…and I feel ambivalent.
That doesn’t rhyme. With apologies to Michael Stipe and Co., nothing else has occurred in any sort of rational way in 2017, so why should I come up with a clever lyrical parody? I’m just trying to figure it all out.
So here it is. The end of a really weird year.
Am I wrong for thinking there’s more than a hint of despair in the air? Like there’s a decline occurring in our society that we’re all powerless to stop. Maybe after the roller coaster crashes, we can dust ourselves off, and try to figure out what to do next. But applying the brakes and making sense of the ride while en route feels futile.
On the other hand, it’s possible that the despair is overstated. I’ve written about this before. The world is, for the most part, getting better, not worse. On a worldwide scale (as well as at most individual national levels), war, disease, crime, poverty, child mortality, oppression of women – all of these factors have improved greatly over the last century. The trend lines have shown them to have improved over the last 50 years, the last 20, the last ten… Only in the last two or three years have certain indicators turned negative, particularly involving warfare between and within nations. But this uptick, when viewed from a distance, is likely part of the usual cycle of spikes and drops within the larger downward slope of worldwide violence.
It must appear somewhat cold and callous to seem to write off bloodshed, chaos, misery, and suffering in Syria, Egypt, Myanmar, Venezuela, South Sudan, Iraq, North Korea, Ukraine, and other hotspots around the world as a mere historical blip. Indeed, these are very real problems. Problems that require concentrated attention from diplomats, humanitarian aid workers, and the bureaucracies of several powerful nations – all actually working with some alacrity to address these crises. But when a relatively privileged American views these emergencies on the news, they all tend to blend together into a red blur. A certain despairing malaise takes hold, and many feel a sense of general unease about the world. It’s no wonder many people retreat into the open arms of the blunt orange instrument inarticulately railing about the horrors of the modern world. The only solution, he proclaims, is to wall ourselves off, keep the people with that religion from getting in, and to strike a belligerent tone to scare others away. When everything in the world seems terrifying in a somewhat generic and slightly-scripted sort of way, there’s comfort in locking our doors and telling the neighbors to go away.
That’s precisely why I try to acknowledge the real problems of the world, while still taking the long view. Even with the Fearmonger-in-Chief in Washington, we still do live in perhaps the safest, securest, healthiest, and best-educated era in the history of humanity. Yeah, we’re likely going to see the negative blip grow a bit more, and we may backslide some, at least until we can get the Dorito stains off the nuclear football… but there’s no reason the world has to backslide all the way back to the Dark Ages. No reason, despite what Fox News tells you when they show pictures of battlefields and terror attacks half a world away.
But work is required to prevent that backslide. Just because it doesn’t have to happen doesn’t mean it can’t.
It’s a good idea to at least take a quick look at the damage of 2017.
In charge of my home nation is a man who appears to have a superpower – he can deny and resist objective reality. His weaknesses involve people telling him the truth, which is why he seems to prefer his advisors with spinal columns pre-removed, to improve their sycophancy rate.
How does one resist a man who simply denies the facts? Who proclaims lies true? Who proudly brags about assaulting women, then later claims the televised evidence is somehow a fraud? Who accuses his predecessor of treachery without providing any evidence? How does one combat misinformation when a significant percentage of the electorate becomes MORE convinced of their worldview when confronted with opposing factual information?
How do we resist a man who is staggering toward war with North Korea? The North Korean government, it should be noted, is propped up primarily by scaring its citizens into constant fear of the United States. If the US government decided tomorrow to leave Kim Jong Un alone, he would likely be deposed within a few years. But instead, we have a President who hurls childish insults toward the dictator via Twitter, and uses apocalyptic language when directly threatening to obliterate a sovereign nation.
I could go on. We could talk about Russian interference in American elections – a fact proven by multiple intelligence agencies – and alternately denied and dismissed by the one person with the most power to do something about it.
We could discuss the enormous rollback of environmental regulations. We could talk about the re-militarization of American police. We could discuss the return of voodoo economics. We could talk about the gradual sabotage of the Affordable Care Act. We can discuss the political party in power doing their damnedest to obstruct investigations into potential crimes committed by the POTUS. We can talk about constant, unapologetic corruption at the highest level of American government. We can talk about the fact that the current president’s primary interest seems to be dismantling every good thing his predecessor did, while accelerating the worst aspects of the prior administration.
And yes, I guess most of my personal sense of malaise and despair keeps dragging me back to the same stupid topic – Donald Trump. Well, Trump, and the 63 million people willing to play Russian Roulette with our government.
I swear, I know other things happened in 2017. Even though he would hate to hear it – not everything in America (or the world) centered around the Tantrum Tangerine.
From a cultural and social standpoint – we’ve seen massive conflict in the US… right wing extremist groups are on the rise, but being countered hard by anti-racist and anti-fascist movements, as well as enormously increased political participation by women, Democrats, liberals, leftists, LGBTQ citizens, and people of color. The #METOO movement exploded, seemingly out of nowhere – although not really from nowhere (for those who don’t benefit from systemic misogyny).
The Russian government continues to ratfuck everyone and everything. Syria is still essentially collapsed. Robert Mugabe resigned. The EU is still suffering from self-inflicted austerity-reinforced wounds. Democracy has backslid in nations like Turkey and the Philippines. The government of Myanmar is committing ethnic cleansing of a large minority population. Big chunks of the Arctic continue to melt. Puerto Rico was pummeled by a massive hurricane, and then intentionally neglected by the federal government. One of the best movies of the year was about one of the worst movies of the century.
And Francisco Franco is still dead.
I don’t know if 2017 has definitively been more chaotic than other years. That’s likely difficult to quantify – and it’s easy to become hyperbolic about it all.
But this shit has been weird.
Even with positive long-term trends, we live in a world that feels less stable. Uncertainty is in the air. Social change is occurring at a rapid pace. The role of the United States in world affairs is in increasing doubt.
Hell, even in my personal life, everything has changed. I moved from Missouri to Oregon, started a new job, and kind of rebooted my life. I started writing more fiction (possibly to be posted here some day).
But life continues. We still hurtle around and around through the void. The sun still does its giant nuclear reaction thing. And all these little, self-important creatures running around on this tiny speck in the suburbs of a medium-large galaxy continue to drive each other crazy.
I don’t think I can predict what’s gonna happen next year. But I plan to still be here, writing about it all. With any luck, I’ll be able to talk about it all again this time next year.
Good night, and happy new year.