2020 In Review

When Will We Ever Learn?

A hiatus from some of the more frantic pace of our modern life

Sometimes I feel as if I’m floating at a great height, looking down on 2020 from the clouds. The Earth seems to be heaving and convulsing, as Mother Nature fights back against the destructive, self-centered, “evolved” creatures she has harbored for millennia; you know, the juvenile, oblivious humans who wallow in their own pollution, not caring that they are dooming their only space ship through the galaxy?

I wonder, in the words of the old Seeger/Hickerson song: “When will we ever learn?”

So much of this year seems to be asking that question. Don’t get me wrong – I’m no sage. I’m not wise and omniscient, nor am I innocent of the ignorant actions of my race. But I’m old enough to observe, to wonder, and to regret. (The last of these is not a failing of youth, fortunately, or no one would ever accomplish anything! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.)

But 2020, for all its faults, has given us a hiatus from some of the more frantic pace of our modern life; so it seems fitting that we should, for our own salvation, occupy some of this sequestration with reflecting on who we are, how we are, and how we came here. The end of any year is such an opportunity, but 2020 has offered us space for a months-long review. A thorough job of this would require a book; I have 1500 words, so let me summarize what we might have learned:

As a race, we are blindly destroying our planet to gratify our worship of comfort and what, to previous generations, would have seemed unimaginable luxury. We not only doom ourselves, but our children, who cry out that we are handing off to them an irremediable wreck of a home, and asking them to helplessly accept their own fate because we are too greedy or lazy to fix what we have broken. As humans, we are killing our fellow creatures at an alarming pace, causing imbalance in the fragile filigree of our ecosystem and needless suffering to the other life forms sharing our world.

But we don’t stop there: we kill our fellow humans with a vicious disregard for anything but our own whims, our own convictions, our own convenience, viewing numberless dead with callous unconcern, yet crying out in agony if the senseless slaughter touches us personally. It seems that “justice” is a concept confined to our own private interests or to the small percentage of us compelled by unconquerable outrage to take to the streets.

Not content with wreaking havoc on our planet, its flora and fauna, and those who get in our way, we seem determined to eviscerate our own souls as well. The world has always been corrupted by dictators – little men (and forgive me, but it has pretty much always been men) who seek to fill a void in themselves by subjugating their fellows to their own despotic rule. I find myself wondering why authoritarians never use their power for improving the lives of those they’ve conquered, thereby making themselves beloved – but once they arrive at the pinnacle of sovereignty, strongmen invariably wield their supremacy to brutalize, thereby alienating all over whom they hold sway, and ensuring their own inexorable and ignominious downfall. Why not keep their subjects happy by governing with love? It seems a no-brainer to me.

And speaking of no-brainers, we come inevitably to leadership in 2020. Or lack thereof.  With the best will in the world to demolish our nation’s flawed strivings after democracy, and to beat America into submission, national leadership this year only succeeded in gutting our government of some of its most relied-upon institutions and infuriating a public long complacent on the surface but spoiling for a fight underneath. Yet more insidious and longer-lasting, this year that same leadership has unleashed the demons always lurking in the human psyche. Benevolence is invariably harder to model and delineate. Appealing to our baser instincts is easier than espousing the less marketable, more intricate principles of justice and compassion.

I cannot picture any other national leader in our history who would have denied the virulence of a pandemic and refused to see it vanquished; who would have callously ignored the deaths of hundreds of thousands because admitting them would make him look bad; who would have declared himself practically superhuman because he rated tax-payer provided experimental treatments not available to other citizens, or who would have insinuated that, unlike him, those who died from the disease did so because they were weak.

The editor of Allegany Magazine tasked his columnists and correspondents to submit a personal reflection of the year that is soon to be 2020.  Since this is meant to be a strictly personal viewpoint on 2020, I make bold to confess here, as I have in other venues, that I have never (since the JFK assassination, perhaps) been what you might call a patriot. I love the ideals which America is supposed to represent, but I consider myself a citizen of the world, and my foremost loyalty is to the Earth and its inhabitants, not to any specific and artificially created set of geographic or political boundaries. But even my un-jingoistic soul is outraged and aghast at what has happened.

Could our founders have envisioned an America where nursing infants and wailing, bewildered children are ripped from the arms of their keening parents and packed into cold, barren cages, lost to their families and traumatized for life? Could our founders have pictured their Second Amendment used to dismiss as “the price of freedom” the massacre of school children with weapons of horrific power far beyond the flintlock rifle for which it was intended? And perhaps even they would have drawn the line at kneeling for nine minutes on a man’s neck until he choked to death? All of this was 2020.

This year as the year of warnings, sickness, unassailable power, lawsuits, investigations, impeachment, checks and balances, even talk of evoking the 25th.   This was the year of smirking, mocking, bullying – of systematically and methodically shutting off our escape hatches until our only hope of rescue is what we could do as citizens of the nation and more importantly, citizens of the world.  And then we did. We voted.

Yet for all of its horrors, the year 2020 yielded some good. My family managed to slip in a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Scotland before the pandemic hit. Our planet has gained slight relief from climate change with the decrease in fossil-fuel-powered traffic, air travel and manufacturing wrought by the pandemic – though not enough relief to change the planet-ending trajectory of global warming. And while the loss of jobs and the closing of schools have thrown families into financial and educational cataclysm, it has, perhaps as a silver lining, offered them an opportunity for renewed closeness, discovery, and a reawakening of affection. Desperate civic need has also inspired civic response, as illustrated by the thousands who have stepped forward to fill the void left those unfocused and self absorbed.   This year of stark revelations about the flaws in our culture has, we can hope, also awakened recognition of so many, so very many, injustices and mistakes, and a fresh determination to right them.

And certainly, since the Biden/Harris ticket has won the election, the future for America is looking, in my own humble opinion, much brighter. We have a chance to start over with new insights into what needs to be fixed in this nation.

Let us pray that 2021 sees us with new and compassionate people reinvigorated with a resolve to make our planet the best it can be – which would be pretty good, if we’d only work together. We have everything we need to pull it off; all that remains to be found is the will.

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