THE BLOG

An Alternative 2016 Roundup

28/12/2016 16:22
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Brexit. Trump. The death of your favourite celebrity. No other year in recent history, as far as I'm aware, has gained quite the notoriety of 2016 -- and we're not even yet on the other side. Where 2015 supposedly represented liberal progression (Justin Trudeau's reasoning for prioritising a gender-balanced Cabinet last year was "because it's 2015"), if you're on any kind of social media you'll have heard 2016 referred to as the worst year ever.

I can already see the play out of the new year's T.V. and newspaper roundups ("2016, am I right? *audience laughter*) and I don't think I can stomach another joke about Brexit sounding like cereal or about Donald Trump's hair. Our collective fixation on these two, albeit not insignificant, lowlights in Western democracy is more than just easy-pickings for panel show hosts, however, but entirely reductive.

My point here is not going to be that because other people have it so much worse than us our problems are insignificant because, not only would that be incredibly condescending, but also complete drivel because its logical conclusion is that we sort out every world issue one-by-one from most to least important, which would land us in a moral quandary so murky it'd give Jeremy Bentham a headache.

But what I do want to say, having established that caveat is, firstly, that projecting such despair onto the current year as if world peace was suddenly deliberately and spitefully interrupted is not entirely helpful when considering international politics as a whole. Yes, the West has faced a couple of major (democratic) decisions which are potentially hazardous for social justice and human rights, but we have to stop mourning them now and start preparing a long-term defence.

The silver lining to Trump and Brexit is that young people who might not previously have fully realised the extent to which politics affects our daily lives (myself included) are now angry and upset by the direction our parents' and grandparents' generation is taking us -- and are becoming galvanised to face future challenges. We cannot even hope to begin doing this, however, if we give in to despair or apathy over the current political climate: terrorism and the growth of far-right parties and beliefs are not a blip in otherwise calm political waters, but an indication of where we are headed if no-one stops the boat.

The second point I wish to make is that by writing off 2016 as that horrible year in which Trump and Brexit happened would only epitomise the dangerous phenomenon of letting a lot of little injustices slip through the net whilst our attention is focussed away on the bigger stories which, although is hardly new, has been particularly toxic this year.

In 2001 a government press officer advised her department on the morning of 9/11 that "it's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury"; in 2016 Katie Hopkins tweeted an apology to a Muslim family she had libelled at 2 am. As 'yuge' as Trump and Brexit might be, it's important they aren't allowed to entirely overshadow the Panama Papers, the selling off of chunks of the NHS, the Chilcot Report, the tightening of austerity and public service cuts, the further increase of tuition fees or junior doctor strikes.

2016 was also quite a year for journalism, let's not forget, what with Rupert Murdoch threatening to buy Sky, jumping allegiances during the Labour leadership contest and the rise and rise of fake news. I'm also going to name it the year in which affixing '-gate' to an event to suggest scandal officially lost any weight after 'traingate' and 'trousergate' hit national headlines.

Internationally the Rio Olympics will, of course, be one of the bigger features in most conventional roundups; the refugee crisis and horrendous spate of terrorist attacks we witnessed particularly over summer are likely to get a look-in as they did directly affect the West, although I'll be impressed if anybody remembers to mention the attacks in Lahore or Istanbul, and actively amazed if they mention the fact that global CO2 levels were the highest this year than ever before in human history.

As I look back over 2016, despite its political shambles, celebrity deaths and significant tragedies, my mood towards 2017, and 2018, 19, 20 and so forth is not one of despair, however, but one of optimism. As a young person in the UK who has chosen to go to university I face enormous debt, a squeezed job market and a housing crisis (although at least I don't have to worry overmuch about my pension as I'll be lucky ever to retire).

I'm also from a generation under such extreme pressure to work hard, decide what we want to be and succeed that many of us turn to self-deprecatory humour, overusing the word 'aesthetic' and memes about drinking, napping, failing classes, hating and even killing ourselves, and a thick cloak of irony to get through the year.

But even despite all of this and despite the resurgence of far-right groups and hatred (and the bizarre intersection between the two when Pepe the frog was branded a hate symbol), I feel positive about our generation's future. We, on the whole, were mortified with Brexit and Trump and all of the other challenges 2016 has thrown at us, and I really believe we'll harness our current frustration to forge future change.

In fact, I know we will because it is what every frustrated generation has to do, including our parents, and grandparents and ancestors throughout history. There will always be an incentive to fight injustice because at a fundamental level people cannot be satisfied without freedom. That one consoling thought became my philosophy for 2016, even when watching helplessly as Polish lawmakers pushed for a blanket ban on abortion, or when a 29 year-old man shot and killed forty-nine people in an LBGT nightclub.

Every generation has a fight on its hands and it looks like ours is going to be a tough one. The major horrors of 2016 represent some horrible and worrying trends in international politics, but we've overcome worse yet. 2016 doesn't have to be the year in which everything went wrong, but can become a turning-point from which we pull together to evince positive change.

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