2015: The age of the individual gathers pace

Drifting apart? The news in 2015 included Charlie Hebdo, refugees, racial protests and the SNP.

Amid war, terrorism and economic wrangling, we increasingly emphasised our differences from each other in 2015. But should we celebrate our individuality or emphasise our common humanity?

Less than a week after New Year’s Day 2015, two gunmen stormed into the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, and murdered 12 people in cold blood. ‘We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad!’ they shouted. ‘God is great!’

The assault, combined with a follow-up attack on a Jewish supermarket, set the tone for the news in 2015. It was not even the deadliest terrorist attack in Paris this year: in November, 130 people were slaughtered in a series of Friday night gun and suicide bomb attacks.

Conflicts plagued Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, where the death toll in the civil war passed 300,000. Terrorism and instability brought death to Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and parts of Africa. And nature wrought destruction, as almost 9,000 people died in two earthquakes in Nepal in the spring.

Millions of people, particularly Syrians, sought refuge from the misery in camps and attempted dangerous crossings of the Mediterranean Sea. As Germany and Sweden opened their borders and EU leaders urged countries to take more people in, anti-migrant and anti-EU movements gained supporters.

Anger about perceived inequality and austerity also fuelled the rise of previously fringe politicians and groups across Europe and beyond. When a new, populist left-wing government in Greece clashed with Europe’s established politicians, the euro reached the brink of collapse.

Separatism also gained ground in the United Kingdom. The government announced a referendum on the nation’s EU membership, and the UK itself looked in increasing danger after the Scottish National Party won an astonishing 56 seats at May’s election.

Alongside headlines focusing on national, religious and political identity stood others on race and gender issues. International attention was paid to the activists of Black Lives Matter, an American movement opposed to police and vigilante shootings, and the celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, who revealed her transgender status.

Divided we stand?

Individualists welcome the focus on identity which was so prominent in 2015. The human population is now 7.4 billion; we are each unique individuals, from different backgrounds, with different interests and natures. Celebrating the differences between us allows us to be ourselves; conforming to set standards only forces us to accept things we are uncomfortable with.

Universalists respond that such an attitude drives us apart and breeds suspicion. We should invest in the principles and attributes which unite us, rather than defining people by the nation they come from, the religion they follow, or their sexuality. There may be billions of us, but we all have a common humanity and a shared interest in its advancement.

You Decide

  1. Will you look back on 2015 fondly in years to come?
  2. Are you an individualist or a universalist?

Activities

  1. Write to someone your age who lives in the year 2115, telling them what you think they should know about life in 2015.
  2. Choose one newsworthy story or event that happened this year. Prepare a short presentation to your class explaining what happened and what changes could result from it in years to come.

Some People Say...

“What unites us is more significant than what divides us.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What is my identity?
It is who you are. Emphasising our identities means stressing the characteristics which are particular to us or which we share with a small group of people. This can be used to highlight the positive features of a particular group — hence, for example, the phrases ‘gay pride’ or ‘LGBT pride’. But it can also promote illiberal values or act as a divisive force, particularly if it places one group above another.
What might be in store next year?
This year’s news may have promoted understanding of our differences, or bred suspicion of them. Two political campaigns will gather pace: the US presidential race, which will culminate in November next year, and the fight over British membership of the EU. They are likely to give some insight into the way the world has changed.

Word Watch

300,000
Monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated in April that 310,000 people had died since 2011, and by June 2015 they had revised the figure upwards again, to 320,000. This represented a significant increase on the figure of 162,402 in April 2014.
Anti-migrant
Parties which oppose admitting refugees have gained support: the German movement Pegida, the Sweden Democrats, and France’s National Front. Hostility grew particularly strong after the Paris attacks increased suspicion that Daesh fighters might be among the refugees.
Fringe
The victory of Syriza in Greece’s election in January proved to be an omen for other populist left-wing movements: Podemos enjoyed success in Spain, Britain saw the shock election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, and Bernie Sanders gained popularity in the USA. On the right, US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump enjoyed a surge in the polls.
56 seats
The SNP only contested Scotland’s 59 seats; it failed to win in just three seats: Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats held on to one each.

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