Thursday, January 1, 2015
FROM 2014 INTO 2015: A NEW YEAR IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE
CELEBRATING AN END AS MUCH AS A BEGINNING
SOME OF WHAT WE LEARNED AND WERE FORCED TO SEE
Good Riddance 2014
TAGS: 2014 – A VERY BAD YEAR, INNATE PRAGMATISM,
WHAT WE LEARNED, WHAT WE THOUGHT WE KNEW, AND HOW OFTEN
WE WERE WRONG
A BROODING CYNYX COMMENTARY
A BROAD LOOK BACK OVER THE LAST YEAR
(Thursday January 1, 2015, Times Square, NYC) Inherent in our species is our sense of consciousness. Among the distinguishing factors that separate us from our closest genetic relatives is our ability to be self-aware and to plan for and imagine our future. The is no doubt an evolutionary biological explanation for this characteristic just as evolutionary biologists have posited solid theories on the acquisition and efficacy of other human traits such as empathy, the maternal instinct, and selflessness.
An off-shoot benefit from our ability to plan ahead based on past experience and each individual’s goals and needs within the context of their own life, is the deeply held ideal of new beginnings; of believing tomorrow might be better than today, that each sunrise can be appreciated for what the promise of the day might be. This was particularly beneficial when we began living in small societies founded during the hunter-gatherer, agrarian era of our development. Those ancestors knew from bitter and blessed experience alike that a crop could fail and wither in the field or it could thrive with the right amount of rainfall and sunlight.
Another facet of our self-awareness, one that seems more nuanced and not easy to nail down is the natural inclination towards optimism or pessimism. We are all born as blank slate, the Tabulu Rosa as described by Descartes, practical and pragmatic if nothing else. Our species would not have thrived if our relatives from antiquity were not pragmatic and practical, cautious and measured in all the many and varied tasks and challenges they faced in what was a very hostile environment. When a band of hunters took off from the community in search of game it served no evolutionary purpose to be neither pessimistic nor overly hopeful which borders on optimistic; they learned how to gauge risk versus reward and that trait is a Darwinian imperative. They were a practical lot and learned to live, work, and survive in larger and larger groups through establishing a social order akin to a large extended family. As practical, pragmatic beings they began to develop in increasingly complex and sophisticated ways from the methods they used in tool-making an ever expanding familiarity with and knowledge of the natural world, as well as how to harness the resources of the natural world around them.
As the millennia rolled on all manner of rites, rituals, and religions were established which added to the social order. Most of the earliest beliefs were based on the phenomenon in the natural world; a world they lived in but had not yet began to fully understand. Gods were found in storm clouds and the thunder and lightning that could awe and frighten them equally. Their world was rife with hazards, both real and imagined, yet they never stopped learning and with every generation a more robust set of genes and memes were passed down.
They began to quantify time, to set aside specific days as the beginning of one season or another. Nature provided their clocks in the stars and tides, in the winds and rains, and in the fields. They also began to honor milestones; they would seek to appease and pray for the blessings of various gods; a god for planting, a god for harvest; a god for healthy childbirth and a god of death. Soon calendars and time pieces were invented and their relationship with what had been an amorphous idea of time became more and more definable and quantitative. Births and death were markers in time as vivid as seasonal changes in the world around them. They had long ago conquered the cold and darkness of the nights with the light and heat of fires. But time remained an uncontrollable force of nature; a cruel, linear, forward trek without a means or method to alter its pace or primacy among the natural phenomenon.
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At the stroke of 12:00 midnight this morning 2014 fell away and 2015 was ushered in. We are said to “celebrate” the beginning of a New Year with all its possibilities and dreams; with a sense of a new beginning and a shedding of the past year’s skin now cracked and dried. Yes, we celebrate the New Year but it seems, especially this year that we are as much celebrating the end of the past year as much as the start of the new.
2014 was a difficult year in America and in New York City. We were forced to look into the mirror of society and stare at our collective reflection that was for some, not quite what they’d thought they’d see. We were forced to stare at that ugly, unflattering reflection only to see we remain residents of a “house divided against itself”, and have had to examine our own lineage and genealogy as hundreds upon hundreds of unaccompanied child immigrants from Central America created a humanitarian crisis as well as revealing the sharp teeth of those who would draft legislation radically altering our own history as a country of immigrants while denying even basic rights to those derisively called “illegals”. Our borders should have been secured decades ago but were not and that is not the point. Now the very definition of what it means to be an American citizen is up for grabs.
We learned that despite all our accumulated knowledge, scientific and technological sophistication that mysteries are still possible, that nature still has the edge and that certainty at times is dubiously uncertain. We saw that it is still possible for a huge passenger airliner, such as the Malaysian Air Flight 370, to completely vanish from the face of the earth without a trace, and that a primitive lethal virus can emerge without warning, infect a population, and vanish back into its natural host before we can even mount a strong defense. Ebola was the virus of the year in 2014 but other emerging viruses will likely introduce themselves to us in the future.
In some disciplines we learned that some of the most basic of “facts” are simply not factual at all. Scientists were forced to reexamine their rationale regarding the “Big Bang” theory of the birth of the universe, mankind’s role in climate change, and other questions about the sciences we’d long thought to have been answered.
We learned of the limits of our technological mastery and the darker side of our interconnectedness when millions of people’s lives were destroyed in massive computer hacking schemes and large scale identity theft operations. We were asked to redefine privacy in this day and age of data collection while conversely spending more of our lives in the ether world of social media sites. Along these lines the nefariousness of Internet trolling and predation forced many to wonder about the nature of their children’s lives “on line” as they sit sullenly with ear-buds firmly implanted rarely looking away from the miniature screens on their mobile devices.
We were repetitively reminded that more people continue to die in the name of one god or another, for the precepts and doctrine of one sect or another, just as we have since the dawn of civilization. Age old animosity continues to fan the flames of extremists, zealots, and rabid ideologues as if they are somehow stuck in the second century. While we remain locked in what now feels like a state of perpetual war, we were shocked to learn of the abject failures of the Veteran’s Administration to adequately provide quality, timely care for the tens of thousands of our returned young warriors. Yes, we are a patriotic people ready to salute before a football game, hat in hand, mouthing the words of our national anthem; yet allow our inept, craven, sleazy politicians to callously defund the VA, cut services for veterans, and generally break what was always the sacred trust between the populace and the military who serve for the greater good. American military personnel have lost lives, limbs and sanity in Afghanistan and Iraq only to be shunted to the side upon their return. This is beyond shameful.
But our elected leaders have no shame; they are a corrupt lot of self-serving politicos far removed from the lives of the majority of Americans and out of touch to the detriment of us all. We have seen once again that what is good and profitable for Wall Street is bad and burdensome for Main Street. But we keep electing the same greedy bastards and permit ourselves to be lead around by our noses by these criminally negligent “public servants” who serve their moneyed masters not the public good.
There were events that opened our collective eyes to issues we may have given little or no thought to previously. After footage from a surveillance camera captured the scene of an NFL player knocking out his girlfriend in an Atlantic City casino elevator, suddenly the country woke up to the harsh reality of the prevalence of domestic abuse and violence, including child abuse, sexual abuse, as well as the astonishing facts regarding the rate of “date rate” on college campuses across the land as well as even at the high school level. We should be astute enough to not use athletes, amateur or professional or other “celebrities” who cultivate a “cult of personality” to be substitute “role models” for parents. Whenever and however possible, be it altering the tax code for the middle and lower income workers and their families, to better educating our youth, our government should make it easier to keep families intact. The two parent model has worked well for thousands of years and remains an important key to our children’s future, health, and success.
Sadly we have stood witness as far too many young people die premature deaths by way of illegal firearms. One may have thought that after some of the most heinous murders over the last year, that finally our government would step into the breach, so to speak, and enact even the most modest, practical legislation to assist law enforcement in getting illegal guns off our city streets and out of our towns. Obviously, that has not been the case. So, by default, we allow our children to know a sense of fear and uncertainty while teaching them how to conceal themselves with their classmates beneath a Kevlar blankets as they huddle petrified in a classroom closet in the event of a school shooting. Yes, it has come to this. Is this more tolerable than effective legislation? Apparently the Congress that is handsomely bought and paid for by the NRA seems to think so.
So, in another ever growing disturbing trend, we continue to misdiagnose and over-medicate our youth to the tune of an estimated $78 billion per year. The long term repercussions of this practice are not yet known but what is known is troubling enough. As we provide a host of prescription medications, from ADHD and anti-depressant drugs, to stronger anti-psychotic cocktails to younger and younger children, we place our faith in the big pharmaceutical giants, the doctors incentivized to write these prescriptions, and set up our youth for drug addiction in their teen years while still stigmatizing mental health issues in adults. Drugs, be they prescribed or illicit, play an enormous role in American society and culture. While some states have legalized marijuana and others have decriminalized possession of small amounts, crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and resurgence in heroin usage, fuel an underground black market, serve as an abundant energy source for all manner of crimes, and new synthetic “designer drugs”, some meant to mimic the effects of oxycodone and other drugs in this family, are wreaking havoc among our youth in our cities as well as our vast rural regions.
And in the last quarter of 2014 we were forced once again to recognize a sorry truth, the majority of young Black men in this country fear the Police and see them as “the enemy”. Much has been written and spoken about this stark reality (plenty of it right here on this site) but all the talk, words, marches, protests and demonstrations coupled with the demagogueing, hate filled speech and race baiting on both sides of this deep abyss will do nothing towards initiating effective changes that are satisfactory to both sides.
Yes, we learned and saw much in ourselves and country in 2014 and, most of us are probably happy to see it go. We have learned one overarching truth in the past 12 months, that being, “everything old is new again”. Problems that have been kicked down the road, shunted to the side or otherwise simply avoided and ignored will always come back with a bite and we surely have been bitten in 2014.
The Brooding Cynyx wish all our readers, followers, commenters, and participants in the debates we attempt to bring forward, a very Happy New Year and all the best in health, happiness, prosperity and peace. We can begin to exorcise some of the cultural and social demons that reappeared last year if we can communicate with purpose, without anger, rancor and venom. Maybe at the end of this year, 2015, we won’t be so happy to see it go as we are now with the last moments of 2014 just slipping over the horizon.
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