Just thinking of the last decade, now that it’s 2020, and of the coming one, and all that’s yet to crawl out of the nightmare pit where I throw my darkest and most cynical fears – a deep dark place, but I guess not deep enough, since they tend to climb out of there to run loose at every opportunity. Not that every monster now roaming around and digging up our gardens was one of mine; there are so many these days that bear no resemblance to anything I ever imagined, and you can’t blame me for those. I didn’t dream them up. I guess a lot of other folks are suffering jail breaks from ill-secured pits of their own. Sometimes it seems like somebody must be manufacturing the things and setting them loose on purpose, but that would be silly.
It seems to me like a particularly dense cohort of pit monsters set themselves loose over the last ten years, though maybe their prevalence was really just par for the course. Maybe we’re still too close to have gained a proper perspective. You could argue that every decade sucks in its own special way, and it’s not as if recent history supplies any dearth of awful ten year stretches, like, say, the one between 1910 and 1920 (what with WW I and the Spanish Flu), or the 1930s (Great Depression! The rise of Fascism!), or the 1940s for that matter, which were fine on this side of the pond, but not so good for Europe, Asia, and so on (WW II! The start of the Cold War!). Sure. Still, think back to the beginning of 2010, and all that had yet to go wrong. Think of what happened in those jam-packed years from 2010 to 2020.
At the time, you probably didn’t think that 2010 was such a terrific time to be alive – I know I didn’t. We’d just had a near global economic extinction event, the wars that arch-dimbulb W. had kicked off in the Middle East kept dragging on with billions, building to trillions, being expended to no particular effect while thousands upon thousands died, Osama Bin Laden was still running around, unemployment was still punishingly high, hovering around 10%, people in droves were losing their homes, and only the bailed-out robber barons of Wall Street seemed to have emerged unscathed – remember Occupy Wall Street? At the beginning of 2010 an earthquake killed over 300,000 people in Haiti, and by April the Deepwater Horizon was spewing what looked to be an apocalyptic volume of oil all over the Gulf of Mexico. It all seemed quite awful.
Yet as we began 2010, it was still before the rise of the Tea Party, the Freedom Caucus, and the fruition of the GOP’s Project REDMAP, launched that year, which turned gerrymandering and voter suppression into a science designed to roll back social progress and secure white minority rule; it was still before Putin consolidated his grip on Russia; before the Republican triumph in the midterms, and the resulting strangulation of the Obama presidency; before the abject failure of the Arab Spring; before the Syrian civil war; before Boris Johnson’s filthy lying big red bus, and Brexit; before Mitch McConnell’s rise in the Senate; before the stacking of the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary with right wing ideologues selected by private interests, and before we realized that the 2010 ruling in Citizens United was the harbinger of a decade’s worth of miserable, rights-destroying SCOTUS jurisprudence that would gut voting rights, unions, gun control, and Obamacare; before a toxic confluence of structural flaws in America’s democracy, Russian interference, lies spread through social media, and ignorant white rage gave us Trump; before we realized that Mark Zuckerburg would become a bigger threat to Western liberal democracy than Stalin ever was; before fake news, and Russian troll farms; before the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal; before the effects of global warming had begun to be seriously felt, when nobody really believed that one day soon California and Australia might actually burn to the ground; before anyone realized that liberal democracy was about to suffer a long decline as the center was eaten away by populism, nationalism, and incoherent anger focussed on all the wrong targets; before anyone would have found it possible to believe that a vital geopolitical institution like NATO could crumble to dust; before the rise of the god-awful rage factory and grievance arena that is Twitter; before we discovered that the media, including the news media, was rife with sexual predators, which meant that everywhere else had to be, too; before anyone could conceive of ICE concentration camps, and US border guards stripping children from their mothers and locking them in cold confines unfit to serve as kennels; before Sandy Hook, Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando, and dozens of others; before long-gone diseases like measles and mumps made a comeback owing to the efforts of the anti-vaxxers; before, even, having any idea who the hell Pepe the Frog was supposed to be inciting; it now seems, comparatively speaking, like an age of innocence.
Maybe they weren’t any worse than a lot of the truly horrid decades of the recent past, but the 2010s saw so many vital things go sideways. I don’t think we can weather a consecutive decade just like it, which means that altogether too much is riding on what we do next, and especially on what the American people, whom we are powerless to influence, do next. It isn’t just the future of Trump and Trumpism that needs to be determined. There are so many geopolitical, technological and societal trends that seem certain to spell disaster, at the same time that years of right wing effort have almost finished undermining the ability of the state to intervene in a constructive way to push anything at all in the right direction. We’ve never needed responsive, responsible government so badly, just when the various conservatives all over the western world have convinced the masses that government is the problem – except, of course, when it’s putting the boots to The Other with all the force it can muster.
Left unregulated, any number of forces that are now nascent, but won’t be for much longer, could wreak havoc with our freedoms, our quality of life, our prosperity, and even our life expectancy. In ten years time, will the rift between rich and poor have expanded to beyond the point where it can ever be bridged? Will everybody lucky enough to have any job at all be working three of them for minor ducats in the crappy gig economy? Will the world’s richest dozen people control more wealth than the 8.5 billion in the bottom 99.999%? Will the wealthy be turning themselves into superhumans with digital electronic implants, while the poor are left behind to serve as an underperforming underclass? Will every cop, government spook and capitalist grifter have an app that can recognize every human face on Earth, and from there collate everything there is to know about every one of us? Will each of us be tracked and targeted every step we take as we interact with a ubiquitous web of interconnected devices that monitor and mediate all social and economic transactions, while their embedded sensors see, hear, and record the goings-on in every nook and cranny of the civilized world? Will trucks and taxis be driving themselves around, while drones deliver pizzas and packages to our doors, and buzz around everywhere surveilling, intercepting, and harassing? Will artificially intelligent machines be diagnosing our illnesses, drafting our documents, writing our plays and music, while generally displacing us – and while they’re at it, planning and fighting our wars for us? Will the coming decade witness the first human deaths at the hands of fully autonomous machines? Will we live in perpetual fear of everything being hacked, when everything in our lives, from our doorbells to our TVs to our fridges to our cars to our damned sneakers and coffee cups are web-connected computers? Will some ransomware artist blackmail everybody on the planet one fine day by shutting down the entire misbegotten Internet of Things? Will any boob with 200 bucks to spend on a cheap consumer model be using his 3-D printer to run off assault rifles in his basement? What will the climate do to us? Will sea levels have risen high enough to swamp Venice, and submerge lower Manhattan? Will more and more of the world suffer vast wildfires and near-permanent drought? Will food supplies suffer in turn – is widespread famine just around the corner? Will Koalas and Polar Bears and a thousand other species be extinct? Will the oceans be dead, choked with plastic and devoid of everything but jellyfish? Will the bulk of the ice caps have melted, and will we seize upon that as an opportunity to search for yet more of the fossil fuels that’ll melt the rest, while the great powers vie for dominance of the newly navigable Arctic Archipelago and its North West Passage? Where will desperate people go when the rivers and lakes dry up all over the globe, and the seas rise to push populations away from the coasts? Will the overdue pandemic have finally scourged the planet? Will the Red State/Blue State paralysis grow even more crippling in America? Will the EU be in shambles? Will post-Brexit Britain be laying in ruins? Will totalitarian China have turned the Pacific into its own private property? Will Putin still be scheming away in Russia?
Will Ivanka be entering her second term as President?
Yikes! And this is just off the top of my head. This is just my little ill-secured pit of nightmares, and I’m not even getting started. I don’t know. I don’t think I’m much looking forward to the next decade, and not just because I’m reaching the age when everything now starts to fall off, stiffen into immobility, or spring leaks. I think it would be even worse to be on the cusp of adulthood, facing all the challenges we’ve negligently bequeathed to our children.
Sorry. You came here looking for sunny optimism, didn’t you? How about some Teletubbies? Nobody can be gloomy for long upon seeing some Teletubbies. Here, and forget everything I just said, what do I know, I don’t know anything, don’t pay attention to me for the love of Pete. Everything’s going to be fine, just fine.**
**That said, a lot of what I muse about above has already largely occurred, and, you know, things won’t be fine at all.