We are headed for the roaring twenties. If the experience of the 20th century is anything to go by, the next ten years will be uproarious only to then end in a stinging depression. We shall see. But what, if anything, will we remember the 2010s for? Was this a historically important decade? More to the point, did it pave a path to a better future?
The angry decade
There are many reviews right now of the 2010s and the overall verdict is in: this was the “angry” decade. Others have referred to it as the “decade of disruption”.
It was a decade where the truth was contested perhaps more than ever before, at least in terms of the global scale and spread of misinformation.
It was a decade of profound and dizzying technological and social change, but not necessarily for the better.
Gary Younge in the Guardian has written a convincing review highlighting how the decade was characterised by protest, but protests that often lacked a clear alternative to the despotism, austerity or corruption they were railing against.
The good times
I am not a political scientist or sociologist (although I did study Social and Political Sciences for my undergraduate degree). So, this blog-post isn’t an attempt to summarise all these complex events and trends.
In fact, here is my attempt to try and remember what was genuinely good about the 2010s. A great deal will be written on what was bad or awful about it – with some justification. But it would be disingenuous – in fact, it might constitute a “post truth” account of the world – to suggest it was all doom-and-gloom.
Chosen rather randomly, here were five things I think were a force for good.
Turbulent times require someone with enough integrity and intellect to resist the populist tides. Although she undoubtedly made some mistakes, and treated Greece most unjustly, her decision to help at the time of Syria’s gravest hour was noble even if it’s now having repercussions and questioned. She held Germany to a much higher standard and benchmark than nearly any other country I can think of. Germany’s loss in 2021 will also (sadly) be the world’s loss too.
How predictable, I hear you cry! Well, as a soapy and soft centre-left liberal, I love this institution. It is never anything other than honest, holding up a mirror to all those in power. Thankfully, including Jeremy Corbyn. It welcomes pluralistic points of view. It never resorts to the tabloid excess most of the British press has now sacrificed itself to publish and promote. And it is free (but we must donate to keep it alive)! They backed journalists like Carole Cadwalladr. And whatever the arguments against such exposés, they back brave journalism, as in the case of Ed Snowden and the Panama Papers.
(Controversial), but the Royal Family
Let’s not forget, but for one moment at least, pause, and put the Prince Andrew scandal to one side. And it is undoubtedly a scandal. Can we imagine living in a country where our Head of State was David Cameron, Theresa May, or worse, Boris Johnson? For all the principled arguments against a system of monarchy (and I respect there are many such arguments), what a relief it is that we have a bulwark where the United States lacks any such defence mechanism.
I dislike many things about some of the leading figures in the family. But they do provide a level of political constancy that is all too rare in these overwhelming times. For all the awkward grimaces in the front row at Harry and Meghan’s wedding, I do at least appreciate how they are starting to embrace some degree of change. I especially like Harry and how he is trying to drag the family out of the 19th century.
Steve Bray (Mr Stop Brexit)
Whatever you think about Brexit – I for one have got so bored of it – there’s one thing I am certain of. The UK would be all the poorer if we didn’t have eccentric irritants like Steve Bray, who for two years solid protested against Brexit. Come rain or shine. You don’t have to agree with him to think he represents something positive. Especially in an era when so many protesters around the world are still jailed (or worse) for their efforts. He lost, but then, in another sense, he didn’t.
Senator John McCain
Michelle Obama has talked about the need to aim “high” when others around you crouch so low. McCain was’t always a paragon of virtue, but he was a pain in Donald Trump’s ass and for that I think he nearly assumes hero-like status.
He was one of the last great remnants of the Grand Old Party (GOP), which is now in the sewer. And whatever his conservative brand of politics, he (mostly) kept his political discussions about policy and not about personalities. When will the Republican Party see the likes of him again?
If you stretch out your hand
There were many humbling stories this decade and many hidden histories – many everyday heroes whose story will never be told. One final random thing I like to recall was the Canadian singer Leonard Cohen’s farewell letter to one-time lover and muse, Marianne. It had class.
Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine
Look out for another entry before the New Year highlighting my own personal highlights (and lowlights) from the 2010s!