The propaganda began weeks ago. In a swirl of optimism, magical thinking, empty promises and dissociation. Same as it always does, but this time with added oomph. “Cheers to a better 2021.” LOL.
Advertisers, media, politicians, corporations, entertainers, self-help ‘gurus’ … they want you to forget. Forget about what you just saw. About the disease and the 1.6 million around the globe who died. The 1 in 17 Americans who were infected with COVID-19. The 60 million who filed for unemployment. The explosion and erosion of American society and, to a lesser yet still worrying extent, of the global fabric. It’s time to “move on” and “leave that energy in 2020.” C’mon, man. Who are we kidding?
They want us to forget about the Trump years. About the way wealth was siphoned from the middle class all the way up to the wealthiest CEOs and oligarchs. About the kids in the camps. The genocide. The unrest. And, my god, the racism. They’ll claim that 2021 is our time to shine. That we are winning. We are not. We’re losing worse than ever.
However You Think It’s Going, I Assure You It’s Worse
There’s a 9/11 every day in the United States, and this one really is an inside job. Thousands of Americans are dying each day. Still. And yet there’s no urgency, and there never was. It’s still happening.
Oh sure, things may look normal … the NBA played its usual slate of Christmas Day games and the NFL looks as if it’ll finish the season on time, and there’s new stuff on Netflix and the restaurants that haven’t yet shuttered are still serving up hot meals for takeout or patio dining, but make no mistake: this is not normal. Worse still, there’s no real reason — apart from a promising array of vaccines — to believe society will ever come back online.
But to what end? It’s getting worse. It’s harder than ever to make a decent living. Jobs are scarce and capital’s scarcer. Democracy’s on life support and the soon-to-be-bygone Commander in Chief is burning what’s left it down on his way out.
The unrest over the summer came from two sides. One: a mostly peaceful group of Blacks and a smattering of allies clamoring for liberation, equity and an end to police violence. Two: a mostly violent group of Whites clamoring for civil war, brainwashed by their Dear Leader into believing a free and fair election was neither free nor fair. Only the latter group’s grown in number and trouble since summer.
This is hell, folks. Our lives are growing shorter, crueler, dumber, sadder and poorer by the month. 2021 will be no panacea. There’s no vaccination for what really ails us. 2021 will not be your year. Brace yourself: a new administration and an array of promising vaccines are two good reasons for optimism, but they’re no magic bullets. What really ails us requires far more radical measures.
Please Be Pessimistic Right Now
Resist the urge to “move on.” To “forgive and forget.” To “start fresh.” This is not a blank slate. We’re not zeroing out the ledger at 12:01 a.m., January 1, 2021. We’re not gifted a new nation at 12:01 p.m., January 20, either. We’re starting from far, far less than zero.
We need an epic comeback. A long, slow, arduous climb. We can’t do this with a montage and a can-do spirit. We can’t manifest this. We can’t depend on the Capital-U Universe, or God’s Plan, or Mother Gaia, or whatever the hell it is you think is pulling the strings out there. We need much more than that.
We need collective action. We need unity. We need fresh ideas people can believe in and novel ways to implement them. We need genuine hope and innovation. We need resilient, equitable institutions. We don’t have those things. Not at scale.
Stay home. Wear your masks. Cancel your flights home. Get vaccinated. We won’t win until this virus is crushed. At the same time, we’re fighting on multiple other dire fronts, and we will not win until reparations come through, until we reimagine our economies, until we solve for climate change, until we break through the smog of disinformation.
Do you see the scale of what we’re up against? All of these monsters are of the same making: pathological self-interest. It’s the root cause of all societal ills. That’s not an easy final boss to defeat, and the stakes are way higher than any game. It requires a reevaluation of the very core of ourselves.
Truth, Values and Norms
To win 2021, we need to establish truth. We need a human story that properly contextualizes everything. We need a rewrite of history texts taught in schools. We need a reevaluation of our curriculum. We need better media, and better social media. We need to work with the same basic set of facts and nuances that make them translatable, from compelling and inclusive voices that make the truth stick. We need responsibility at every level of information: education, media, entertainment, advertising, law, science.
Then, we need to reevaluate our values. What should we incentivize as a society? What’s right? What’s moral? What’s ethical? What does it mean to be human, a steward of this planet, a citizen, a person? We need to ask bigger questions and reappraise life and our history and the answers we’ve yet to find. We need to incentivize altruism, aid, kindness, altruism, truth, curiosity, empathy and wisdom. We need new natural rights, we need to reckon with our wrongs.
From there, we need new norms. Norms built upon a bedrock of truth, inclusion, prosperity, possibility, courage, balance, fairness, justice, joy, ease, love. It sounds utopian only because it is so, so far from where we are and where we’re headed on our current trajectory.
Without truth, new values and new norms, our society can never repair itself. It cannot unleash the fullness of human potential. It cannot lead to peaceful coexistence nor a productive cooperation with the natural world around us.
A world where we share and regenerate, rather than exploit and extract, is our only ticket out of a bleak future. There can be no more urgent calling than to work on acknowledging our faults, reconciling our pasts, and reeducating our masses.
It’s about to be 2021. This trash 2020 is about to be over. Still, a trash year awaits us without a collective desire and demand for better: better leadership, better information, better institutions, and better cooperation between humans. We know who and what created the mess we’re in. We need to undo those deeds, unlearn those beliefs, and radically reimagine the way society works.
You won’t be manifesting jack shit this year without broad, deep work individually, institutionally and internationally. You won’t be attracting anything. You won’t be moving on. You won’t soon forget. We’re not rounding a corner. We’re not starting anew. This is not dawn unless we force the sun up and elevate ourselves to a place we’ve never been before. We can’t “Make America Great Again,” we need to make humanity great for the first time. It’s going to take a mountain’s worth of work and more than a year’s worth.
So strap yourselves in, people. The nightmare’s still playing, and we’re sleepwalking right into another year of crisis. 2020 might be over, but the awakening has yet to begin.
If you want to leave anything in 2020, leave your desire to move on. We’re still marooned on a rock in the middle of space, we’re all deeply ill, and we’re not going anywhere anytime soon. It’s time to become, demand and do better.