Human Interest

Was 2016 Really The Most Traumatic Year Ever?

Tales of 2016 being the worst year ever have been greatly exaggerated...

John Scotting

Sub Editor of Naked Politics 

It would be melodramatic to the extreme for us to include 2016 in the same breath as the Great Depression of 1929-39, the Great Wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45, the Great Plague of 1665, and almost every year before that. It would be bordering on the ridiculous to compare contemporary opulence with the socialist 70’s, in which global abject poverty reached its peak, and Britain was destitute enough to acquiesce to a supranational political project. It is even debatable whether last year was the most traumatic since the turn of the millennium. The global financial crisis of 2007-11 was only five years ago, so unless you happen to be a toddler, perhaps a reality check is in order, before consigning 2016 to Room 101 with histrionic exclamations of “worst year ever!”.

As a species, we are currently living in the most prosperous, healthy, peaceful, green, and wondrous time in our history. A fact that is shielded from us by masochistic entertainment shows that masquerade as “the news”, as they feed the innate negativity bias that we derive from our ancestors’ survival instincts. Let’s face it, “Woman lives another day and remains happy and healthy” is hardly newsworthy!

In Britain, employment is high, economic growth is strong, inflation is low, and both health and living standards continue to improve. Yet we are constantly bombarded with recession-inducing gloom. Globally, around 100 million people per year are escaping from extreme poverty; the latest figures on global terrorism show a 10% decrease over the previous 12 months; the Ebola pandemic was curtailed, along with numerous other advances in worldwide health; and the Giant Panda, along with other less teddy-like species, are no longer endangered. Yet our daily dose of misery comes without the Poppins-prescribed spoonful of sugar that it really ought to.

The residents of Aleppo, the family and close friends of 60 million people that have died across the globe, and millions that have developed serious health problems, can justifiably count 2016 as an horrendous year; but can the rest of us really say the same? Set against that backdrop, the omnipresent #fuckoff2016 social media tags were disproportionate to say the least. Especially when we consider that they were generally prompted by the loss of a group of people that few of us had ever actually met. The truth is that the tragic circumstances of distant strangers are no more tangible to us than the fictitious relationships that we share with the presenters of our favourite TV shows and singers of our favourite songs. They exist in the same places; on screen, on radio, and in print. So, while worldwide tribulation has reduced, when presented with a tickertape of celebutant deaths, our reaction is to seek the affirmation of collective mourning.

The prevailing anti-2016 sentiment has much more to it, though. For a significant minority, the realisation that their own political opinions are not shared by the malcontent majority, has caused genuine distress. Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief followed the Brexit vote, with denial that “people knew what they were voting for”, angry protests, bargaining for a faux (soft) Brexit, and depression eventually giving way to acceptance (for some, at least).

Despite campaigning for Vote Leave, I can empathise with the despair. Not that I feel any sense of “Bregret”. The mess that we currently find ourselves in is the fault of Major, Blair and Brown, and their willingness to reduce the value of our votes while casually disregarding any variance in opinion on the matter. I would both campaign, and vote, for liberty, ad infinitum. The hollowness of the victory is not because the expected short-term economic turbulence is in any way new information, either. It is the result of a significantly bleaker view of humanity.

I’ve always been a godless nihilist, subscribing to Frederich Nitzsche’s “god is dead” and Freddie Mercury’s “nothing really matters” philosophies; but confidence that people are naturally good before being corrupted by their environments, has enabled me to be a glass half full kinda guy. Sadly, I now realise the extent of that deviation from childhood innocence, and worse still, that the golden rule of “treating others as you would wish to be treated yourself” seems to be dying out. The viciously divisive referendum campaigns (both sides) and vitriolic response to the result, followed by a repeat of the same in the US, has led to a genuine sense of melancholy.

Opting for sobriety as my New Year’s resolution has removed the opportunity to alleviate any latent despondency. So, if drawing a line under the disunity of the last year, by shouting “FUCK YOU 2016”, is both therapeutic and necessary for us to reset and rebuild, then I’m all for it. Let’s peg all of the negativity onto the year itself and move on. Whether it really was the most traumatic year ever or not. What is important now, is that we bury the hatchet, and summon the best of British stoicism by ‘Keep(ing) Calm and Carry(ing) On’.

Happy New Year!

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