The silver lining of a terrible year

I don't recall ever feeling so consistently angry and frustrated, for so long, as I have felt in 2022. I thought large-scale war was a 20th century thing, but here we are again, with large parts of Europe gutted by criminal, unjustified, heinous warfare. I have been having a very hard time contemplating this desecration of our continent and the brutalisation of one of our peoples with equanimity. I feel angry from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep.

I also feel betrayed by a country and a people I used to love, and secretly still do; a country that now openly calls me a satanic, decadent, immoral, depraved, drug-using scumbag; that openly belittles and threatens my people; that makes a point of alienating me and of reminding me that it is pointing nuclear weapons at my backyard. And I feel frustrated with myself, for having been so wrong about this land and, to some extent, this people I used to love and still do.

So, as an exercise to help myself out of this horrific mental space, I will now try to discern the good in an otherwise disastrous year. And I will share this exercise with you in the hope that it might be helpful to you too.

This year has seen the free world go over the hump of the first truly global pandemic. Five years ago we were talking about the catastrophe we would face if a new virus, for which we'd have little immunity, were to quickly spread around the globe through air travel. Many thought of it as a likely scenario for the end of civilisation, and Hollywood portrayed it as such. Ominously enough, in the beginning the pandemic seemed to fit that bill perfectly: it was the nightmare coming true before our terrified eyes.

But governments in the free world, although initially slow to react decisively, quickly stepped up, developed and implemented what has proven to be largely effective strategies. Most importantly, the immense, overwhelming challenge of developing and distributing an effective vaccine for a completely new virus was met in an unbelievably short time. New messenger RNA (mRNA for short) vaccine technology came from idea to global rollout within just months. And the vaccines worked surprisingly well, with very few side-effects, statistically speaking, if compared to the roll-outs of previous vaccines and drugs (I and my partner have had zero side-effects after three doses, with the fourth coming soon). Over a dozen billion vaccine doses have now been administered, which has allowed the free world to reemerge from the worst of the pandemic in 2022. Millions of lives were saved, at the cost of statistically very few collateral losses.

If you had described these events to me three years ago, as a hypothetical scenario, I'd have said that you've been smoking too much weed. What Western societies have accomplished during this pandemic, as our normal lives in 2022 prove, is nothing short of extraordinary. And now, mRNA technology, having been overwhelmingly proven effective and statistically safe at an unprecedented global level, offers amazing new possibilities for fighting many other diseases, including cancer. This is deeply promising news. Out of the misery of the pandemic comes a brand new, uncannily effective weapon against our physical ills. Our governments and companies often get things wrong; sometimes even criminally wrong. But let us celebrate and recognise them when they come through for us like this.

Still on the theme of cancer research, this year has seen two other breakthroughs in effective new therapies. They use the patient's own immune system to attack the cancer, without the poison and side-effects of chemotherapy, radiation, and even surgery. With one of these new therapies, "All 14 patients [of rectal cancer] who were given the new drug ... were found after six months to have no trace of cancer. Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer center in New York could find no sign of the disease through physical examination, endoscopies, MRIs or other scans." With the other therapy, "A teenage girl's incurable cancer has been cleared from her body in the first use of a revolutionary new type of medicine." For the first time in my adult life, I truly believe we're beginning to unravel the puzzle of cancer and may, still in my life time, find true cures for many common types of cancer, without chemotherapy, surgery or radiation.

Yet the challenges we face go way beyond health care alone. Human-induced climate change, together with nuclear war, are the two greatest threats to civilisation today. Key to resolving the former is the development of an overwhelmingly abundant, practically free, non-polluting source of energy. For not only do we have to stop polluting the atmosphere while burning fossil fuels to produce the energy we currently consume, we need to produce much more energy yet, to enable recycling across the entire value chain, urban vertical farming and water desalination. I discussed this in a previous post.

And so it happens that, in 2022, a major breakthrough in clean energy production has taken place. For the first time, after 70 years trying, scientists have been able to induce nuclear fusion in a laboratory, thereby producing more energy than they had to use to start and maintain the fusion process. Yes, this doesn't mean that there will be a fusion reactor producing your home electricity tomorrow, but the significance of the accomplishment cannot be overestimated. Scientists have now proven the principle, which is usually the most challenging part. From now on it's a matter of engineering: scaling, cost reduction, deployment, distribution, etc. Make no mistake, these are still formidable challenges. But history has shown, again and again, that once we have a proof of principle, the engineering steps follow in surprisingly rapid succession to make the technology economically viable. We've seen it with airplanes, semiconductors, the Internet, mobile telephony, and so forth. So I, for one, do not dismiss the possibility, raised by the US government, that fusion reactors will be deployed in a decade. And even if it turns out to be three decades, we may still be just in time. The holy grail of clean, abundant, cheap energy production and sustainable living has never been so tangible.

These are epoch-making breakthroughs, and would by themselves make 2022 a year that future generations will celebrate as seminal to human wellbeing. But there's something yet more significant: the free world's outstanding reaction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Who would have imagined, just 12 months ago, that a notoriously dysfunctional European Union, a rusty and defunded NATO, and an American government facing historic levels of domestic unrest, would close ranks and rise to the challenge so quickly, and so effectively? The magnitude of what has been achieved is nothing short of seismic.

Let's take one example: for 30 years Germany had believed that the best way to deal with Russia was to establish so many links of economic cross-dependence that conflict would become impossible, due to overwhelming shared interests. Their industrial base, the biggest in Europe, thus became willingly dependent on cheap Russian gas and oil. Their military spending was notoriously low, since economic cross-dependencies were supposed to have circumvented any conceivable military threat from the East. And Russia was also a major export destination for many German goods, not the least of which were cars.

In 2022, within a few short months, German geopolitical and economic doctrine and infrastructure were turned on their heads. As I write this, Germany and Europe as a whole are importing no more gas from Russia. Alternative sources of LNG have been found and set up, and the associated logistics put in place. Germany's military budget shot up above 2% of GDP, as per NATO norms. Germany also came through and is now exporting weapons to help Ukraine defend itself, despite 80 years of a pacifist policy and cultural consensus that precluded that. These are seismic shifts for Germany, downright unbelievable in such a short span of time. And they represent an enormous economic sacrifice that the German people and government were overwhelmingly willing to make, in the name of freedom. How remarkable.

But what happened goes much beyond Germany. The West has come together in a manner very few of us would have thought possible. The speed and coordination with which the economic, political, military and logistic challenges of helping Ukraine and deterring Russia have been collectively addressed is awe-inspiring. For instance, despite fears that Europe wouldn't have enough gas to warm our homes, our gas reserves are now above average level. Our governments have, somehow, performed the miracle of radically restructuring our entire energy infrastructure within months, while helping one of our peoples fight a brutal war against a terrorist aggressor. And it's not just governments: the private sector, too, made the voluntary choice to write off tens of billions of investment capital to leave Russia, instead of helping their economy fuel a criminal invasion. Let the cynics digest that.

We got so used to normality in the West that we may have difficulty seeing just how extraordinarily... well, difficult it has been to secure that normality today. I'm still saving energy at home for moral reasons, but if I wanted to, I could run my thermostat at its usual level. Nothing collapsed. Even the energy price increases are now capped by the Dutch government. And despite not having applied for it, even I, who can afford the current prices, am getting money back from the government to help offset expenses. Moreover, inflation in other sectors of the economy is, somehow, declining, despite a large-scale war in our continent upsetting just about every conceivable cog in the value chain. This is extraordinary. What our governments have managed to secure is worthy of at least a sincere round of applause and gratitude.

2022 has shown the world that democracies not only work, they work better. Free governments work better. The peoples of the free world come together when things get serious. International cooperation among them is truly effective. And let's not forget: our militaries and military industrial complexes, which were much maligned before this year's war (something I admit to have been guilty of myself), have proven their worth and ability to defend our values against even the biggest foes. I am deeply thankful we have them.

Yet, none of the above is truly the greatest silver lining of 2022. That honour has got to go to the baptism of fire, the coming of age of the free world's newest, probably most vibrant and strongest democracy: Ukraine. The Ukrainian nation, its unique character, founding story, values and cultural cohesion have now been forged in the crucible of war. They can never be undone. Ukraine is a flower of freedom blossoming in the fires of hell. What the Ukrainians are doing is a formidable lesson to all of us in the free world: they remind us of the true worth and price of freedom, which many of us take for granted (I did, too, only a few months ago). Their struggle is awe-inspiring and epoch-defining; their light, the shiniest beacon of the free world, which will project its illuminating power forward for many decades to come. Their blue and yellow will reinvigorate Europe's flag for generations.

May 2023 bring them victory and an end to their suffering. And may all of us, myself included, never lose the capacity to discern the silver lining of history through the brutal fog of war.



  1. Bernardo, I wouldn't be so sure about nuclear fusion having just proven 'the principle'. If you go look at they, once again, pull the rug out from the so-called recently supplied 'proof'. Worth a read. I should say that I'm not anti-nuclear in principle myself, I do actually think nuclear will be needed for the future, but, at least so far, I'm not convinced that fusion has made a breakthrough as is currently claimed.

  2. Could you post more regarding idealism and ontology? Perhaps a mock conversation between a wise sage and a brash physicalist student. Or an exploration of topics such as mathematics, Platonism, and how they relate to idealism. As interesting geopolitics are, I quite miss the style of your old posts!

  3. I appreciate optimism as a virtue, but I think that the faith that you have in government and NGO policies, and the explanations that they give for implementing said polices, is misplaced. The bright technocratic future that we are being ushered to deserves to have it's motives carefully examined. The timing of the Ukraine war, coming on the heels of the end of Covid, is also suspicious. We are constantly being presented with dialectical arguments that hand us only one "right" answer (vaccines are good and if you ask questions, you're bad; war is bad and...oh, wait, I forgot, war is now good as long as you are killing the right people). My querulous tone bothers me, because I have for many years believed that your explanation of Metaphysical Idealism is the best explanation of reality. That hasn't changed. My suggestion for you, and I say this humbly and without sarcasm, is to please be more skeptical of those in positions of wealth and power.

    1. Thank you for the nuanced comment that verbalizes exactly the same conclusions I have come to

    2. I am happy finding such a comment of critical discernment and differentiation. I am a huge fan of Bernardos work, so it baffles me very much to get the impression the above essay could have been written by a student that's only informed by tv content. It does not reflect on internal causes for internal emotional states, it creates a polar image of black and white, it sees every raised matter in the angle of mainstream propaganda.
      As for me: I don't feel angry all day and I never was terrified of this virus that had written "agenda" all over it. Without sketchy injections I got its infection at least two times and didn't even get feverish, the second time my body shook it off within 4 days. And I can imagine that wouldn't be the case if I would have held my nervous system in states of permanent terror and anger.

    3. Icarus: I see. So because _you_ had a mild reaction to covid, then _everybody_ must react in just the same way, or better, right? Thus, the vaccine was unnecessary and saved no lives, right?
      Although I believe you made this comment without maliciousness, this doesn't change its effect, or your responsibility for it, at all: this is a slap in the face of millions of families worldwide, who have lost loved ones and livelihoods to covid. Your comment is, beyond misinformed, irrational and stupid, socially delinquent and I have only contempt for it. The only reason I allowed this disgusting nonsense here is to give myself a chance to say what I am saying now. I will not allow this any further. Your (misinformed, irrational and wrong) _opinion_ is irrelevant. We know what we know about covid, and its dangers, based on medical experience, research, and statistics. Covid is extremely dangerous to many, and the vaccines developed by Western companies in record time were life-savers at a massive scale. These are facts that can be studied on the medical literature.
      If the reason you follow me is because I happen to be making an argument against the mainstream when it comes to metaphysics, then you're following me for the wrong reason and I encourage you to critically review your position towards me. The only reasonable motivation to follow me is to think that my arguments have substance, and are based on sound logic and good evidence. I am not an anti-mainstream philosopher at all; I am pro-reason and pro-evidence. And when reason and evidence contradict the mainstream, then I _happen_ to find myself combating the mainstream. I based much of my argument on science; science made by the same kind of scientist that has developed the vaccine. Remember that before concluding whether I am your man or not.
      And as for your suggestion that I am basing my opinion of television, I can only remark about how painfully ironic that was.