We awoke to broken trees, broken homes, and broken families on islands ravaged by a nature whose indifferent strength far surpassed whatever cruelty we were able to visit upon one another this week. Eyes stared straight into clear blue skies with no roofs to contain their stupefaction. A more fortuitous gathering of raised eyes a half-planet away looked hopefully to the heavens in anticipation of a rarely experienced alignment of celestial bodies, a reminder of an ongoing cosmological choreography that tests the limits of comprehension.
Also emerging from their homes were those driven from public by a relentless epidemic that has obliterated entire communities. With the good news that sustained effort has sent the virulent terror in retreat, governments and communities faced tough questions about continuing disparities in care and suspicion towards experimental prevention strategies. The final hurdle to eradication has yet to be cleared and clouds of future outbreaks hang low on the horizon.
Natural catastrophe and disease are frequent characters in our ongoing story, but we tend to unite more easily in response to their appearances. By contrast, how easy it would be to fill these lines with tales of the profundity of our own capacity for atrocity. No space–sacred or contemplative–escapes the reach of violence, and no people rest secure from the potential to be disappeared. In the meantime, the global clamber to mount responses has been fraught with conflict. Even in the attempt to derail the vehicles to a more violent future, with forces scrambling and internal and external discord metastasizing, we faced accumulating challenges to the contestation of unencumbered violence.
While governments bickered, there were those who confronted this theater of brutality by flooding streets in the millions even as the skies flooded their path, collecting voices against political opacity, constitutional changes, and economic stagnation. They poured into public spaces physical and virtual to address grievances with governments seen as operating contrary to the security and welfare of the people in whose name they act, denouncing tactics viewed as disproportionately exercised and unequally applied and protesting statements and policies by government leaders against those whom they have displaced and marginalized.
Concurrent with this mobilization, we also witnessed threats to the tools of accountability that connect government and citizen. The removal (and death) of those whose work departed from the line toed by governmental public relations machines operated alongside attacks on those providing nourishment to the informationally impoverished and demanded response. If the revelations of journalists and intellectuals have had enough force to unsettle us from our homes, offices, and schools; from our routines of convenience; from the privileges of passivity; then do we march for them when their fingers have been bound and their voices irreversibly silenced?
But we also asked less easily answered questions. Conflict raged over the cartography of unsanctioned expression, psychological harm, and the cultures of violation that undergird acts of physical and emotional violence. Should these borders change depending on the spaces in which expression operates? The struggle to find a vocabulary for commonality continued to test the limits of communication as language, behavior, images, and symbols have themselves become contested fields.
The give-and-take of institutional and popular wills has at critical historical moments been able to reinforce the legitimacy of political systems. It has also allowed for governments to define and take effective action against threats to the welfare of their people, an essential function of the State. Even as public and private interests clashed over seemingly abstract relations between image and body, there was unity in the resolve to protect those most vulnerable to unchecked violence and historical disenfranchisement.
This adamantine complementarity of political yin and yang has perhaps been brought into greatest relief in efforts on the part of government, industry, and private citizens to improve opportunity for those in the many countries still struggling to gain a foothold in the global economy. In the tradeoff between opportunity and disempowerment, difficult decisions have had to be made in drafting blueprints for future prosperity. And the distribution of power in the financial landscape that has prompted these decisions is in flux. As new powers have stepped in to address longstanding absence and neglect in some of the greatest global development needs, the old guard stumbled to catch up to lines of action drawn by hands other than its own.
Each week calls our attention to the skies in anticipation of coming storms, natural and otherwise. At times, however, we cannot help but avert our eyes from the disasters, the crises, the upheavals, and the transformations in search of relief. And eventually the time comes for us to close our eyes to the world for our nightly respite while the world turns on and the timeline of history inches forward still.