There’s a general tendency to ascribe to one’s own lifetime a degree of exception unrivalled by any other generation. As a boomer that means The Beatles achieved a musical epitome unmatched since Mozart, or maybe it was rolled over Beethoven. For Dylan you had to go back to Shakespeare in the alley. And while we kind of knew that we didn’t invent sex, surely we could lay claim to its oral and positional varieties. Kama Sutra you say? Well, we were reanimating and enhancing lost values. Or so it goes. Thus it’s with some trepidation that I make the case that 2011 will be viewed as a year more remarkable than most.
Start with the death of tyrants. Gadhafi, Kim Jong-il and bin Laden. Quite the hat trick. Good guys like Vaclav Havel, Steve Jobs and Chris Hitchens weren’t spared either. No disrespect meant to women or cultural phenomenons like Elizabeth Taylor, Amy Winehouse or Cesaria Evora but their deaths won’t be viewed as historically important.
Then there was the triple threat catastrophe of earthquake-tsunami-meltdown in Japan. In terms of immediate deaths it was dwarfed by the 2004 tsunami that killed a quarter million in south-east Asia. But its consequence may be greater. Shortly thereafter Germany suspended all nuclear projects which could have grave implications for carbon energy alternatives and global warming.
The worldwide occupations deserve a mention. It’s been a long while since we’ve seen global movements protesting for the same cause. That is, the ever-growing imbalance between the rich and everyone else. While it’s unclear at the end of 2011 whether this movement will last, it highlights a trend that isn’t going away anytime soon and one that undermines social justice and democracies everywhere. But the remedies are complicated and whether, in the U.S. for instance, they’ll be able to approach the political influence of the Tea Partians (thank you Tom Cordle) is doubtful.
It’s more than a little out of the ordinary that Britain’s biggest selling newspaper gets shut down over a phone hacking scandal, while the likely next president of France is knocked out of the race when he may or may not have raped a hotel maid. In Iraq, a war is over, sort of. Will a civil variety take its place? Closer to home the Republicans continued their descent into madness.
But two 2011 occurrences are apt to have multi-decade ramifications. One is the Euro crisis. It hasn’t had nearly the attention it merits, at least on this side of the pond. Here on OS only old new lefty has given it much play. Very briefly, at risk is the survival of the Euro and the EEC as we know it. A few short term “fixes” have come and gone, the UK now has maneuvered itself into a sideline position and a main proposed remedy emphasizing balanced budgets with penalties for non-compliance has already drawn criticism for its anti-Keynesian implications. It’s no better than a coin flip that the Euro will remain the common currency of most countries and that a more severe recession will be avoided. With today’s globally linked economies, this can only exacerbate the U.S.’s profound economic challenges.
The Arab spring is hugely consequential. Dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya were toppled and Syria’s is teetering. We all welcome greater democracy. But the great unknown is how well it will take root. Egyptians have elected the Muslim Brotherhood who have pledged to allow a decent level of civil liberties. The second party, the Salafists, received close to 25% support. They would ban alcohol, require women to wear the burqa, and segregate the genders in school. It’s an open question whether the new Mid-East democracies will wind up following a Turkish or an Iranian-style governance. In either case it creates much uncertainty in Israel and its steadfast supporters here.
A few issues will be of great import soon enough, though they just chugged along in 2011. For the fourteenth consecutive year far too little was done to prevent global warming. I sincerely hope that right wing columnists, the oil industry, its astroturf groups and its band of eager dupes and spinners are correct in contending there’s nothing that can be done because it’s either not happening (a favorite argument in 2009 after 2008’s temperatures were depressed by El Niño) or that it’s a natural cycle on which carbon emissions have no bearing. I do hope they’re right and I hope too that they tell their friends and family, especially the younger members; how they’re doing everything they can to thwart efforts at reducing carbon emissions. Just so deserved credit can later be accorded.
A pre-emptive nuclear strike against Iran took another step forward with a couple of Republican candidates signing up.
I caught a snippet of an interview where Janet Napolitano said that one of their biggest worries was a dirty bomb being smuggled in and set off. Back in the 70s I reckoned it was a matter of time that a powerful nuclear device could someday fit into a suitcase and that come that day, how long before some glory-seeker with a cause would feel destined to use it. It hasn’t happened yet but…
On a cheerier note, has anyone been following the breakthroughs in 3D printing? In fact, “printing” is a misnomer. It’s using a printer-like device that deploys a wide range of chemicals to create any 3D object that can be modeled on a computer. This will revolutionize manufacturing everywhere. Check out The Economist’s articles here and here.
I’ll take this opportunity to wish the OS community a happy New Year. And a special shout-out to the extraordinary number celebrating their birthdays tomorrow. It wouldn’t be a New Year’s post without some party music, so…