Let’s begin by getting something straight: Time is a continuum, irrespective of our human desire to categorize it into arbitrary chunks. In the cosmos, there is nothing significantly different from one orbit of the planets to another. So there is nothing inherently “bad” about 2020 or “good” – or even better – about 2021. Only our saying so makes it appear to be true, but really, it is not. So Happy New Year just the same.
“I think that you will all agree that we are living in most interesting times. I never remember myself a time in which our history was so full, in which day by day brought us new objects of interest, and, let me say also, new objects for anxiety.”
Although these words were spoken in 1898 by the British statesman Joseph Chamberlain, I think they are certainly apropos of the just-retired 2020 as well. It’s fair to say there is little that has not changed in our lives, for worse and for better. There’s a lot of dour negativism in regard to 2020, and an accompanying optimism about this new year of 2021. I’m not saying it isn’t deserved, but can we not simply admit that our lives were in need of some serious change? How did we get hit so hard with this pandemic? Simply, because we – as individuals, as a people, as a country and its government – were unprepared. Perhaps we collectively thought it couldn’t happen to “us,” and even if it did it wouldn’t be a big deal.
That, all the way up into the highest levels of government, had to have been the rationale. The Administration failed to act and is responsible for the dire consequences. But so are we, the people of this fragmented republic.
Not only that, but even once it had happened, a plan for how to deal with it never took shape – all the way to administering the vaccine. The ineptitude was incalculable and unforgivable.
Not about COVID
Today’s thoughts are not about the pandemic and our near-failure to address it, but rather about change and how we, humans all, resist it. Without change we don’t grow, evolve, or come up with new ideas for our creative projects. That’s why I’ve been thinking about the wide range of change (irregardless of COVID) we’ve experienced over the year 2020:
- Our deepening understanding of the nature of the universe and the galaxies that populate it (while the Big Bang itself remains stubbornly unexplained); it’s not just about I-Me-My and our inconsequential little Earth
- How many artists suffered or failed in their writing or painting or filmmaking for many years before finding a satisfying reception (there is rarely an instant success), yet 2020 was a great year for books
- The unremitting growth of China and the inevitable time when America is no longer #1 in the world (as we continue to hoist ourselves, changelessly, on our own petards); high time we start recognizing the American Way is not the only Way
- The dire consequences that befall us in our misguided pursuit of wealth and power, overlooking all that is truly important;
- The redefinition of warfare – from men killing each other to dueling computers – and the evaporation of conquest and ever-increasing proxy wars
- And speaking of computers, living life at the mercy of the Internet of Things; and the incredible dangers to humanity that will result if (or when) a computer is designed that can come up with a Theory of Everything
- The Massification of Enterprise – corporate consolidations, for example in book publishing, which will at some point surely kill business as we know it; what then?
These are some of the matters that have been running through my mind as I consume the daily newspapers. (Probably not a good idea; newspapers are, by and large, a mosh pit of the world’s troubles) There are other things I see troubling society, some which run to personal tastes and predilections, some which are seemingly more transient and easily set aside. The less I concern myself with them, the better person I become.
Mostly I think about the notion of change, and how it is paid such faint lip service and ignored as a resource of the common good. Discussions of how long we have to wait for things to return to “normal” abound. Duh. Very little will remain unchanged. The viruses could end the human race. Obviously, we really don’t want to change.
But we are changing. How can we not? How can we avoid thinking about a new, more interesting world? A more carefully wrought and pleasing way of life? Do we not want to live another day to assure a bright future for our kids and grandchildren?
I’ll close my ruminations with another quotation, lyrics from the Steve Miller Band’s spot-on (and so ignored) 1969 song, “Space Cowboy” (© Sailor Music):
And the time’s keep on changin’
So I’m keepin’ on top
Of every fat cat who walks through my door
I’m a space cowboy
I’m sure you know where it’s at . . .
Next week: A review of the audiobook, Fair Warning, by Michael Connelly