I recently attended a debate at the University of London on global politics and world leaders. Professor Stephen Chan one of the speakers (and a fascinating person altogether), this made a comment that has stuck with me ever since I first heard it: what is waiting for us in the future is unclear, but what is evident is that we are about to enter “an era of volatility”.
It is so easy to become wrapped up in the hysteria (made popular by media outlets like The Sun and the Daily Mail) that encompasses leaders like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, but how much actual power do they hold? We often speak of them as the great “dictators” of our time, and yet the first heavily publicised action Trump made (the travel ban) failed. In fact, it was blatantly illegal.
These powers are so often viewed as being strong, assertive and authoritative and yet we fail to recognise what they have truly evolved to become – interdependent. Many have argued that without China, the US would not have recovered so quickly from the 2008 financial crisis. It could even be argued that the power the leaders hold is hugely over-exaggerated, taking into account the “masculine strength” that they attempt to exert as actually being weak, dependent and vulnerable (with Putin being a prime example of this). I would even go as far as to say that this epitomises the society we live in today as it continues to breed a culture of fragile masculinity, to the point where we even see it take precedence in our leaders.
It is with this, however, that we have to begin to question whether the volatile nature of the leaders is the feature that makes them the most dangerous. Trump in particular is prone to outbursts as we’ve seen on Twitter, alongside firing acting US attorney general Sally Yates as soon as she dared to speak out against him (to name but a few of his numerous tantrums).
The state of global politics itself is unstable, dominated by three very unpredictable leaders. Does this mean they are weak to the point where they are destined to fail internally, or incalculable to the point where their next actions will be violent, destructive and cause irreversible global damage? Have we already reached this point?
I think we’re all guilty of internalising the pessimistic mindsets that have been so heavily drilled into us over the past few decades, but it’s important to adapt these mindsets into knowledge, and in turn, knowledge into action. I asked Dr Clark (the second speaker at the debate) what young people could do to ensure that we move away from the xenophobic narrative that has been made popular by leaders like Trump and media like the Daily Mail. He gave me an indispensable answer:
– Seek further education. The relationship between universities and the government is increasingly tense and the people in power don’t like critique. Make it your mission to learn and understand what is going on in the wider world.
– Maintain diverse networks of friends. Listen and engage with the experiences and opinions of minorities.
– Always be more intelligent than the media.
I think this response says it all: the “era of volatility” that we are entering is scary and concerning; the headlines we see in our newspapers are insensitive and oftentimes false; our leaders don’t always want the best for us and aren’t keen to make that known. But, it is the actions and efforts we make now to resist that will ultimately determine the wellbeing of the environment we live in in the years to come.
Written by Ella Nevill