Commentary | Reflections on 2016

Wrapping up odds and ends

In 2016, many of us have felt a growing distance from things that we have always assumed and held as truths. For those of us who have either grown up or found ourselves in liberal bubbles – far from certain realities that we either chose to ignore or which were hidden from us by smokescreens – we simply could not fathom our current social, economic, and political climate. We were well aware of economic inequalities, rampant racism, cissexism, misogyny, and the very foundations on which our Western society was based; yet somehow, 2016 still felt like an ambush. There were prescient warnings by those most marginalized, but those were supposedly ‘tainted’ by lived experiences, seen as inherent biases; the situation was dire and we refused to listen. Despite our participation in protests, marches, heated political discussions, community actions, and engagement with the liberal, and even liberal-left media, we were floored.

We then spent the rest of 2016 playing the blame game: who was responsible for this mess? Everything and everyone, apparently – identity politics, increasing economic disparity, growing distance between the rural and the urban, corruption, greed, neoliberalism, fake news, social media, racist legacies, white supremacy, colonialism, liberal backlash, the electoral college, the incompatibility of democracy and hyper-capitalism, and most of all, the Universe. The end of the year saw think-pieces, tweets, blog posts, articles, listicles, memes with the same fraught personalization of 2016 as simply “the worst.” After all, 2016 was supposedly the year of realizing things, and that’s never an easy task. Here are some things that we ‘realized:’ having a Black man as president of the United States did not, in fact, mean that racism was over; the western world is experiencing a crisis, and the liberal democratic principles it supposedly espouses – those same seeds of democracy that it so generously sowed across the globe, without being asked to do so – are failing; and the fall of neoliberal capitalism seems inevitable at this point, maybe it was never really sustainable after all. It felt like 2016 was just one truly shocking truth after another.

Most of us know it’s too easy, as well as absurd, to think we’re leaving all of 2016 behind; none of us expect that the social construction of time and arbitrary measure of the Gregorian calendar is enough to shield us from the inevitable continuity of last year’s events and, ultimately, that of history. However, maybe compartmentalization is what some of us need right now to survive. Adhering to this conception of a new year as a fresh start is not a delusion, or even just a form of self-care – a term that essentially lost its meaning when it was co-opted by capitalists to justify ‘wellness’ programs and products used to improve worker satisfaction and productivity. Rather, saying goodbye to yet another year is a mechanism that allows us to continue our work and our lives in an increasingly unfamiliar setting, and that we must.

The next few years will require radical actions. It will require awareness and a critical look at our capacities and our socio-economic positions. Although we find ourselves in seemingly catastrophic times, the consequences will not affect some of us, namely the relatively wealthy and privileged, and their children and grandchildren – at least not in the ways that it will impact the world’s most vulnerable. While we’re all allowed to grieve and process our emotions accordingly, it is worth questioning our increasingly public expressions of outrage and reactionary behaviour in times like these. The personification of 2016 as nearly apocalyptic, at least according to Twitter and Facebook feeds, often came from those least likely to be affected by the urgent climate crisis, xenophobia, Islamophobia, racist migration policies, threats to reproductive rights, police brutality, mass incarceration, a rise in far-right political parties and white supremacy. Sure, all of these issues warrant outrage, but the reactionary loop within which we found ourselves at the end of 2016 seemed counterproductive at best. Generalizing all knee-jerk reactions as feigned indignation would be inaccurate, although not entirely false. Some of us, in some way, felt guilty or wanted to distance ourselves from ‘the ones’ that caused this mess, while others were justifiably upset by the injustice and the fear of imminent danger. Plastering our anger and grief on social media in times of crisis is a valid form of expression; however, how do we stop this reactionary loop from lulling us into a false sense of engagement, or even inhibiting concrete actions by overwhelming us with reactionary and inflammatory affirmations turned facts meant to outdo one another?

We could disengage with the news, our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and take a look within our own communities. As citizens we’re made to feel guilty and irresponsible for not keeping up with breaking news, which seems to occur at dizzying rates lately, but this year disproved that too. We consumed an incredible amount of political content on all platforms, but echo chambers, fake news, and a cycle that feeds on reaction over action has left us deflated, emotionally burnt out, and frankly, exhausted. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to make half-hearted efforts to find bandaid solutions.

In some way, the years to come will require all of us to become activists within our capacities and circumstances. We will have to step outside our ivory towers, behind our liberal smokescreens, away from our comfort zones, and listen to those who have been warning us for years. This will be hard. It will require introspection, doing away with previously-held beliefs on identities, redirecting our energies from semantics to laborious emotional work, and re-evaluating the efficacy of our political actions within the confines of neoliberalism. Most of all, it will require us to face uncomfortable truths and surrender to the discomfort. It feels disingenuous to keep an optimistic outlook, and nihilistic to admit defeat; maybe remembering that the world and all that it holds is in constant motion, and that collective actions will continue to direct its course, can provide us with some comfort.


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