Some thoughts as I sit alone on New Year’s Eve.
We’ve hit an important moment of healing in the cultural wars that divide us. I’m speaking here of the debate between the vast majority of people who thought that the new millennium and century began on Jan. 1, 2000 and those of us who can count who knew it didn’t start until Jan. 1, 2001. Well, that is over now, because both sides would agree that the first decade ends tonight with the last day of 2010. Our long national nightmare is at an end. My thoughts tonight are more about the last 10 years than the last year alone.
I’m having trouble thinking of a single serious problem we’ve resolved as a species, or even as a nation, in the last ten years. Climate change plows onward and our collective response is to take a page from the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook. We keep trying to Disbelieve the problem away even as it eats us. Ditto Social Security. Perhaps we could all join together and watch the High Brazil sequence of Erik the Viking as an object lesson on the effectiveness of this strategy.
We were led in to the worse economic disaster since the great depression by businessmen, political leaders, and our own greed. We’ve responded by allowing these same individuals to write the new laws governing their actions.
In 2001 we went into Afghanistan and in 2003 we went into Iraq. In both cases critics used the word “quagmire” and cited our experiences in Vietnam. In both cases those critics were attacked as un-patriotic and the comparisons to Vietnam were dismissed (the voices of dismissal included, I am ashamed to say, me – though not the questioning of patriotism). It is 2010 and still our troops are there.
I’ve been waiting for the cultural and political pendulum to swing back towards the left and it shows no sign of doing so. I’m increasingly afraid that things are going to get very ugly in this country. I keep thinking about Farenheit 451, a novel I believe is widely mis-understood. It isn’t the story of a society that was subjugated by oppression, it is about a society that willingly gave up its freedom in the name of safety, convenience, and entertainment. Society gave up its books because they were boring and hard. Next week I’ll go to an opening session of my college and will probably hear again about the need to accommodate our student’s unique needs and I’ll think of that anti-intellectual society Bradbury depicted, and then I’ll shiver a bit… and I’ll go back to my office and see what is happening on Facebook. I’ll go home where I’ll see a mass emotional commitment to celebrities and the figures of reality TV and remember the talking walls of Montag’s house and I’ll shiver a bit… and then I’ll turn on Netflix.
On a more personal level, at the beginning of this decade I had two living parents and three living grandparents, none of whom are with me anymore. I did not have a full-time job, now I do. With a few exceptions I did not know most of the people I would consider my closest friends today. I drove a 1982 Ford Mustang, I did not own a single dvd, and no one I knew owned a cell-phone. I still had a computer with a Pentium I chip. I believed in a god even though I had to keep jumping through hoops in my own thinking to do so.
I guess I was much more optimistic about the world in general and much more pessimistic about my own life a decade ago. Now the balance has shifted the other way.
Finally, we are now one decade into the 21st century, and still I have one big question that I’ve had for ten years now:
Where the hell is my flying car?
Happy New Year.