Year is originally from way back in Proto-Indo-European, yer, meaning “doer”, i.e. one who does something or makes something. It became jæram in Proto-Germanic, and gear in Old English, before softening to year in modern English. Energetically, year packs a lot of punch; it’s a forceful, powerful, high-strung burst.
2009 definitely packed a punch. A lot of folks I know had a pretty rotten 2009 — losing jobs, losing marriages, losing family. 2009, as a doer, seems to have done a lot of people wrong. I had a great year myself, but certainly I went through a lot of changes, not all of them easy.
Overall, our species is in quite a fix: the world economy continues to sputter, the world environment is under constant and accelerating attack, and people just keep on going to war, and murdering each other. On the other hand, the chances for improvement have never been better — so many of us are connected to each other, and committed to change, and believe change is possible…
But we need more than connection, commitment, and belief. We need maturity. And it’s going to be hard to get.
The Child Kings
We live in a remarkable time, because we really have no idea what’s going to happen next. Just a little over twenty years ago, everyone knew what the future held: the US vs. USSR would be at each other’s throats for decades or centuries to come. Remember that?? Arthur C. Clarke’s book 2010 had Russians and Americans struggling for control of Jupiter’s moons. Wow, were we wrong!
And a generation before that, everyone knew that we were on our way to atomic cars and jetpacks and colonies on Mars… Disney’s World of Tomorrow!
And a generation before that, we knew that, since the Great War was over, we were in for global peace and prosperity forever (well, if you were one of the rich elite, or among the European nobility).
And before that… the world changed slowly. Most folks didn’t see much change in their lifetimes.
For most of human history, we used the Two Step Plan of Life: (1) as children, learn how the world works, and then (2) as adults, live our lives. But now the world changes every few years, and we have to learn everything anew. We are all forced again and again to be… children.
Don’t get me wrong — children are great. But they’re not well-suited to rule themselves. They… well, they don’t always share well, they mess up their rooms, and they fight over silly things.
And so we have our global economy, our global environment, our global wars.
The Wisdom to Know the Difference
We need to face a simple fact: we are not smart enough to rule this world we’re creating. There are so many of us, doing so many things, in so many different ways; and science and technology and culture are moving so fast — there is no way we can stay on top of it all. We can’t objectively, collectively know what is best.
So we have to acknowledge our ignorance, embrace it, and make it the root of our lives. We’ve got to stop pretending we know what’s best for everyone. We’ve got to back off, let other people live as they will, and make what sense we can of what’s around us, locally.
We can’t know what effects our economic activity will have on the other side of the world. If you buy from K-Mart instead of Wal-Mart, will that mean fewer jobs for people in China? Who knows? The only solution is to make your economics local, to buy from people you trust and watch what happens to your money and the fruit of your labor.
We can’t know what effects our energy expenditure will have, either. Is it better to use gasoline or ethanol? Is it better to drive a hybrid, and use less gas, even if the manufacture of the car’s batteries creates even more pollution? Is it better to buy organic food wrapped in plastic and shipped from California, or conventional food shipped from farmers the next state? Who knows? The only solution is to drive less, use less energy, and grow more of your food — in other words, don’t use energy unless you know what it’s really costing us all.
And least of all do we know the effects of our government policies, foreign and domestic. Is it better to treat terrorists as criminals or enemy combatants? Can we better influence other nations with carrots or sticks? If we trade more with repressive regimes, will they gradually become freer societies, or will they just become rich repressive regimes? If we give more money to pharmaceutical companies, will that make our health insurance cheaper? Who knows? The only solution is to bring our troops home, stop pretending we know how to rule the world, and put our own affairs in order, as best we can.
If we can’t be adults, at least we can stop hitting people, stealing toys and messing up other people’s rooms. Here’s to a gentle, abundant, holy 2010.