War, children, it’s just a shot away,

it’s just a shot away

THAT old number Gimme Shelter from the Rolling Stones has been going round and round in my head these last few days. The soundtrack to my thoughts about what the future holds – not just for folk in this strange part of the world, the West, where like you I live by accident of birth, but for us all, for humanity as a species.

The old order isn’t crumbling; it’s crumbled. Across the West, we’re in a state of undeclared civil war with each other – separated by identity and belief, with no collective values to hold the centre together any more.

The end of Roe v Wade in America is the latest peak we’ve reached – though it’s madness to imagine there’s not another mountain range of conflict still before us. In the West, we’ve become a people who hate each other; who want to strip the identity or the rights from those we’ve somehow decided are our enemies, even though they’re our neighbours, our family.

Everything in western political life is about the destruction of "the other". Smash abortion. Smash Brexit. Smash Europe. Smash Britain. Smash Scotland. Smash the woke. Smash boomers. Smash equality. Smash the right. Smash the left. Smash the centre. Smash everything that’s not "us", which demands ruthless tribalism and no quarter.

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Democracies are falling. Hungary is gone. Poland might go. Maybe France will sink soon, embracing the far right. The glue that held Britain together is undone; we can no longer say we’re a strong democracy.

Then there’s America. There’s now talk – that only the foolish would think foolish – of America descending into civil war. Of red states and blue states living lives so separate that America’s union no longer holds. Wasn’t that what the American Civil War was about: about human rights, at their most basic; the federal government moving in one direction, while slave states moved in the other. Isn’t that what’s happening now? How can America not split?

America is the greatest force in the western world; when it breathes our mirror steams. The shudder from American culture wars already runs through Britain. Soon there will be voices raised here at home, and across the rest of the West, saying strip rights away. America leads, after all.

We’re at war with each other so much in the West that we now target the rights of our fellow citizens. The British Government eyes the Human Rights Act.

Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away,

It’s just a shot away

Violence is everywhere. Even in Europe, we’re becoming used to political assassination and mass killing. We’ve seen two MPs murdered. Just this weekend a gunman in Norway singled out a gay nightclub for atrocity.

I cannot help but fear for my children, both young women. I may fear slightly less if I had sons, but still I’d fear nonetheless. I remember my grandmother telling me how throughout the 1930s anyone with a brain in their head knew something was coming, something dreadful. The signs were everywhere. The Depression. Spain. Manchuria. Omens of a coming whirlwind across Europe and beyond.

What if America goes? If its democracy dies? Where will we stand in the world then? Picture a far right candidate in the White House in 2024 as war in Ukraine rages on. What would Russia do then? Europe will be a cold, lonely place.

Hunger is coming to the world – in ways that may even make the African famines of the 1980s seem tame. Russia blockades Ukraine, the breadbasket of the planet. Where will war and revolution break out in the developing world if people cannot eat?

All the while, the giant China watches. America teeters, Europe cowers, Russia rages like a dying madman. Beijing just needs to wait and let us all destroy each other. We’re already in the foothills of the Chinese century. Our self-hatred and division is the propellant for Chinese dominance.

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Decadence is a strange word, but there’s a sense of decadence in the West; of dancing and partying at the edge of the grave. We’re drugged to the eyeballs on screens. We step over our homeless on the streets. We don’t care any more what kind of immoral liars lead us today.

Yet we know all this. We’re not bad, us ordinary people. We’ve not turned the world this way. But we’re weak. We’ve permitted what’s happening to happen.

A storm is threatening

My very life today,

If I don’t get some shelter

I’m gonna fade away

How do we end on hope? We need renewal or we’re done, and horror will be waiting for us somewhere. More violence? Violence on my street or yours? War? An assault on my rights, or yours? On my daughters’ rights? On your sons’ lives? Maybe not this decade, but certainly, it’s hard for a man of my years – now past 50 – to imagine that the future holds much promise or peace.


What is the great "unless"? What is the historical lever to pull to change the future? It must be renewal. But how to renew the West?

How can one man writing in a Scottish newspaper in the summer of 2022 as the world seems to bend on its axis have that answer? The question demands the thoughts and words of a billion minds. But we must renew. We must find a way to live together, to breathe fresh life into our democracies, to respect our differences. Most of all, we cannot wish to control the lives of others.

For isn’t that the curse now upon us? The desire to control each other. Or rather the desire by our "leaders" to twist and shape us in their image until we wish to control one another – until I want to control how you live your life, and you want to control how I live mine? Maybe the answer is as simple as rediscovering a little empathy for each other, rather than accepting the distance that politicians demand we put between us.

I tell you love, sister,

It’s just a kiss away

It’s just a kiss away

Go listen to the song.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald