Time is often represented as a wheel, notably in science-fiction and fantasy: a cyclical/cosmic pattern of, say, 2000 to 5000 years where great upheavals, death, warfare and destruction initiate an era of stability, prosperity and peace (and at this point I can never resist pointing out the religious definition of peace: "what you get if you enslave or kill everyone who holds a different opinion". Seems legit), with countries ruled by dictators. (Humanity has a longstanding predilection for tyranny, it seems; most people feel happier and safe when a commanding father figure tells them what to do.) Then, very slowly, this tight grip on the minds of people looses, and ever so carefully, progress towards a more humanist/equal society is made - usually at great costs to, and personal sacrifices of, the dreamers who envision a better world. Freedom, empathy, care and compassion are rediscovered, and social structures to help the needy and protect the weaker ones are erected. Once in place however, these thoughts and structures tend to fossilize, become rigid and inflexible, corrupting into meaninglessness. (Obamacare being discarded and "destroyed" in favour of "Trumpcare" is a perfect example of this "one step forward, two steps back" policy: many Americans simply never realized the true value of being protected by the Affordable Care Act. I guess the only thing that counted was to destroy one of Barack Obama's greatest achievements. The fact that millions of Americans will now be unable to cover their health insurance costs, resulting in an exponential increase of disease, socially disabled persons and death, will take some time to sink in.) So then the whole show starts all over again, with the ever-present hydra of religion and politics always ready to extend a helping hand. (Religion is only a distorted reflection of our innate violence, after all.) Many of our current world leaders (Donald Trump, Recep Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, Kim Jong-un, Nicolás Maduro, Rodrigo Duterte, King Salman, Victor Orbán... and hopefully never Marine le Pen or Geert Wilders) fit this pattern to a T: they all want to revert the direction taken since the Enlightenment and tighten their hold on humanity's freedom. In many countries (Greece, Italy, Germany, Kroatia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Chechnya, Iraq...), strong idealist parties - usually led by some loudmouth aggressor or demagogue - are gaining influence and popularity. Even the freedom to think differently seems under siege. (I often point out that Nineteen Eighty-Four should be required reading for everybody. It rather forcibly drives home the point.) The scary thing being that this approach seems to work, because many people listen to these clowns and even vote for them. They must be really tired of the status quo, but of what exactly? I can't for the life of me see why people would find it offensive if other people live a happy and fulfilling life. There must be a deep and nagging emptiness in many people's lives feeding all this discontent. Or it might be plain old envy: it is simply intolerable that other people - whose lifestyle you disapprove of - should be happier or more successful than you. Anyway, it just ridiculous, stupid and unrealistic to want all the choiciest morsels for yourself - what about your 7 billion fellow humans? We all have to face criticism at some point; I guess one of the main achievements of truly growing up is learning how to handle that. Otherwise, we'd still be throwing rocks at each other. (One day, I hope to write a book about this, because I would really really like to understand 1) why the self-destructive streak is so strong in humanity, and 2) whether there is a chance to reverse the trend. But that is future music.)
So: happy Freedom Day. Feel free to reflect on, and thoroughly enjoy, the amazing amount of freedom you have, and remember that it took centuries of bloodshed, patience and suffering to get you there. If you squander history's greatest gift, next generations will suffer. We live in a critical age (one might even say Kali Yuga, the Time of Struggle), and it takes all of humanity's light to battle the descending darkness. Carl Sagan's "candle in the dark" seems to become an ever more poignant image.
(thanks to Arthur C. Clarke - The Nine Billion Names Of God for the blog title)