SOME MODEST THOUGHTS ON 2011

I’ve been writing these posts every year as a kind of personal coda to the previous 365 days. Not always sure why, though. Maybe it provides a bookend that humans need to move on.

I normally call them ‘Saying Goodbye to…’ because that feels a little more conclusive, as if you’re about to begin something brand new and different.

Not this time. If anything, 2011 was proof that something bigger than ever before experienced is coming.

There’s no need to go into great detail about all the insanity that was 2011 for this planet. The transition we’re facing as a species from a 20th century mentality to a decidedly more fluid, 21st century model is in full effect now. We’re still struggling to define the balance between the technology we keep innovating with and the very human need for democracy, freedom and — most importantly — economic stability.

People need jobs, economic security and some sense of hope for the future in order for our civilization to survive. Those matter more than even democratic freedoms, I’d argue. People want a sense of purpose and meaningful work, not to mention having a pay cheque that doesn’t force you to decide between a decent meal or turning the lights on.

2011 was the breaking point for this worldwide crisis that’s taken years to reach its full fruition. And in 2012, it’s going to get even crazier.

The increasing chaos and instability the world faced in 2011 is really part of a larger concern for ourselves and our technology; the crisis of capitalism we face today is based on a central paradox that may not be resolved until we break free from the infinite growth paradigm that seems to be colliding with technological progress.

The fact remains: from the Arab Spring to Russia to the nascent Occupy movement, the infinite growth model is seriously breaking down and people got really, really pissed off in 2011 because of it.

We’ve known something was dangerously wrong with this model since the 2008 crash; however, it’s only been in the last few years that the true extent of the crisis has been made clear to us all.

The crisis (and irony) of 2011’s chaos was as follows: as capitalism as provided a profit incentive for innovation in technology, the role of human beings as workers is on a steep decline.

Yet the paradoxical element of 2011’s revealed truth about the market is that the infinite growth model cannot work as long as there are no buyers. No employees, no money. No money, no buying. Rinse, wash, repeat.

I don’t have any clue or answer on how to confront these problems. If anything, I’m more of the belief now than in any time of my life that the only way for this model to change is for people to reach a point of desperation so vast and dispiriting – a mindset that will ultimately find its true birth among not the Occupy movement, but among the vast numbers of former middle class folks in the United States – that a choice will have to be made.

Will 2012 bring that forward? Probably not. But it’s going to be another step closer, that’s for sure.

On a personal note… 2011 was not as wild and insane as 2010 was for me. This was a calmer year for me, just trying to get through some stuff. In terms of highs:

* My health is starting to take a turn for the better. I have a plan of action ahead that will probably come to a head in 2012, including some big changes that are coming for me.

* My friends and relationships have┬ástabilized after years of drama and chaos. I think I’m finally at a point where I’m at peace in this area of my life. You gain some friends, you lose some friends, but you always at least remain honest about yourself and where you’re going.

* Work went well once again in 2011. Looking forward to the next Olympics in 2012 in London, that’s for sure.

* After a bad first half of the year, University of Toronto turned around splendidly in the fall of 2011. Some great new people and a pretty decent course. I feel a lot better about the part-time Masters again.

And the low…

* University of Toronto for the first half of 2011 was a bad experience. The required course was genuinely painful, combined with a tragedy at the iSchool that kind of ruined things for me and a few others on the student council, not to mention sending shockwaves through the iSchool. It all was pretty messy and the fallout soured me on some aspects and a few people at U of T, but thankfully that’s water under the bridge.

Looking forward, I’m thinking about 2012 as another giant stepping stone in this process of building. I’m feeling good about where I’m headed and where I’m going.

But more importantly, I’m more capable now of handling and dealing with the trials that will come along. It’s good to know that.

Best wishes to everyone for 2012.

FOR HITCHENS

This is a post I never wanted to write this soon.

I thought he could beat it. He’s beaten off a million and one enemies, numerous threats from foes great and small and survived everything from brutal chain smoking to simulated water boarding. He could beat this. I convinced myself he could do this.

Yet he couldn’t win this fight.

Learning that Christopher Hitchens, the last great writer standing in an age of instantaneous tweets and quickly forgotten status updates, died tonight at age 62 is hard news to bear.

For me personally, Hitchens was an inspiration. He was a contrarian of the highest order, a masterful provocateur that skewered anyone that preached ideological dogmatism. He was a prolific writer, producing astounding amounts of essays, books and articles on a considerably varied number of subjects. He had a genius ability to turn a phrase into a sharp, quick-witted shot across the bow of both the inane and the powerful. He refused to cave on his principles, no matter how much it cost him personally. He rightly savaged Henry Kissinger, wrote and spoke passionately on atheism and had the guts to call the extremism of Islamic terrorism for what it really is: ugly, twisted and a perversion.

Mostly though, I admired him for his courage.

Being a public intellectual in 2011 is tantamount to dancing alone in the middle of a bar; people generally look at you with a mixture of curiosity and disdain. We’re currently living in an age of action, not words. The West’s long and slow decline is starting to speed up now, and we’re actively scorning the worlds of ideas in favour of those who placate us with cheap and easy slogans.

Hitchens wasn’t like that. Sure, as a man, he was often loutish and a boor. He didn’t win any friends from shifting, in the outbreak of the Iraq War, from being a fierce opponent of the Right to chastising leftists for his belief they didn’t want to face the War on Terror with the conviction he had.

Yet Hitchens took to his beliefs – a determination to spread the gospel that good writing is still valuable and worth fighting for – with a kind of passion I’ve always admired.

Back in 1998 in my final month of residence at Queen’s, I discovered a cache of files online that contained links to a variety of Hitchens’ writings. Over one night, I read over 10 articles, soaking in the man’s words like a sponge. I was immediately hooked.

Years later, I’m still as huge a fan of Hitchens now as I was then. I may not have agreed with everything the man wrote about war, politics and the West since the dark days of 9/11, but there were few writers out there that made as huge a personal impact in me as Hitchens.

Losing him is a great loss for the world.

R.I.P., Hitch.