Perplexing Times: Rising Xenophobia and Turbo-Capitalism

This is a poem that reflects on our present political climate, characterized by rising xenophobia and uncertainty, and considers how we can respond to this. I am not trying to scaremonger or suggest that we shouldn’t enjoy our current lives – I think this very important. I am more considering whether it is possible to move on to a better future without devastating ethnic conflict and nationalistic violence.

I appreciate that parts of this poem may sound very provocative, even offensive. However, this poem is more about how we can engage with past and use this to reflect on our present and our future. I am asking whether we can learn from the past or whether we are too caught up in the madness and rush of present. There are still haunting collective memories that, at times, penetrate into our consciousness, but we often suppress them to make our present lives bearable. There is not necessarily anything wrong with this – we all do this – but perhaps we may also feel a sense of frustration that we can never do enough to commemorate the past and apply these lessons to the present. Or can we?

How much do we care?

About the PAST

The present,

The future?

How much can we afford to care?

The need to live our lives,

to make the most of our finite existence;

the frenzied dance to ensure

that it was all worth it,



How much do we care?

This is the fugue that haunts me

That, at times,

penetrates the hustle and bustle of everyday life

How much?

The fugue that

Interjects the triviality and superficiality;

Do we CARE?

As long as we can take a selfie,

To capture every moment of our lives,

it was worth it.

How much can we afford to care?

We need laughter, enjoyment and thoughtless fun,

Yet when we laugh

Do we sometimes forget the past?

And if we forget the PAST,

Do we neglect the future?

‘Lest we forget’, we say

A passing remark,

Quickly forgotten,

 as we laugh at the next joke


We cannot neglect the future

Yet what can we do to direct its course?

And can we forewarn

of oncoming dangers?

If so,

Can we give the warning in time?

Can we stand at the hairpin bend?

And warn the small car

of the oncoming lorry,

hurtling around the corner

Can we stop the collision?

Or would it already be too late

the momentum too great

We push Sisyphus’ stone up the hill,

Take on the uphill battle of Vergangenheitsbewältigung,

Only for the stone to roll back down again,

Back to where it started,

Endless cycles of violence,

The Hydra of xenophobia rears another head,

as soon as we are struck with financial hardship;

with instability

as soon as we start to feel the brunt

 of vulture capitalism,

Pecking away at our insides,

Finger-pointing and prejudice proliferate.

Perplexing times.

Will Ariadne’s thread lead us to a better future?

will it show us the way out of the labyrinth;

out of our present perplexity;

Or will the Minotaur,

which we thought we slayed.

 Be resurrected

before we ever have the chance to escape.

Are we trapped?


Are we like Atlas?

Carrying not only the weight of this world

on our shoulders

But also the burden of a past world,

As well as the expectations of a future world?

In times of great hardship,

Ancient Greeks sacrificed the whole of the animal to the Gods –


It means ‘burnt whole’.

Yet have we

 sacrificed the PAST for the sake of the present?

How much weight can we bear?

How much can we afford to care?

Must we just dance on?

Dance on

Until the music stops.



Note: the word ‘Yolocaust’ is a direct reference to an art project by Shahak Shapire. Shapira noted that many people at the Berlin Holocaust memorial were taking selfies (as if a Holocaust memorial were some kind of opportunity for a trivial photo shoot and self-aggrandizement on social media) and generally not acting that respectfully. She used some of the selfies that people took and photoshopped the background. She stripped away the background of the memorial and replaced it with scenes from concentration camps, thereby making the selfies seem entirely inappropriate and grotesque.

The art project was not about chastising people for their actions but more about reflecting on how we engage with the past in an age of social media. The project considers what the past means to us today, where many people have no memory of the war or have no older relatives that can tell them about it.  If you would like to know more about this art project, there is an article on BBC News:

Other inspirations for this poem include Paul Celan’s ‘Todesfuge’; a painting called ‘Death on the Ridge’ (Grant Wood, 1935) painted after the Wall Street Crash; and the film ‘Tod in Venedig’ which uses a motif chain of laughter to symbolise death and decay.

Yet there are many different types of laughter. Laughter can be freeing, reinvigorating and full of carefree joy. At the same time, there is painful, bitter laughter which satirizes the tragic ironies of life; the kind of laughter that is more like crying. Adults often cannot cry – sometimes are not allowed to cry – and so they laugh in exasperation instead. Laughter seems like the only response, when it seems that there is nothing we can do to change a situation.

Laughter is the food of life, but it is also a response to life’s fragility and injustice. It is the overflow of emotion, both positive and negative.

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