Monday, January 2, 2017

2016 - A Shit Year...Or The Shittiest Ever?

2016  definitely sucked
      As we bid a contemptible good riddance to 2016 with it's numerous absurd Terror attacks, Zikas, Brexits, police shootings, Syria, Trump, record-hot temperatures, the losses of  our musical heroes, cultural icons, artists, friends, and family...well this has been one unrelenting godawful turn around the sun hasn't it?  I see a fair amount of hoopla suggesting 2016 is actually the worst year ever.  As  terrifying events truly piled up on each other in 2016, is it in a way they have not done any other year in human history? Is it possible to judge the awfulness of a year while it’s still unfolding or very fresh in memory? Is it possible that we just notice negative happenings more these days because of  high levels of connectivity? And what does “worst year” even mean—“worst year” for New Yorkers, Americans, for humanity, for the planet? As a way of actually finding some sort perspective on these matters, lets look at some other godawful years that have occurred.

     72,000 B.C. -  there was a volcanic super-eruption on the island of Sumatra in present-day Indonesia. The explosion was massive. Where once there was once a mountain, there is now a lake.
It exploded with the force of 1.5 million Hiroshima-size bombs. Rock and magma were hurled continental distances. A layer of volcanic ash approximately 15 centimeters (about six inches) thick settled over the entire continent of Asia.  The skies darkened and global temperatures fell.
Yes, this was a pretty shitty year too. A“long night” descended, and something analogous to a nuclear winter began that year and lasted for many years afterward. The food sources died off, and the recent mapping of human genome indicates that the population of  human beings was reduced to between merely 3,000 and 10,000 people. From this tiny group of survivors,  all 7 billion people on Earth today are descended, making us one of the most numerous but genetically close species in nature.
This genetic "closeness" may account for the bad decisions and behaviors of 2016.

1348 - We talk about 2016 being a particularly disastrous year, but historically there’s nothing new about vicious detestable assholes fighting for power. Nothing new about  dreadful useless leaders with incorrigible bad ideas gathering widespread support. Consider for a moment 1348, when the Black Death took hold. Dogs tore at the bodies of the dead that lay about unburied in the streets.
The disease spread quickly all along the Silk Roads and then across the trade routes crisscrossing the Mediterranean. In the space of  a mere 18 months, it killed at least a third of the population of Europe.
Francesco Petrarch
“Our hopes for the future have been buried alongside our friends,”
wrote the great Italian scholar and poet Franseco Petrarch. It seemed like the end of the world was coming. Some advised avoiding “every fleshly lust with women,” others that marching barefoot while self-flagellating would help. One writer in Damascus recorded that plague “sat like a king on a throne and swayed with power,” killing thousands every day. Yes, on the bright side here in 2017, at least for the moment; dogs are not tearing at the bodies of the dead that lie unburied in the streets.
However there was a positive consequence of the Black Plague,  a consolation prize...a parting gift. The Black Death spurred one of the most golden of golden ages in history. Plague led to sharply reduced inequality, a spending boom, and a flowering of the arts. Storms do sometimes give way to sunshine. Maybe...maybe...

     So how does one measure the “worst year in human history”?
By some calculus of human suffering? By sheer number of deaths? By the geographical extent of misery? While any of these metrics provide ample and ready candidates, I suggest, however, that the worst year ought to be the beginning of a world-historical process that once started, offered no chance for reversal.
was such a year.
That year, the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella completed their conquest of Moorish Granada. Within a few years, the roughly half-million Muslim inhabitants of the territory would be killed, enslaved, or expelled. The kingdom also expelled its Jewish population, resident since Roman times, which provided the blueprint for similar persecutions and expulsions in the years to follow. Spanish actions helped create the idea of a geographically distinct “Christian Europe,” replacing the more than two millennia of political and religious identities that had connected different Mediterranean shores. The most significant event of that year, however, was the first American voyage of Christopher Columbus. Columbus wasn’t the first European to reach the western continents, but his voyages were the first to become widely known. As a result, Spain and its rival powers accelerated their overseas contest for trade and territory. Old World diseases made their inevitable drift to the Americas and by the early 16th century, a series of plagues ultimately caused the demographic collapse of  90 percent of the indigenous population.  And by the mid-19th century,  for many groups, the utter obliteration of their society itself. Worse still, as the indigenous labor force disintegrated, Europeans turned to Africa for new sources of enslaved labor.
Few years in human history are so freighted with catastrophic consequences.
Will the events of 2016 have such reverberations in history? Well maybe so...maybe not.
At any rate, the abominable events that unfolded have yet to enslave anyone...but don't hold your breath. The death of truth or the "post truth" era has yet to find a bottom.

Columbus burning natives in Hispaniola
1919 - This was a shitty year too. The allies had won the First World War but effectively lost the peace. An isolationist U.S. Senate refused to ratify the League of Nations treaty while President Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke. Meanwhile, as the government ended wartime spending and regulations, inflation skyrocketed and unemployment shot up to 20 percent. An influenza epidemic, one of the worst in history, killed a half-million Americans. The 18th Amendment introduced Prohibition and a decade of lawless dog eat dog power struggles. More immediately, the infamous “bloody summer of 1919” saw race riots in cities across the country: Chicago erupted in five days of brutal violence that left 500 wounded and 38 dead. Meanwhile, lynchings continued to rise, with 76 black Americans killed, including 10 war veterans.
The fall of 1919 featured massive labor strikes: 350,000 steelworkers in Indiana, 425,000 miners in coal country, most of the Boston police force, etc. America was poised for a revolution. Fear turned to panic with mail bombs sent to prominent Americans like Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and John D. Rockefeller. In November, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, himself the target of a bomb, launched the first Red Scare, a massive series of arrest raids against suspected radicals, anarchists, and communists that turned into the biggest violation of civil liberties in modern times. All told, 1919 was a year of political chaos, social unrest, economic disasters, deadly epidemics, bloody race riots, giant labor strikes, and brutal government overreach.
Definitely a shit year.
World War I

2003 - a prime candidate as measured by long-term consequences for democracy.
In February of that year, as the Bush administration and its allies geared up for war.
Protesters eager to speak out against the mobilizations swamped cities around the world in the largest global demonstration for peace in world history. In Manhattan, more than 100,000 protestors from all walks of life swamped the city, stopping traffic in the middle of the street, and assembling in a vast throng near the U.N. building. European cities saw even larger protests.
"So we create the conditions that lead directly to the rise of Isis, flood the European liberal nations with refugees collapsing their social programs, rob from the poor and give to the rich,...basically shoot humanity in the face and torture them for shits and giggles...and some black guy gets blamed...ha ha ha. What a plan!"
The U.S media, still dominated by major networks owned by only a handful of corporate overlords, barely covered the event. In New York, the nightly news showed images, instead, of a sympathy protest in Baghdad—a damning substitution. The failure of the occupied media to cover these protests (which set a precedent, followed ever since)—and, more broadly, to aggressively question the Bush administration on the absurd lies and half-truths used to rationalize the war—was catastrophic for the entire world.  The quiescence of political parties when confronted with the even-then very dubious link between 9/11 and the war in Iraq revealed the power of macho patriotism to sweep away partisan dissent and intelligent thinking, and to cow the news into submission, a power that has proved durable and dangerous. A power that has apparently turned most of the western world's brains into sand. The war went on as planned. And the terrible world we live in now, —jingoistic, bomb-scarred, drone-addled, armor-clad, morally bankrupt, spied on, and over-flooded with refugees creating the rise of nativism—is the consequence. Yes...I think 2003 in a historical sense was complete shit. Maybe the worst ever.   Alas my friends,  there is sadly no shortage of candidates.

I failed to point out 1876, A true toilet clogging stinker. There was a split presidential election which set the stage for the bargain that ended Reconstruction. While we might be tempted to nominate the highest casualty year of the Civil War as the worst, the failure to defend racial equality in the South after so many lives were sacrificed seems far more tragic since it continues to cause death and misery 130 years down the road . Also, in ’76 you have the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the inexplicable cruelty of bison-hunting equestrianism on the Great Plains. The fall of Reconstruction and the rise of Plains reservations are enough for a really bad year, and then you add race riots in South Carolina, and Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia...well let's say a courtesy flush was in order.
I neglected the years of the rise of fascism, the Holocaust, the age of the robber barons, the rise of the dark corporate overlords, etc. Well there's veritable feast of bad years we wish could be forgotten quickly.
With past years we have the vision afforded by historical perspective, which is something we lack in evaluating 2016.
One thing leads to another.
See you on the bottom.
Coming soon!  - How to get the most out of your bottomless pit.

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