I hope all of my readers who, like me, celebrated the solstice on Saturday had a grand time; that those who celebrated Hanukkah on Sunday did likewise; that those who celebrate Christmas are having a grand time today; and that those who celebrate other holidays around this time of year are feeling similarly blessed in prospect or in retrospect. Though the professionally outraged on all sides of the culture war are doing their level best to set all of us at each other’s throats, I’d like to suggest that it does no one any harm to wish someone else a good time on the specific midwinter holiday of their choice.
What’s more, I’m actually feeling just a little upbeat at the moment. For more than a decade now I’ve commented late each December or early each January on the way that the traditional high hopes for the new year have guttered out, replaced by gritted teeth and a fading hope that the year to come might not be quite so difficult as the one just past. No doubt a great many people right now are bracing themselves for the new year in roughly the same terms. This once, though, I’m not among them.
Don’t misunderstand me. The world, and in particular that small portion of the planet called the United States of America, both still face a bumper crop of blowback from the idiotic policies of an age of wretched excess, and the future looming up ahead of us is just as serenely uninterested in catering to our delusions of importance as it has always been. Those who put their hopes in a deus ex machina that will save us from the consequences of our own manifold stupidities can count on being just as bitterly disappointed as ever. The fact remains that here and there, some changes I’ve long hoped to see are showing signs of getting under way, and some seemingly immovable follies of the recent past have started to crumble visibly around the edges.
All this is by way of introducing my predictions for the year to come. Before we get to that, though, it’s time for one of the reliable year-end activities of my blogging, a glance back over the previous year’s predictions. If you want the details, you can find what I said this time last year here, but the gist was summed up quite neatly in these paragraphs:
“A year from now, we’re not going to look back on 2019 as the year when Trump was driven from office and everything became either wonderful or horrible, depending on your political prejudices. It won’t have been the year that the economy rolled over and died, or the year when either the political correctness of the Left or the patriotic correctness of the Right finally swept all before it. It won’t have been the year when we finally started to solve the problem of climate change, nor will it have been the year when Gaia put on her hobnailed boots and gave our species the stomping we arguably deserve. As for the leap to a new level of consciousness that’s been pulling a no-show since long before December 21, 2012 became just another day—well, let’s just say that if you hold your breath waiting for that, you’re going to turn very blue indeed.
“As 2019 winds up a year from now, furthermore, the dollar and the Euro will still have value, there will still be products on the shelves of your local grocery, gasoline-powered automobiles will still be lurching wastefully down the streets, airliners will still be rumbling even more wastefully through the skies, and more Americans will be concerned with the outcome of the upcoming Super Bowl game than with the subjects this blog discusses. I can say that with perfect confidence, and not just because I’ve been right every other time I’ve predicted it.”
I did make a few more specific predictions in my last post of 2018. I predicted that the ecological news was going to keep on being bad—more fires, more floods, more climate-related disasters—but nothing would be done about any of it. I predicted that the chasm between Left and Right would remain unbridged, that the global hegemony of the United States would continue to falter, and that the economy would have a very mixed trajectory as money trickled out of the speculative economy and back into the productive economy. All these things, like the ones included in the summary just quoted, should have come as no surprise to anybody. The only reason everyone else wasn’t expecting exactly the same thing is that the conventional wisdom of our time has become hopelessly detached from reality.
All those things then inevitably happened, and believers in the conventional wisdom just as inevitably moved the goalposts so they could pretend that the things they’ve been expecting in vain for decades really are about to happen, just you wait and see! Over the next two weeks or so, as one set of calendars comes down from the walls and another set goes up, we can expect to see the same thing again, as purveyors of the standard canned blather about great onward strides of progress and sudden apocalyptic catastrophes, the Tweedledum and Tweedledumber of the modern futurological imagination, hose off a year’s worth of failure from last year’s predictions and trot them out again. I suspect, though, that they’re going to find a rather less appreciative audience for the latest helping of progressive or apocalyptic pablum than they’re used to.
That’s the first trickle of running water, if you will, that I’ve watched cutting through the snows of the long winter of our collective imagination: a growing lack of interest in the vaporings of the experts, pundits, and media talking heads whose job is to announce what’s supposed to be true even though it’s obviously not. For a long time such figures could count on an attentive audience, but a glance at what’s happened to the viewership of the major news channels is one way of glimpsing the dizzying drop that’s under way. Granted, a good deal of that drop is due to sheer boredom with those channels’ obsession with Donald Trump; you can only listen to a gaggle of plastic-faced media muppets shriek “Orange Man Bad!” so many times before the spectacle loses whatever entertainment value it might once have possessed.
Yet it’s more than that. Quite often of late I’ve seen concern trolls come shouldering their way into internet discussions to rant about how awful it is that people have stopped trusting the opinions of experts who’ve devoted many years to studying whatever topic is under discussion. Of course they don’t mention and won’t discuss the reasons why so many people have stopped trusting expert opinions, which are (a) that those opinions so consistently turn out to be much less accurate than a flipped coin, and (b) that the inaccuracies in question so reliably benefit the professional class to which experts belong, at the expense of the working classes and the poor who are expected to take their word on faith. The trolls’ reticence on those two topics doesn’t really matter at this point, though; the mere fact that they feel the need to go stomping around the internet yelling about this issue shows that they’ve already lost.
So that’s my first prediction for 2020: the conventional wisdom of recent years has gone far enough past its pull date that more and more people are going to notice the pervasive stench of decay that emanates from it, and back away in response. I’m not sure yet what combination of quiet disinterest and loud repudiation will be involved in that reaction, but I predict that by the end of 2020 the collapse of trust in those who claim the right to speak to, and for, the public will have become an unavoidable issue in public discourse.
Another thing I’ve noticed of late—another rivulet making its way undaunted through ice and snow, if you like—is the extent to which retro culture has left the realm of content recycling and begun to revive dormant technologies. Longtime readers will recall that that’s been a hope of mine for a very long time. It so happens that older technologies by and large require much less in the way of energy and resources to manufacture and dispose of than their more recent equivalents do; they’re also much more accessible to home repair; and crucially, they’re much less dependent on an overarching technostructure than the latest, hottest, shoddiest internet-enabled gimmickry being pushed on us by corporate culture. For a while there I felt like a voice crying in the wilderness, which is admittedly not that unusual a state to be in if you’re a Druid. But things have shifted, and seem to be shifting further and faster with each passing day.
The poster child here is the return of vinyl records. I can remember quite a few years ago when compact disks came on the scene, and the corporate media was yelling in chorus that vinyl was doomed and everyone had better climb aboard the digital bandwagon. Plenty of experts insisted that everyone who noticed the “flat” quality of digital music was just plain wrong—why, look at these studies paid for by the industries that profited most from CDs! Well, times change, CDs gave way to MP3s and the cloud, it became impossible for anybody but big name performers to make a living making music because file piracy was abetted by big internet corporations…and eventually people figured out that buying old recordmaking machinery on the cheap and putting out vinyl records again was a viable alternative.
For several years now vinyl records have been a fringe phenomeon, but no more. Department stores across the river in Providence have shelves full of record players for the Christmas trade, and 2019 is on track to be another record year, if you’ll excuse the pun, for the vinyl revival. That’s not the only old technology being dusted off right now and brought back into use, and I expect more to come; as the Trump administration’s deregulation and tariff policies bring manufacturing jobs back to the US, the easiest as well as the most lucrative way for companies to get products in the stores is to turn to designs and technologies that worked well in the past, and get them in production again. The reason? In a great many cases, older designs and technologies are less fussy to use, less dependent on an increasingly problematic internet, and better able to provide people what what they want: not, please note, what marketing departments try to tell them they ought to want, but what they actually want, which is something else entirely.
So here’s my second prediction for 2020: over the course of the year, the retro tech phenomenon will be a growing presence in the manufacturing and retail sectors and in people’s lives. It’s got a long way to go, and there will doubtless still be no shortage of heavily marketed technogimmicks being dangled before consumers as the year winds to an end, but the transition away from an economy of planned obsolescence and accelerating complexity has begun. Yes, I’m quite aware that that’s not the story the corporate media’s pushing; they’re still claiming that the internet of parasitic things is the wave of the future…but they’ve forgotten, if they ever knew, that sooner or later every wave breaks and heads back out to sea.
Speaking of waves of the future, Boris Johnson’s resounding victory in Britain’s general election earlier this month marks another significant change I’ve been waiting to see. The change in question isn’t the Conservative victory—the Tories won the last four British elections, after all—but the strategy Johnson used to deal out a savage defeat to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, which was exactly the same strategy Donald Trump used to win his come-from-behind victory in 2016. Like Trump, Johnson realized that his nation’s leftward party had abandoned its working class voters in order to pander to the comfortable classes. He went to the working class voters Labour had abandoned and spoke to them about the issues that concerned them—above all, an end to the open borders and free trade agreements that drove down working class wages in order to boost middle class salaries and investment class profits—and found them more than willing to listen.
To judge from his comments at the time, Trump stumbled onto that strategy by accident, and it took him a while to figure out what was happening and how to keep doing it. Johnson, with three years of hindsight to figure that out, didn’t have to rely on trial and error. His campaign was admirably precise; it focused on the issues that mattered to working class Britons—above all, on drawing a line under the delaying tactics of the Remainer minority and giving Britain the Brexit it voted for. When the other parties protested “But what about the issues that matter to the comfortable classes?” he rolled his eyes and kept on talking about Brexit.
Now he’s sitting comfortably in No. 10 with a bigger majority than Margaret Thatcher had, and he’s doubling down on the same strategy; discarding the austerity policies (austerity for the poor, that is, and kleptocracy for the rich) that came in with Thatcher, and gearing up to reorient Britain’s social welfare policies toward providing benefits directly to the poor and away from providing well-paying government jobs to the middle class. While plenty of pundits and media personalities are still busy duplicating the mistake of the Democrats over here, and doing their level best not to learn the obvious lessons of their loss, a significant number of writers and thinkers—some of them within the Labour fold—have grasped the implications of the election and begun to talk about it.
Those implications can be summed up neatly by saying that the era of bureaucratic globalism is ending and an era of populist nationalism is replacing it. After the Second World War, across the Western world, the managerial caste that played so important a part in winning the war cemented its authority and wealth by fostering a massive expansion of government, corporate, and nonprofit bureaucracies staffed by university-educated upper middle class managers, the new aristocracy of the postwar world. Across the board, bureaucrats took charge, and pushed a series of social, political, and economic policies that were loudly proclaimed as the wave of the future and the solution for all the world’s problems.
Did they solve some problems? Of course. Did they cause others? Of course. As the era of bureaucratic globalism budded, flowered, and went to seed, programs and policies that started out sincerely trying to make the world better morphed inexorably into gimmicks to provide as many jobs as possible to salaried employees and make as few changes as possible to the conditions that guaranteed the ascendancy of the managerial caste. Corruption set in, modest at first and then soaring to dizzying kleptocratic heights—and eventually those who received none of the benefits of the managerial caste’s preferred policies and were burdened with much more than their fair share of the costs became a sufficiently large and outraged voting bloc to attract the attention of the Trumps and Johnsons of the political sphere.
Trump and Johnson aren’t the only ambitious politicians to catch the incoming wave, and they won’t be the last. That’s another lively little stream of water that’s splashing over the wintry landscape just now. The managerial caste retains a great deal of power, of course, and it also has a considerable body of expertise, not all of which has been completely corrupted by greed and lust for power. The parties that cater to the interests of bureaucratic globalism—the Labour party in Britain, the Democratic party in the US, and so on—will doubtless pick themselves up eventually and figure out that they have to make a case for their policies that will appeal to people outside the comfortable classes they serve.
What has broken irreparably is the insistence that the interests of the managerial caste, and the policies that serve those interests, are the only options that the political system can consider. Margaret Thatcher’s famous acronym TINA—“There Is No Alternative”—has passed its pull date once and for all. For what has risen in its place, I suggest the acronym TAMA—“There Are Many Alternatives.” If Labour and the Democrats don’t like the alternatives being offered by Johnson, Trump, & Co., or by their soon-to-be-added partners in other countries, why, they have every right to offer alternatives of their own…but of course if they do, they have to be prepared to show a lot of skeptical working class voters that those alternatives won’t simply result in another round of the miserable experiences of the recent past. If history is anything to go by, it may take the parties in question a while to get the hang of this.
So my third prediction for the coming year is that the populist uprising against bureaucratic globalism will continue, as ambitious politicians elsewhere in the Western world realize that meeting the needs of working class majorities is an effective route to power, and as those same working class majorities realize that they don’t have to settle for whatever crumbs from the table the comfortable classes might be minded to throw their way. That promises a turbulent time ahead, no question, but it’s a time out of which some definite good might emerge.
And of course, the same points I brought up last year will continue to apply. As 2020 winds down a year from now, Donald Trump will still be the president of the United States and Boris Johnson will still be the prime minister of Britain; none of the currently fashionable crop of apocalypses will have shown any sign of coming to pass, and neither will any of the currently fashionable crop of sudden leaps to new levels of consciousness; the dollar and the pound sterling will still have value, the shelves of grocery stores will still be stocked with products to buy; here in the United States, more people will be interested in the outcome of the Super Bowl than in any of the subjects discussed on this blog; and the three trickling currents of change I’ve outlined in this post will continue flowing on their way, growing in size and force, without most people noticing them except in passing. There’s still a fair amount of time and distance yet to pass before those streams, roaring and turbulent with the meltwater they’ve gathered, plunge down the last slope to the shores of a surging ocean.
And with that, I’d like to wish my Christian readers a merry Christmas, my Jewish readers a happy Hanukkah, my Druid and Pagan readers a happy solstice season, and to all, a new year full of possibilities.
It’s been a while since my last vacation and I have some projects in the works that need some concentrated attention. With that in mind, I will be taking the month of January off from blogging and most other internet activities. See you on February 5, 2020!