A near year end Skype call with friends back in 2020, muted yuletide joy with a hint of cautious optimism. While in the midst of a second, deadlier wave, strict(ish) public health measures still in place, more or less, representing the collective personal sacrifice most of us had been willing to make over the previous 9 months or so. Scaled back holiday festivities. Gatherings conducted within our social bubbles. But Covid vaccines had started rolling out. If we could just make it through this next little while.
“… I mean, 2021 can’t be any worse,” my friend offered with a modicum of hope.
Couldn’t it? I remember thinking and then not keeping to myself despite it being the season of cheer and goodwill toward all. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.
“What if it’s just the start, though?” I countered. “What if we all end up looking back at 2019 as the high point? March 2020, our August 1914?”
Not exactly verbatim but the sentiment nailed.
What if it didn’t get any better?
The beginning of an epoch of terminal decline. Chicks coming home to roost.
As we enter 2023, I’m not at all certain such a conjecture has been disproven or rendered inaccurate by the course of events over the past couple years.
In fact, au contraire.
A solid argument could be made, I believe, that 2022 topped the recent run of our annus horribilis. (The phrase never fails to make me giggle like an 8-year-old boy). Anni horribiles. That’s better.
2022 kicked off with the more transmissible Omicron variant which led to more Covid cases, more Covid related deaths than either of the previous two years. Health care systems under continued strain. An earlier influenza season than usual (but, fingers crossed, maybe shorter if spikier). RSV, a new acronym for me, laying out flat a whole cohort of kids and filling up pediatric wards. The longer-term effects of the virus, even in mild cases, worrisome.
Medically, nothing about this pandemic is settled, certainly not safely or satisfactorily, and yet we, as a society, have just decided we’re done with it. Enough is enough. Time to move on. Out with any and all protective measures and mandates. Everything, now a personal choice. To mask. To vaccinate. The barest of minimums have been discarded as too onerous to bear. We’ve done our hitch.
Despite all of its absolute failures and fuckeries, last winter’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ that successfully laid siege to Ottawa for the better part of a month ultimately won the day. In relatively quick succession, all levels of government packed in any semblance of vigilance and oversight. Testing was reduced to mostly self-reported rapid testing. Data collection reduced to essentially shit. Hard and fast requirements were downgraded to soft guidance and friendly reminders.
In 2022, we let the chips fall where they may. The vulnerable be damned, left to their own devices. Time to return to normal, a scant two years after declaring during the peak and fallout of Covid’s first wave, that things would, could, never be the same again.
Like 2021, we enter 2023 on a forced upbeat note. This time around, however, we don’t seem to be simply hoping for a turn for the better but expecting it, demanding it even. We’re owed a good year, dammit! After all we’ve been through.
The concept of enduring tribulation is anathema to us, us, that is, in the developed West, the Global North, history’s triumphant. Setbacks are temporary. Downturns, we call them. Mere bumps on the road of progress toward an always brighter future. Corrections.
As if we actually learn from past mistakes.
It’s the very definition of entitlement.
A no-obligation guarantee of better days ahead. A free ride on the forever upward trajectory of inexorable advancement. Things can’t continue to get worse because that’s not how it works. Ours is a happily-ever-after fairy tale. Bad times are nothing more than narrative obstacles to be overcome, the quicker the better, nobody likes non-stop adversity. Nobody deserves that. Except when they do. Except when they’re not us.
We have developed a highly transmissible strain of resistance to struggle. Too many of us believe that we’ve put in the work necessary to maintain our belief system, our belief in Dr. King’s arc of a moral universe and its inevitable bending toward justice, toward justice for us, each of us individually. Endpoint: justice.
As sure as day follows night, as spring follows winter. An immutable law of the universe as created in our image.
We are patently unprepared to face any sort of uncertain future, a future that does not play out in the historical terms we have collectively constructed of the past. Willfully blind to the sacrifices and toil borne by those whose experiences did not allow them to be as sanguine about their future as we are with ours, we blithely assume someone or something will emerge to set things right, put it all back up on the shelf in the proper order. Technology will mitigate the worst extremes of climate change. Hell, climate change itself might turn out to be a boon for those innovative enough to adapt to the evolving circumstances. All we need is the proper mindset and unwavering conviction that all’s well that ends well and all always ends well.
We just need to keep clapping harder.
So disengaged are we with putting in even the most modest of efforts at contributing to future outcomes that here in Toronto and Ontario a solid majority of us couldn’t even be bothered to vote in either provincial or municipal election last year. Historic low turnouts in both cases. As if there was no alternative to business as usual, the business that has brought us to this point, to this low ebb. As if positive results were simply the natural order of things.
Because “It can’t get any worse, can it?”
We’ve been through enough.
We deserve to live the promised life of effortless, hopeless optimism.
The sun never sets.
Empires don’t fall.
Sound systems can’t fail.
Etc. & Etc.