Around the middle of November, this was how I was feeling about the year—
Ever said this, exasperatedly? "It's the twenty-first century!" "It's 2012!"
These are the things that people I know say when faced with a problem that seems like it should have been solved long ago.
- Like the fact that the majority of cabs still only take cash and not credit cards. (Seriously. Is it 1989?)
- Like any company or government agency which requires you to fax something to them.
Or, more soberly:
- Discovering people who think that people of different races shouldn't marry.
- Discovering people who think women should stay out of the workforce.
- Hearing that women shouldn't be able to vote, or be allowed to wear pants to important functions.
So it's usually said with a negative affect.
Why aren't we further along than this? <negative>It's 2012</negative>.
But there was just an election. And some things which have seemed overdue (or downright futuristic) have actually begun to happen.
Marijuana legalization was passed in Colorado and Washington. While I don't partake myself, I appreciate this move as possibly the beginning of a rational climb-down from the endlessly expensive/ineffective/violence-soaked War on Some Drugs.
18 women were elected to the US Senate (including the first disabled woman, first openly lesbian woman, first Asian-American woman..), bringing the number serving to 20.
Marriage was legalized for gay couples by voters in Maine & Maryland & Washington, and Minnesota voters declined to pass an anti-gay amendment.
Not to mention the first-ever black President earned re-election, by a pretty significant margin.
Look at that, gentle sentients.
Then of course on December 14 there was the Newtown slaughter.
Not that there isn't always some horrible news out there if you look for it. But this one obviously stood out as both extra-horrible and potentially-preventable at the same time.
In its wake, I have been left philosophizing and analyzing and theorizing to myself even more than usual, and contemplating to the point of great distraction both the powerful inertia of everyday life and the sudden randomness of some fates.
I don't have an essay in me right now about how I tie all this together in my mind; instead I'll try to sum up one piece of it—
I read a lot of Isaac Asimov stories and essays when I was young. And he argued well for his outlook on humanity and the future, which has been labeled 'Humanist' or 'Secular Humanist'. Here's one summation from him I found:
As indicated by our very name, we humanists celebrate humanity, want humanity to survive, and recognize that if humanity does survive, it will be by its own efforts.
Never can we sit back and wait for miracles to save us. Miracles don't happen.
Sweat happens. Effort happens. Thought happens.
And it is up to us humanists to help—to expend our sweat, our effort and our thought. Then there will be hope for the world.
And since I—who am not on the front lines of any of today's conflicts—despair sometimes at the intractability of the problems we face and at our intransigence as a species in addressing all but the shortest-term issues, I find it helpful and important to look to those like Asimov and Carl Sagan—who saw far and were confronted very directly with obstacles and resistance—and remember that they could bring themselves to continue to put forth effort in the name of Humanity, day after day. Somehow.
Their example is useful when I feel defeated, as I have by Newtown and other events.
As a valediction for 2012 and an epigraph for 2013, I nominate this somewhat recent musical mashup of clips from Carl Sagan's Cosmos, with a special emphasis on this part of the chorus:
The sky calls to us
If we do not destroy ourselves
We will one day
Venture to the stars
If we do not destroy ourselves... by giving guns to as many people as possible and inviting ever more accidental gunshot deaths into our lives (even if you dubiously exclude the supposedly-deterrable intentional ones).
If we do not destroy ourselves... by biasing all our planning for the short term and leaving any real progress on longer-term threats (like a warmer planet) for much, much later.
If we do not destroy ourselves... we will one day venture to the stars.
Let us not destroy ourselves.