Chances are that 2022 will go down in the books as the end of European peace after WWII. In those 77 years, we built a society based on great ideals: never war again, democratic decision-making, and prosperity for all. It was an era of humanity. But in 2022, dehumanization set in.

Dehumanization arose from ideals turned into their opposite. Of course, the postwar – or now interwar – period was not a swell time for all. Military showdowns were never far away. The weaponized arm-wrestling of the Cold War,  conflicts in and around the Middle and Far East, in the Balkans, and not forget the Falklands War. There were economic crises and political disagreements. But the general feeling was that we were moving forward. That things were getting better. That all the work was done for the well-being of humanity.

That feeling is lost. It has dissolved in conflicts resulting from a one-dimensional pursuit of those ideals, from their imposition and exploitation. And maybe as a result of a naive notion that our ideals would be universally valid as well.

The ideal of never having war again brought NATO into existence, a defensive alliance forged to curb the threat of communism. But after the fall of the Wall, the alliance also became a vehicle to expand the free market economy and to further push back the old enemy.

Likewise, democratically intended governance distanced itself from society at large to whom participation had been promised. It turned into a system in which elected governments primarily occupied themselves with paving the way for global businesses.

The ideal of prosperity for all thus became the ultimate revenue model to be promoted, imposed, protected, and exploited at all costs and by all means available. The Russian attack on Ukraine was both a harsh response to this and the manifestation of the dehumanization of society that had been bubbling under the surface for decades before. Climate change and all its consequences are no other than the direct result of the rape of Earth’s ecosystem, which may culminate in the dehumanizing of the entire planet.

Because of conflicting interests and agendas, conflicts that have taken on a life of their own continue to pile up. We play soccer and buy gas in Qatar, where human lives are valued as construction costs. While ex-President Trump aims to abolish the US Constitution, Elon Musk allows free speech for extremists and disposes himself of staff like a pair of worn-out shoes.

We attend climate conferences in dictator-led oil states and we allow oil companies to get even richer over an energy crisis that could bring down the entire society. Not to speak of China, Iran, Israel, Hong Kong, or the U.S. Supreme Court and abortion rights. Of  European decision-making taken hostage by elected dictators and a proposed coup in Germany.

We raped society, politics, and the climate, just because we could. We will have to bear the consequences. But resigning ourselves to the fact that there is no alternative is not an option. Eventually, every movement gives birth to a counter-movement. The notion of sustainability is one of those. The Ukrainian people, despite all their misery, prove that hope cannot be suppressed. As many young people do, despite their stolen future. As many minorities do, despite being denied. And as many elderly do, because they remember. We continue to hope. Because we can. And because to stop hoping is not an option.

Peter van Vliet