When president Obama was re-elected last year, I was en route through the south of the US and as I stopped to refuel, somewhere at a far-off gas station, his acceptance speech came live on radio.
I stood still. I swung the doors wide open and turned the volume high. Barack Obama was performing. And he had a brilliant audience. Yes, he was president of this mighty country, yes, those who cheered along were mainly his supporters. But something more was in the air. Even more than in 2008. His speech marked two critical shifts, not only in America, but globally.
The first was demographics. The white hegemony was finally broken. Not only is the president black – again, but the voters of the States would no longer be dominated by the white block, nor by the issues fuelled by the (conservative) white block. This, to me, is not so much about the trumpeting of liberal values, but by the globalization of human culture. And with this I point to something deeper than commercial culture driven by multinationals. A spiritual sense of common humanity is now not only a moral cause, but a political reality.
When Obama spun one of his inspired verbal riffs, listing a wide range of human differences that do not count as primary definition of being American anymore, the crowd roared intensely. It was moving. It was even awe-inspiring. It shifted a whole historical epoch. And it did not come from a politically correct white. But from one with mixed ancestry who feels more than one world running through his veins.
The second, intimately related to the sense of a common humanity, is that of a common destiny, no more clearly defined than by a looming environmental catastrophe. In the land of the strongest lobbying against climate change legislation, with world’s mightiest energy companies locked into an oil paradigm, in the land that should have been a leader in drastic changes to human consumption but lags far behind, the people cheering Obama reserved their loudest and most thundering cheer for his single phrase that referred to tackling global warming. To my musically trained ears, that sforzando was unmistakable: a reflection of a growing frustration with inaction and pandering to vested interests in the status quo.
And this is where the two shifts converge: a global humanity turning its focus to the present, to matters of concrete urgency. We know by now that the shift, or the end or the beginning cannot be tied to a single day in December 2012, nor can Obama’s speech be regarded as the shift in itself. It only reflects it, yet in a potent and undeniable way.
We are in for a rough ride. The comfort and security (along with all its atrocities and misguidedness) that the West provided for the last centuries are slipping away. And still there is not much in sight to orientate us effectively for the challenges ahead. Perhaps we are in for an age of improvisation, where there is no time anymore for elaborate preparations and affectations. Immediate creativity, breathing the moment, finding the whole in each detail.. perhaps these are some of the skills that is called for more and more.
Along with an intensified sense of appreciating and living each day to the full.