We are all “conscripts to our age”, as Auden wrote.
These days, we are all drafted as horrified spectators.
And too many of us as sharing & tweeting commentators. Once hailed as a conduit of democracy, free speech and empowerment, the social media now rather seem a murky pool bubbling with unchecked, biased information.Unreflective fleetingness rules. Organised chat bots manipulate news flows, individual fools unthinkingly look for their minute of fame. Propaganda & hate speech are amplified– endowing any new Radio Mille Collines with global poisonous reach.
How not to worry? The growing violence (ever closer ever more frequent) which hardens the souls, the growing resentment everywhere. Social cohesion frays, the centre cannot hold – or so it seems.
Each group (social, racial, political, national, …) distrusting the other, reproachful of the other . “Il y a trop de tensions, ça va péter” a Lebanese colleague said, on a matter of fact tone, after the UK political murder, after the Brexit. My French colleagues have fallen silent altogether, after Nice, just doggedly getting on with their lives.
In today’s context it even comes as a relief, when a shooting, however horrifying, turns out to be an act of a “mere” crazy lone shooter. I so felt for the Germans, with their lockdown of München, with their public life paralyzed by an avalanche of (quite understandable) fear-fuelling speculations on the social media.
And each time I checked upon the FAZ website for the latest update, a governmental ad popped up, with such poignant contrast: a photo of a young eager dark-skinned apprentice saying “my German is not yet perfect”, with behind him an older fair-haired man exclaiming admiringly “ but his motivation is !” and the tagline running “Integration which helps all - Deutschland kann das”. Germany can do it.
Can it? Can we?