We thought it couldn’t get any crazier, but the decade always did
By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
Anyone who has seen any “reality” TV shows from “Survivor” to “The Bachelor” knows that, as dramatic as the show might have been thus far, the real action comes in the season finale.
I think we’d all agree that this is case for 2019.
Pick any category – the economy, local politics, national or even international politics, weather, the environment, health, transportation or almost anything else that emerges in the headlines and the assumption is “It can’t get any crazier”. But then it does.
Diseases we had once relegated to Medieval history – like cholera and the Black Plague – re-emerged with a vengeance.
Deaths from measles spiked around the world in 2019 (73 in Samoa) and infections reached the thousands around the world. (1*)
In 2018 the world wide death toll from measles reached 140,000 – mostly children. These were all essentially preventable and in a saner world they would have been. (2*)
But few would ascribe the word “sane” to our era.
Parents refusing to vaccinate their children against dangerous, if not lethal, disease is certainly a first in world history.
But as with any widespread decision or preference, it makes sense in its context.
The context for most of the world in the last part of the second decade of the 21st Century will baffle historians for centuries.
Besides a return to Medieval attitudes towards health, we had a resurgence of belief in a flat earth and UFOs.
Historically our beliefs in aliens or alternate realities has been an expression of our fears and anxieties.
When it comes to intergalactic aliens, do we expect them to invade us? Befriend us? Save us from ourselves?
In 2019 the answer is clear – all of the above.
If aliens made the mistake of visiting us in our current climate, I am sure they would get the same response as everything else – we would be 100% split in our response.
As with plastic bags, fracking, autonomous cars, e-scooters, 5G phones and virtually everything else, we, as a society could not be more polarized.
It’s not just us of course, with Brexit, climate change, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, there is no neutral territory. Everyone claims, and holds to the death, their position.
It’s not just religion and politics that have become “unsafe” topics of general discussion. Ever have a conversation that started out okay and then got heated over something that was ordinary just a few months ago?
How about food? What could be more basic, if not universal than food?
In 2019 few social arenas are more hazardous than food – what we eat, don’t eat or refuse to eat defines us more than any of us could have imagined just a few years ago.
Prepare to be stigmatized if you step out of your bubble – or into a bubble of those who eat different from you; vegan, gluten-free, artisan or local, omnivores and carnivores are not the “standard” anymore.
And if you cross any of those invisible lines that didn’t exist a few years ago, prepare to be “ghosted” – that’s when people you depend on refuse to answer or respond to any texts, calls or attempts to communicate – they just disappear.
Boyfriends, girlfriends, bosses, employees – everyone it seems, just decides to evaporate from our lives.
And, speaking of voices slipping out of our lives, here’s a very partial list of musicians we lost in the 2010s: Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, Chuck Berry, Ornette Coleman, B.B. King, Etta James, Whitney Houston, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, Prince, Merle Haggard, Kitty Wells, João Gilberto, Ravi Shankar, Amy Winehouse, Abbie Lincoln, Gil Scott Heron, George Jones, George Martin, George Michael, Allen Toussaint, Donna Summer, Captain Beefheart, Robert Hunter, Gregory Isaacs, Johnny Otis, Big Jay McNeely, Levon Helm, Kate McGarrigle, Guy Clark, Pete Seeger, Ralph Stanley, Gregg Allman, Glen Campbell, Maggie Roche, Mose Allison, Scott Walker, Jimmy Scott, Horace Silver, Fontella Bass, Lesley Gore, Percy Sledge, Scotty Moore, Roy Clark, Ric Ocasek, Roky Erickson, Tom Petty, Walter Becker, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Ray Manzarek, Glen Frey, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, David Axelrod, Willie Mitchell, Tommy LiPuma, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Yusef Lateef, Ben E. King, Tony Joe White, Don Williams, Dolores O’Riordan, Daniel Johnston, Gord Downie, Mark Hollis and Chris Cornell.
As the decade drew to a close, civil upheaval seemed to emerge in every corner of the world. From Paris to Hong Kong to India and across most of Africa and the Middle East, young people rose in rage against corruption, oppression or injustice. Opportunities, even baseline expectations like affordable housing, access to education or even the right to raise a family had, it seemed been (literally) foreclosed to a generation.
The best, brightest and most entrepreneurial of almost every country are leaving – or attempting to. But in the frayed cultural contract of the 21st Century, where would they go?
The USA, once the proud champion of opportunity and refuge for those seeking freedom, has essentially closed its doors, welcoming the lowest number of refugees in decades.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric across America and Europe has become the ultimate winning political strategy.
Even though immigrants consistently contribute far more than they take, from wealth to Noble Prizes, they are shunned and excluded like never before. (3*)
In the last few weeks of 2019, documentation was released that our longest war, in Afghanistan, was largely unproductive.
Costing many thousands of lives and, by some estimates, around $100,000 per minute for decades, Afghanistan is no more safe and secure than it was when we began.
And, back home, do most of us feel more secure, safe or confident than we did when this decade started?
For the third year in a row, life expectancy in the USA has dropped.
The average Japanese citizen lives almost six years longer, the average German two years longer than the average American.
In 2017 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, 40,000 died from guns – two thirds were suicides.
On the health front, about a third of Americans are defined as obese. (4*)
Besides contributing to a host of corollary conditions from heart disease, to diabetes, circulation and joint problems, severe obesity can take ten years off the average lifespan, moderate obesity can take three years.
As with every formulaic reality TV series, I was expecting a final plot twist or two – whether it would be a “Christmas surprise” from Kim Jung Un, yet another impeachment development or even more high level scandals or dismissals.
Somehow a duct-taped banana being sold at a Florida art gallery for $120,000 makes sense in 2019.
(3*) GDP would increase, even double, with more open borders – https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2018/08/06/open-borders-economy-workers
(4*) Fully half of Americans are expected to be obese by the end of the next decade – https://boston.cbslocal.com/video/4257811-study-half-of-all-americans-will-be-obese-by-2030/
Editor’s note: this is one of three “Decade in Review” articles.