Besides personal resolutions, maybe we could use some national ones too
By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
20/20 is the standard American definition of clear vision.
It comes from the use of a standard eye chart from a distance of 20 feet. (1*)
The first number refers to your distance in feet from the chart. The second number indicates the distance at which a person with normal eyesight can read the same line.
It’s an interesting metaphor for the coming year.
2020 is both a new year and a way of measuring our vision.
2020, in every category, will be a year of changes and challenges – many of these changes and challenges have been accumulating for years, if not decades, but it certainly looks as if many of them will be congealing or culminating in 2020.
From the economy to the environment to an already contentious political election season, 2020, if nothing else, will look like no other year.
We have almost become accustomed to triple-digit daily swings in the stock market and 60 degree shifts in daily temperatures.
Tracking international affairs has never been more volatile and contradictory; global trade and climate agreements emerge, shift or evaporate on a whim. Our allies, enemies, and partners shift like moving figures on a dance floor.
The elements move faster and the stakes get higher with each new round. Who would have imagined, for example, that at the end of 2019 that Ukraine and Turkey (Turkey!?) would dominate our political conversations?
When it comes to the economy, forecasters project inflation (rising costs and dropping value of the dollar), though about as many forecast deflation (lowered costs and increasing value of the dollar).
Back in the 1970s we had what was considered impossible; slow economic growth and relatively high unemployment, or economic stagnation, accompanied by rising prices, or inflation. We called it stagflation.
We had a situation where the population of job seekers was peaking, oil was at record high prices (if you could even find it at your local gas pumps).
In 2019 and the early 2020s we have another generation at its peak of job acquisition, technological changes eliminating jobs by the millions (from online marketers to robo-calls and self-check out at grocery stores).
The social problems that strangle our economy now barely existed a generation ago.
From massive homeless encampments to lingering student debt to unimaginable income inequality and ever-rising home prices, we have a widespread level of stress and anxiety most of us have never known before.
Factor in the gig economy, extreme weather, rapidly rising sea levels, distrust of any authority or institution from government agencies (like the CIA and FBI) to a free press or organized religion, the largest federal deficit in our nation’s history, major demographic shifts (both racial and generational) all within a fractious presidential campaign in an already polarized political climate and you have the recipe for the most action-packed year – or decade – in our lifetimes.
Some of us have seen this coming for a long time. Virtually all of these seemingly insurmountable problems were preventable, and effective intervention was relatively simple just a few years ago.
But left to fester in the background, like undetected cancer, they are emerging and threaten us all individually if not collectively.
Astronomer Carl Sagan was a great science communicator, most widely known for the original “Cosmos” television series. He was also a prolific writer and in 1995 wrote The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Here’s a short excerpt:
“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”
You can hear echoes of this quote from Sagan in almost every political speech or ad – and most conversations regarding everything from political candidates to the effectiveness and purpose of vaccines.
How many conversations have you participated in, or heard about, that went sideways – or even into hostile territory when the topic was not even an issue but on the source of news for that (or any) topic?
We’ve gotten to the point where too many of us demonize each other because of what we eat (or refuse to eat) where we shop, what we believe and, perhaps most of all, who we vote for.
What happens when we don’t trust each other, believe any of our traditional news sources and find ourselves nearly intoxicated by stories of aliens, UFOs and convoluted conspiracy theories “explaining” everything from the Federal Reserve Board to how the earth is actually flat or that our economy and political system is under the control of lizard people? (2*)
It certainly seems to me that we have abandoned rationality, decency and basic civility.
We have also apparently misplaced our ability to have basic – and important – conversations about topics that concern – or impact – us all.
It is difficult enough to address issues like taxes, values or even food preferences within our families – it is no wonder that, on a national level we are floundering in helplessness on issues that are as basic as keeping the lights on or maintaining our highways.
We, as individuals and as a nation, need better listening skills, a bit more patience and maybe even a little compassion.
The irony of all these is that they cost nothing to employ and express, but their absence is costing us everything.
I encourage us all to take a deep breath, step back from that insult or condescending comment and remember that we have vastly more in common than we might immediately recognize.
The most powerful threat to any of us as individuals, as families and as a nation is our divisiveness. Our most powerful strength is our unity.
Our enemies know this, and it is time that we remember it and act accordingly.
(1*) Outside the United States, vision is measured, along with everything else, metric and expressed in meters instead of feet and the standard is “6/6.”
(2*) According to The Atlantic, 12 million Americans believe that lizard people control the USA – https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/12-million-americans-believe-lizard-people-run-our-country/316706/