Thursday, 31 December 2020

One of the outstanding features of this year – and there were a few – was the extent to which people were grouped into ideological tribes, or to which they aligned themselves with specific ideological tribes. More than any year since November 2016, you had to take a stand on the presidency of Donald J. Trump. You had to formulate an opinion about the Black Lives Matter organisation. You had to decide where you stand with the movement calling themselves Antifa in many Western countries. You had to decide if it is okay if protesters burn down buildings, destroy small businesses, and assault individual members of the public in groups against which the individual can offer virtually no resistance. (Previously, you might have thought it easy to condemn this type of behaviour, but 2020 was the year when even close family members and people in your social circle approved of such behaviour with a fist in the air, or a graphic of a fist in the air on social media.) It was furthermore the year you had to decide whether COVID-19 deserved the label of pandemic, or whether it is just another of the occasionally deadly viruses that plague the world every few years. And even if you agree that it is a pandemic, you have to form an opinion on measures that governments worldwide have implemented to combat the virus. What’s more, your own business, your own source of income, may have been threatened, and may have gone under, due to lockdown periods or other measures. Since November, you have also had to take a stand on the US election. Was it free and fair? Did the media in America give both presidential candidates the same treatment? Did they give both candidates an equal chance to state their case? If damning revelations were made about one of the candidates, did the media treat it with reasonable impartiality? Seeing that there were opportunities for corruption in the election – as with surely any large-scale enterprise managed by thousands of people, seeing that there was more than adequate incentive to commit fraud – political office brings many benefits to the victor and their supporters, and seeing that there was not enough time to investigate any serious allegations – the investigation into allegations of Russian involvement in the 2016 election lasted approximately two years, and in the light of improbable statistics, can it be said with certainty that the official winner of the election is the legitimate winner? Then, to round off the opinion bonanza, there was Climate Change and Global Warming, and the World Economic Forum and their Great Reset; there were the ongoing negotiations on Britain’s departure of the European Union; the debate over whether an adult man can simply declare he is a woman and from that moment on claim entitlement to protection and rights intended exclusively for women; the question of whether teenagers and pre-teens can decide on their own what gender they are and if it does not match their genitals, immediately proceed without their parents’ consent with hormone treatment which can have long-term, irreversible consequences; and the growing bias and political agendas of social media – maybe not a problem if they are politically in line with yours, but what happens if you change your mind? The trend that has been going on for a number of years of people losing seats on discussion panels, or being fired or losing contracts because they said or wrote something that is against the accepted currents of thought of the day, also compels one to wonder if there really is still room for free debate. Can you still think what you want and keep your job? Can you still express an opinion in a private conversation about taxation or immigration or religion or climate change and expect it not to cost you your way to earn a living? Can a scientist do experiments with the knowledge that he will still have a job if the results of his experiments are not popular among social and political activists?

Nevertheless … nevertheless … I am grateful. I’m thankful I’m still alive. I am thankful that my two sisters, their children, and my two dear parents also survived the year. And I am grateful for my wife and partner who makes every day better with her love, her companionship, and her support. Then I am grateful for my health, and for a good home in Taiwan. I’m grateful for our two cats. I am grateful for all the eateries in our neighbourhood where we can enjoy tasty and healthy meals. I am grateful for all the opportunities I have to make money. And – I’m thankful for the pleasant cool weather today in Kaohsiung (13ºC), and for the nice cup of hot, black coffee I enjoy as I type these words.

Be good to yourself in 2021. Be good to people who share your life with you, and whose lives you share. Be good to people who are strangers to you right now, but maybe later friends. And be reasonable with people you disagree with, and don’t burn bridges that you will later regret. And if people are not reasonable with you? Keep your conscience clean and your intellectual honesty intact. And make sure you have enough money in the bank – or in your safe, or in your crypto wallet, or in your little bag of gold and silver, and enough sources of income that cannot be cancelled overnight.