Everyone else seems to have a year-end list or wrap up or summary, so why not me? I usually don’t spend much time dwelling on a year gone by, and I never make New Year’s resolutions. But somehow this past year demands some retrospection. I believe that decades from now 2011 will be looked back upon as a watershed year, one of those years when serious things happened that changed the world.
Just off the top of my head:
- The Arab Spring revolts toppled a number of dictators, with more to come, and other revolts and protests occurred worldwide as ordinary people started to express their displeasure at the way things are going, whether politically or economically. In the weeks before Time magazine named their Person of the Year I had already decided that the protester should be so honored, and apparently the magazine’s editors agreed.
- In the United States the protests are centered around the increasing division between rich and poor. The Occupy Wall Street protesters are complaining about this inequality and the political power of the 1%. The deregulation of the banking industry, bought and paid for, allowed the banks to do whatever they pleased, privatizing profits while socializing risk. Yes, a certain amount of responsibility lies with people who borrowed more for housing than they could afford, but they were trusting the banks who were willing to give them the money.
- The partisan divide in Congress gets worse and worse. The far right has prevented any sort of progress in dealing with the nation’s problems, saying no to any action, especially anything that would raise taxes on the rich. Let the poor pay for it.
- I see a continued diminishing of our civil liberties. The over reactive Patriot Act following 9/11 has been renewed, and additional measures continue to be added that deprive citizens of due process.
- There’s been an unusually large number of natural disasters this year. There was an earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and then there were a huge number of weather-related events that could be blamed on global warming: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and droughts. I’m beginning to see cracks in the arguments of the deniers, though; where previously they denied that the earth is warming they are starting to accept the facts — but are continuing to question causation.
- I don’t know if other people are noticing, but I see an increase in the battle between religion and secularism in our country. Non believers are increasingly coming out of the closet and making their voices heard, demanding the constitutionally granted separation of church and state, with the churches now pushing back and demanding their “rights” — as if they haven’t been in control for the past couple of thousand years. I have no problem with people having their personal beliefs, but please leave me out of it. Don’t preach your beliefs in public – especially in our schools, and don’t codify your beliefs into laws that I have to obey. The courts seem to be doing a pretty good job of enforcing the Establishment Clause, but somebody has to bring suit for each instance, and there’s a awful lot of them.
- The race for the GOP presidential nomination, now entering its third year, is a circus. A field of a dozen or so has been whittled down to half that number, with the last few months being a game of Whack A Mole, one candidate popping up and topping the polls only to be quickly exposed as a clown. There’s only two or three viable candidates at this point, and the good citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire are given the right to make the decision of who we get to vote for ten months from now.
As I look through this list I see a common theme: extremes. Extreme left and right in politics, extreme rich and poor. Extreme weather. What we need is a bit more moderation, a bit more effort to understand one another, a bit more tolerance. But hasn’t that been the case for thousands of years? I read a lot of history, and, as the saying goes, “the more things change the more they stay the same”. The details may differ but the basic theme is the same.
For example: I’ve been reading the book History of the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom by Andrew White, co-founder and first president of Cornell University. He details the development of science over the centuries and how the Christian church has continually fought it, a prime example being the silencing of Galileo. The church’s position over two millennia has been first, that there is no need to study the earth and skies because the end of the world is coming soon so that knowledge will come to naught and we should be focusing on saving our souls instead; and second, that all knowledge and wisdom is found in the Bible, so there is no need for independent investigation and experimentation. Using multiple examples, White shows the stages that the church has gone through, from demonizing and silencing the discoverer of new science, fighting the science, explaining away then gradually accepting the proofs, and then finally adopting the science and claiming it as their own once the evidence is shown irrefutable.
White’s book, published in 1896, demonstrates to us how little things have changed. Here we are 115 years later, seeing the same battles between science and religion. Creationism is being taught in public schools under the name of “intelligent design”. Faced with overwhelming evidence supporting evolution, believers have gone from denial to co-opting the science and putting a theological stamp on it.
On a personal note, much has happened this year as well. I got married to C, and we turned a business trip I had to Florence, Italy into a bit of a mini honeymoon. I was traveling a lot for business during the late summer and into the fall, some times for three weeks straight. My son came to live with us for the summer, and we had all of our children with us for Christmas. We’re still feeling the effects of the poor economy; we both lost our jobs a few years ago and while I’ve been working the past two years it’s at a salary equivalent to where I was 20 years ago, plus we’re having to start over on retirement savings at age 50+. But we have a cozy little home and enough food to eat, so we’re fortunate.
I’m continuing with too many hobbies but am hindered by restrictions on money and space. As I’ve done every year my books-read tally is pretty good: this year only 32, but some of them were pretty big. I ride my motorcycles as often as I can, though I haven’t had the time or money for any long trips; I’m hoping to ride cross country next year. C and I rode our bicycles a bit more than the previous year: we found a bike path that we enjoy, though it requires loading the bikes in the truck and driving twenty minutes. And, in search of a cold-weather hobby that doesn’t take up much space in the house I dug my ham radios out of the basement and set them up again; a new antenna should get me on the air again.
All in all, it’s been a strange year. I really hope that 2012 settles down a bit.