, where we yell at each other across the electronic ether.
With such turmoil and uncertainty, is it any surprise that we have lost the “grand narrative” in our lives and are suffering from undiagnosed “future shock”? The world may be more fluid and dynamic now, yet it is more economically, socially and politically unstable than it has been for decades.
Every generation has its cross to bear.
Ours certainly isn’t any heavier than those that came before us. It would still be nice to have ten years of economic and political stability without the threat of more referendums and the dissolution of more unions.
Is that too much to ask?
David Bone is a third sector employee. He lives in Girvan.