What I wrote – and didn't write – in 2021
The other day I found a set of notes, dated December 31, 2020, for an essay to be entitled “2021: The Mixtape.” I guess it was going to be a set of predictions for the coming year. The opening sentences were:
“I look forward to hearing President Joe’s first address to the nation, in which he lays out his vision for the coming year. I’m speaking of Joe Manchin, of course, who will now wield outsized power in the United States Senate.”
Okay, so score one for a good call – although you didn’t exactly need a crystal ball to see that one coming.
The other notes were so vague as to be pretty much useless. “Music” – well, what about it? “Assange.” That situation was looking grim then and is looking grimmer now, for Julian and all of us. “Democracy Dies in Darkness” – quoting the Washington Post’s Trump-era tagline – “but how quickly?”
We all knew another Covid-19 variant was possible, but somehow I couldn’t imagine we’d spend New Year’s Eve of 2022 in what is quickly becoming a second full lockdown.
We all knew another Covid-19 variant was possible, but somehow I couldn’t imagine we’d spend New Year’s Eve of 2022 in what is quickly becoming a second full lockdown. But then, I did spend much of the year call for global access to free vaccines, which could have done a great deal to stop or at least slow the Delta and Omicron variants.
I suppose my favorite piece of the year was inspired by the most ludicrous events of the year, the competing rocket launches of Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos. “The Emperor’s New Rocket” begins,
“After Marc Antony served a lavish meal, Cleopatra crushed her most valuable pearl earring into a wine goblet filled with vinegar and drank it. Like that feast, the billionaire space race is a race to see who can squander the most money, but this time it's the rest of us who will drink the dregs.”
I began a series about late-empire US architecture called “American Ozymandias” and the first entry was about the upcoming Obama Center in Chicago. I promise to continue the series in 2022.
“None Could Break the Web” is a reflection on William Blake, digital capitalism, and Jason Hickel’s new book, Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World. The title comes from Blake’s lines, “None could break the Web, no wings of fire,So twisted the cords, and so knotted The meshes, twisted like to the human brain.”
Now that’s prophetic. (Blake’s words, I mean.)
We still don’t fully grasp the insidiousness of digital technology. Sure, it has many benefits. But our thinking – about freedom, about privacy, about equality – hasn’t kept pace with the power of this technology to control our lives. As I wrote in “Ma Bell with Mind Control: Liberalism, Radicalism, and the Evolving Face of Censorship,"
“These corporations control a broader spectrum of human experience than any entity in history ... Bell Telephone, which was broken up in one of our countries most significant antitrust cases, didn’t provide the news and information that shaped people’s understanding of their world. Even at the height of its power, ‘Ma Bell’ had no power to censor what was said on its phone lines — much less to hide the fact that a call was placed. Social media can do all these things and more.”
Not everything I wrote last year was dark. I also wrote that “Every Person With a Conscience Is a Revolutionary Waiting to Be Born.” How does that birth take place?
“Revolutionaries aren't alone. Even if they're isolated in some remote village, they have the gift of knowing that others are on the same path. They know the struggle will go on, even if they die. The revolution can succeed, even if they fail.”
“Covid-19: The Monstrosity of the Normal” wrestled with a question I think more of us should be asking: why aren’t we reacting to this wave of mass death with more urgency?
But then, why aren’t we reacting to all needless deaths with more passion and concern? Someone dies every few seconds as the result of our political choices. I did the math. “Before You’re Done Reading This, Someone Will Die of Political Neglect” concludes:
“This is arithmetic, but it's arithmetic that hurts. It's an arithmetic of the heart. As long as progressives stay silent about the lives that are still being lost, something doesn't add up. Nothing does, in fact, except the number of lost lives—a number that went up while you were reading this.”
In “Means Testing is Still Inhumane, Divisive, and Very Bad Politics,” I tried to address the “popularism” argument which says that Democrats should only propose ideas that already poll well. I wrote,
“The problem arises when Democrats craft tomorrow’s policies on today’s poll readings. That’s like prescribing medication today based on what your temperature was last week.”
I told the story of “Military vs Climate Spending: A Moral Catastrophe in Three Pictures” using graphs, and it got a lot of online reaction. Related pieces included “Trillions Spent on Disastrous Afghan War vs. Just $25 Billion to Vaccinate World's Poor” and “$3.5 Trillion Is Too Expensive, But $10 Trillion for War Is Business as Usual.”
“5 Uncomfortable Truths Behind the Capitol Riot” got the greatest reader engagement of anything I self-published this year, for whatever that's worth.
I also wrote these pieces about the pandemic:
- One Million Dead
- On Vaccine Patents, A Light Out of the Darkness
- As People Keep Dying, Can the President—Can We—Really Say 'We Did Everything We Could'?
- The Vaccine Vampires
- Vaccines and the Deserted Amusement Park of the American Soul
Other pieces written in the last year include:
- Can We Really Call It “the American Empire”? (Spoiler alert: yes.)
- A Society That Makes People Homeless Has Lost Its Humanity
- Foreigners Without Guns: News Clips on War, Climate, Hunger, and Corruption
- The Most Important Line Robin DiAngelo Ever Wrote (and Which Everyone Missed)
- Juneteenth in Spacetime
- The Apocalypse Must Be Near. I Agree with Henry Kissinger – About Cold War with China.
- Bunny Wailer's Dream, 1947-2021
- We’ve Gotten ‘This Land is Your Land’ Wrong All Along
- Buddhist with a Gun
- The Pundits Who Want to Give James Bond a License to Kill... the Chinese
- Dream Houses of the Future of the Past
- How I Met the Queen
The notes for that unwritten “mixtape” piece ended with these words:
I will always incline toward the people who work for a better world, even at the risk of being foolish, and against those who argue that a better world isn’t possible.
I tried to stand by those words in 2021. I’ll try to do the same in 2022 and in all the years that lie ahead for me, however many or few. I’m glad you’re with me on this journey, and I always welcome hearing from you.
Oh – and Happy New Year, no matter what.