2017 In Review
Remember this meme that went around last December?
Haven’t seen too many 2017 versions of this one. Perhaps in 2016 it was a little easier to make jokes about how awful things were. Here at the end of 2017 it feels a little too…real.
I’m not going to write a list of all the terrible things that happened in 2017. There are going to be enough of these floating around the internet soon enough. But since we do live in interesting times – lucky us! – let’s talk about some of the trends and forces which have made 2017 so…interesting.
I’m in my late 30s and I cannot remember a time when the world wasn’t going to hell. When I was a child in the 1980s, it was the ozone layer and environmental degradation which were going to kill us all. As a somewhat nihilist teen in the 1990s I was convinced that society would collapse under the weight of consumerism and moral decay and I wasn’t too sure I was upset about it. In the 2000s, society was endangered by war, terrorism, more global warming, and global economic collapse. And here in the late 2010s, we’ve inherited all of the problems of the 2000s along with some reinvigorated fascist and other proudly retrograde hate movements.
So the ordinary human condition, as far as I can tell from the past couple of decades, is impending and unstoppable doom. And yet…somehow or other some things do get better, at least some of the time. The ozone layer ceased to be a thing (it’s one of the great successes of the environmental movement, actually! Look it up). The global economy has more or less bounced back. And those proud hate movements which surprised everyone by popping back up this year have only gained power and relevance in the face of real achievements in social justice. Truths which have gone unspoken for decades – that powerful men routinely harass and abuse those under their control, that police routinely abuse and harm othered and racialized people – are now spoken and acknowledged, and while the tendency of the powerful to abuse those with less power is probably never going to go away, these bells cannot be unrung and these genies cannot be returned to their bottles.
We read a paper in the last CIAP reading group called “Splitting Difference: Psychoanalysis, Hatred, and Exclusion”. It’s a dense read but a fascinating one. The paper is a valiant attempt to grapple with understanding the psychological roots of structural racism. TL/DR, the author (Simon Clarke) makes a good case that racism is an attempt to meet unconscious, irrational collective needs. If that’s the case, then we can read these resurgent hate movements as a reaction to the “threat” of social change and social justice…and if those forces are being activated, then maybe something is really happening.
So let’s start 2018 in this spirit of limited and realistic optimism. Sometimes we’re able to make positive change in the world, and if nothing else we can hang on to that. It’s a start, anyway.
Oh, and the best 2017 spin on this meme that I’ve found so far would have to be this one: