The year is almost over and it’s that time again of frantic shopping and binge merriment, of meeting people you haven’t seen since, well, last Christmas; a time of false camaraderie, of debt accumulation, of non-ending festive music, of crowds in malls and elevated blood pressure levels drowned out by copious quantities of eggnog and other spirits. Amidst this madness, I try to take stock each year of where we have come as a species and where we seem to be headed.
In 2011, the world rocked for a second time on the consequences of fiscal irresponsibility, with Western Europe descending into its deepest economic crisis since WWII. Even the mighty BRIC nations are beginning to feel the slowdown in this connected world. The stock market behaved like a manic depressive. In another part of the world, the rocking was physical, when a giant earthquake/tsunami devastated Japan and reduced real estate prices near any nuclear facility in the world to a fraction of their former glory (we weren’t immune even in our small town by a lake in Canada, ringed by nuclear plants). In the Middle East, dictators fell like nine pins, ousted by a populace drunk on freedom but with no plans for ordered democracy and growth. Equally directionless, mobs stormed Wall Street and other financial centres to occupy public parks and achieve nothing but to register their protest; they left after being ingloriously ejected for causing civil disturbances, trailing broken reputations and human detritus in their wake. The workplace began to look more like a Dickensian workhouse, replete with exploited labour, Scrooge-like capitalists and hyper-specialization reducing humans to robots. Traditional news organizations wrestled with scandals over phone spying, and leaked documents from corporations and governments were being dumped on the internet for public entertainment. The traditional publishing industry cracked wide open with online retailers grabbing bigger pieces of the pie. Oh my, what upheaval!
Are we nearing the end of days, as the pessimists and evangelists constantly remind us? Have we mismanaged all iterations of human progress and dragged ourselves down into the mud from whence we came? Is the dystopian picture in my novel After the Flood coming true?
Then I tried to look on the brighter side. Africa made a comeback after decades of war, drought, pestilence, genocide and famine to clinch the top spot for growth over the next decade. The PIIGS (the second I is for Italy) of Europe realized that taxes, if paid, collected and spent wisely, do make sense and provide for a better standard of living. Citizen journalism came of age when the quality of articles continued to improve, diversify and outpace content from traditional channels (my journalist friends will disagree with me here) and social media actually led to the fall of corrupt governments. Authors reclaimed ground by embracing direct publishing models and sticking it to gatekeepers. And our troops came home for Christmas after removing themselves from that absurd theatre war in Afghanistan. Small credits to balance this ledger from its sharp tilt towards the right.
Merry Christmas everyone! Now that you have read this, do return to your Christmas busyness, it helps keep the bogeyman at bay. And please remember to raise an extra glass for global enlightenment in 2012.
I’m going shopping!