"Listen, Cordelia. If a god had made the world, might would always be right, that would be so wise, we'd be spared so much suffering. But we made the world - out of our smallness and weakness. Our lives are awkward and fragile and we have only one thing to keep us sane: pity, and the man without pity is mad." - Edward Bond, Lear.
Of course, Bond rewrote Shakespeare's play, itself concerned with the violence of enclosure and the accompanying riots, for an age in which species-death forms the horizon of human possibilities. The age of racially organised extinction has given way to the age of wholesale planetary obliteration. Apocalypse is the norm. The best news of last year, apparently, was that after an estimated 1.2 million deaths in Iraq, and a massive spike in aerial attacks, the rate of resistance attacks on US troops fell in the last four months of the year. This was, by the corrupted logic and morality of the 'war on terror', a feel-good story.
About Afghanistan we are told little. No surveys keep track of war-related deaths there, and it is almost impossible to do so. The rate of air assaults there was even greater, but journalists don't run around among the mud huts if they want to live, and the military only has to listen to the feedback when a local notable turns out to be not entirely in the occupiers' pockets. Somalia has been devastated, turned into a humanitarian crisis to rival Darfur by a US proxy war. Gaza was attacked again and again over Christmas, and the population there continues to starve, for the sake of what Professor Dugard, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, rightly labels as racial supremacism. War with Iran drew close, and was then blown out of the water for the time being by the NIE - although insane calculations like this continue to be made. I can't tell if it's better or worse than the previous year's cost-benefit analysis: "Half of Lebanon is destroyed; is that a loss?" In Britain, the government re-committed itself to the possession of a nuclear arsenal, on the terms elaborated by the Bush administration - new mobile fleets of nukes and mini-nukes, capable of destroying population centres almost anywhere in the world, expanding their potential range to cover the whole planet.
The evolution of violence is telescopic: each step in its refinement and escalation takes less and less time. Structured by grievous social injustice, animated by irrationalist ideologies (Manifest Destiny, Clash of Civilizations, War on Terror etc), wielded by power structures that are impervious to the humanitarian lectures they themselves willingly dispense and insanely content with the colossal human cost of their policies, global violence reaches and breaches new threshholds in the space of months, not years. The potential for new peaks of depravity is almost as limitless as the capacity for allowing each new ongoing atrocity to slip tactfully into the background. Soon it becomes normal. 100,000 deaths is shocking until it becomes 650,000, which is in turn stunning until that again almost doubles. So, allow me to remind you of the exponential function: if the rate of death in Iraq doubles each year, as it has been doing consistently, then about 1.3m will have died between June 2007 and June 2008. Then a further 2.6m the next year, and so on. If the occupation were to end in the middle of 2010, which is extremely unlikely, total deaths on current trends would reach ten million. And if it did come to that, it would soon be forgotten about.
So, there's all that and the looming recession, which is certain to usher in further 'pay restraint'. Have a good one.