A World Where Every Neighbor is a Friend
Death, we are reminded every time someone dies*, comes in threes. A good truism; a strong truism; and most importantly, a truism that can be stated in less than five words, making sure it will lodge in our consciousness before we get bored and go off to play video games or join a drug gang. Unfortunately, it suffers from the common problem of all truisms: It isn’t true. Death, as it happens, comes in ones, one right after another or a whole lot at one time, but never in threes, in any way that makes a difference. We just happen to notice it in groups of three because someone, a long time ago, told us that death comes in threes. So we get to the third person and stop counting.
Years work the same way. Calendar years are a goofy-ass combination of objective astronomical measures and entirely arbitrary numerical divisions, and most of them — our own included — were invented to impress some emperor, prophet, demigod, or other quasi-fictional authority figure. So when a year really, really sucks, as 2017 undoubtedly sucked, we tend to think of it not as 365 sequential days with a completely random divider stuck at the end of them, but as a singular force, an animating spirit of the times, that we can imbue with all kinds of ghastly character traits and blame for making our lives really shitty. We think it’s the year’s fault, and not ours, that we elected a puffy casino owner president of the country; we blame a number and not the inevitable lot of frail human existence for the fact that we’re so tired in the morning and it’s so cold outside that it hurts our faces; we curse it for taking Mary Tyler Moore and Chuck Berry and Tom Petty from us, but not so much for clearing Warrel Dane off the table. (Look it up.)
So it really doesn’t do us any good to hope that one year will be better than the last, because years aren’t really things; they’re just numerical markers of social and economic trends that keep on going whatever those markings on the calendar have to say. The forces that made a majority of our elected representatives pass a tax bill that essentially recategorizes poor people as insulation aren’t going to stop being horrible just because we changed the last number of the year from a seven to an eight, just as someone dying slowly of organ failure doesn’t suddenly get better because you and your pals got polluted on cheap champagne yesterday evening. Only a fool asks for time to run itself backward, and only an even bigger fool perceives temporal markers as cards in a deck that can be shuffled and reshuffled until you get the result you really want. You can make all the resolutions you want, but time resolved to ignore what your dumb ass cared about the day you were born. Making demands of the calendar is the surest way to find yourself spending next New Year’s Eve reflecting on a year of having learned nothing.
Then again, there is something to be said for recognizing those arbitrary boundaries and kicking back against the pricks they deliver in quantity. After all, the toxic social and political ideas that are making these meaningless delineations of time so obnoxious are, themselves, entirely arbitrary, and just as easy to smash to pieces if we take a mind to. Witness the metric system, that entirely reasonable system of weights and measures that the whole rest of the world uses except for us because it reminds us too much of the French, and has its origins during a very sensible period that they were subjecting their own population of rich assholes to la raccourcisseuse patriotique. It makes plenty of sense, it’s easy, it helps everybody, and it does a lot of good at tearing down international boundaries; and the only thing keeping it from universal adoption is the propaganda of a handful of right-wing nationalist shitheads who nobody asked their opinion in the first place. If we could change that, we could change anything! So why not ask a whole calendar year to be better than the last one? We can always build a new calendar.
These are certainly dangerous times; I don’t want to belabor the obvious here, but foremost, we should be extremely worried about the likely irreparable harm we’re doing to the environment, the extension of our imperialist adventuring irretrievably beyond our ability to sustain it, and the increasingly nagging suspicion that our entire economy is a particularly empty illusion designed to maintain the status of the worst people on Earth. All of these things share two characteristics: one, they are making and will continue to make life a misery for the vast majority of the human beings on the planet; and two, they don’t have to happen at all and only exist because we are bewilderingly cowed into inaction by these brain-damaged louts. Saying “boy, this year really sucked, I sure hope the next frivolous division of time periods is nicer to us” is a pretty great reaction as far as these fuckers are concerned. It’s a good way of keeping us from asking why, exactly, our lives suck so bad; whether there’s anything that anybody could do about it, and, if so, why isn’t that thing being done, specifically to the people who are quite obviously making our lives suck.
The thing about dangerous times, though, is that they’re just as dangerous to those creeps at the top as they are to us. History hasn’t provided us with a lot of edifying lessons, but one of them is that you can only shit on people for so long before they start throwing it back at you. We have gotten well past the point of pretending that things aren’t awful, and we’re standing on the precipice of putting pretty specific names to the people responsible. So raise that glass one last time and bid the old year adieu; but don’t stop there. Stop blaming the passage of time, and start casting your eyes at the people who own your time. Things could get much worse, but they could also get so much better; the difference is in whether we stand together against them, or we let them keep standing on top of us. Happy new year.
*: Spoiler alert: everyone dies.