When my physicist pal tells me time isn’t real – that it’s just a tool we invented to order experience – I ask him to speak up because my ears ain’t what they used to be.
But I hear him. Take our need to slice and dice “time” into decades and centuries to which we assign specific characteristics. Nothing magically changed when the calendar flipped at midnight on Jan. 1, 2000. On the other hand we were suddenly in a New Millennium! Life in a nutshell: meaningful and meaningless all at once!
Big change happens but almost always because of unexpected cataclysms – falling meteors, rising madmen, game-changing discoveries – that are hard to foresee.
Nevertheless, we are entering a new decade – the Roaring Twenties 2.0, or 2billion.0, depending on your point of view – and inquiring minds want to know: what will the 2020s bring?
My crystal ball doesn’t show the momentous manure that could hit the fan; it just says more of the same. Specifically, even as living standards continue to improve for most everybody, our hands will get closer to each other’s throats.
Start with the good news. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently reported – and Harvard Professor Stephen Pinker detailed more comprehensively in his essential book, “Enlightenment Now” – “since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago, 2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring disease. Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity. Each day, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time. And some 650,000 went online for the first time, every single day.”
As the developing world continues to rise, living standards are also improving in wealthy countries like the United States thanks to rising incomes, lower prices and significant advances in medicine and technology. Our arguments are not about how to create prosperity but how to share it. This is not a sudden blessing but the result of deeply entrenched trend lines that stretch back for centuries. Only an unseen cataclysm will change them going forward.
The bad news is that our new Roaring Twenties will see more of the identity politics and divisive ideology that has riven our nation. Briefly, the “death of God” that traces back to the 19th century and the rise of postmodern relativism during the 20th century have undermined the notion of truth – that there is a “reality” all can identify and agree on.
As Douglas Murray argues in his smart new book, “The Madness of Crowds,” this now-mainstream mindset sees all human action through the lens of power and oppression. It dismisses the notion of objectivity and casts the traditional pillars of society – everything from free speech to sex differences – as insidious social constructs wielded to maintain the status quo.
Such critiques are not without merit, but they constitute a dangerous contradiction: human beings need the idea of objective facts and truth to give their assertions authority.
As a result, those who claim there is no truth argue for their truth; “facts” and “truth” have never loomed so large in our national discourse precisely because they are merely interpretations. Because truth has become an expression of radical subjectivity – not universal reality but each individual’s “lived reality” – politics is intensely personal. We passionately denounce those who disagree with us as deplorable liars because they are not rejecting our views, but our selves.
It’s sad, and crazy.
This trend will only intensify, which means our Roaring Twenties 2.0 will be the best of times and the worst of times.