WITH the crashing down of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, there was a tendency amongst Western intellectuals to conclude that everything would forevermore be hunky dory, and we could all look forward to a future of harmony and rationality between the peoples of the world.

Francis Fukuyama best articulated this belief in his book The End of History and the Last Man, published in 1992, while such ideas were given concrete expression when a number of technocratic politicians rose to the ascendancy in various nations.

Fukuyama and the technocrats (wow! isn’t that a great name for a rock band?) should have talked to me before investing so much optimism in this brave new world. Then I could have told them about … The Janice Effect.

Fans of the sitcom Friends will recall the recurring character Janice Litman-Goralnik, the former girlfriend of Chandler Bing. Every time Chandler assumes he has escaped Janice’s clutches, back she swaggers into his life, emitting her whiny New Yoik battle cry of surprise and delight: “Oh. My. Gawd!”

Chandler can never truly free himself of Janice. Just as our world can never untangle itself from the tentacles of irrationality.

Science and the analytical tradition rewarded humanity with the gifts of the vacuum cleaner and the microwave oven. Yet still our species hankers after the divine and the sublime. We are faith-based creatures who need religion in our lives, even when we don’t realise this is the case.

Religion, like Janice, won’t stay away. Though it now comes in a variety of new flavours, and isn’t always marketed as holiness.

Devotion is increasingly unlikely to take place in a church. Instead it happens online, where identity politics thrives, and its followers claim that ‘lived experience’ transcends hard facts and statistics. Which is rather like believing that a peasant’s vision of a saint has as much credence as the painstaking gathering of evidence to discover if a miracle truly took place.

Cancel culture is a modern form of excommunication. A method of marginalising the heretic and cowing others who may also start questioning beliefs. Certain ideas are deemed sacred and beyond dispute.

Spiritual devotion takes place in our sporting arenas, too, where footballers take the knee. Religion always articulates itself best in overt symbolism rather than reasoned debate.

The Brexit argy-bargy was as much a clash of faiths as it was a disagreement regarding the primacy of the nation state versus a more globalised world order. The British and EU flags became talismanic holy relics, fragments of the true cross, to be held aloft to ward off evil spirits.

COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which is held in Glasgow this month, will provide the latest spectacle of battling saints and sinners. The faithful from all sides of the argument will gather, chant, genuflect to their favoured gods, then pray for a better future.

Very little Fukuyama, in other words. But a whole lot of Janice.

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