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David Bouchier: In praise of optimism

2022 new years lights
Brecht Bug

This quiet pause between the Holidays and New Year is a strange liminal period at the best of times, full of anxiety and hope and empty resolutions. The changing of the calendar makes us feel that something momentous should happen, but it rarely does. Remember how we all expected the end of the world on January 1, 2000, and it was a bit of an anticlimax, as was the repeat performance in 2012? The calendar date is arbitrary, of course. The Chinese celebrate their New Year in February. The Ancient Celts, poor superstitious pagans they were without so much as a proper calendar among them, mistook Halloween for New Years and celebrated it on October 31. But January 1, with its bells and fireworks and Old Lang Syne, helps us to focus and think about the future.

We have to choose between optimism and pessimism about the coming year. In spite of everything I would choose optimism — not the Pollyannaish type of optimism that assumes that everything will be just fine — because obviously it won’t be, never has been and never will be just fine, but a practical, realistic optimism that takes its cue from history.

We like to think that we are living in a time of history-making events, but it is more likely that we are living in a footnote to a book already written. The ancient Greeks believed that history was cyclical: the same events repeated over and over, like the programming on some public television stations — here comes antiques roadshow again. This is a comforting philosophy. Nothing entirely unexpected can happen, because it has all happened before in the great turning wheel of time.

From this perspective, we might expect that the year 2022 will be essentially a rerun 2021. History is like that. Go back a thousand years to 1022 and you will find much the same chaos of wars, superstitions, conspiracies and epidemics. This is often called the irony of history. But history is not so much ironic as simply repetitive, because human beings are repetitive, which is why each New Year surprises us by being very much like the one before. In 2022 we will hear a lot about COVID, a lot about political power struggles, a lot about climate change and a lot about trouble in the Middle East: nothing new.

It's true that last year a lot of bad things arrived at once. The story of Pandora’s Box has often been invoked, along with some suggestions about who exactly opened the box and let all the poison out. These ancient myths often carry a hint of truth, and it’s worth observing that after all the worst things had escaped, Pandora’s box was not entirely empty. One thing was left at the bottom, and that was hope. The least we can do is to contemplate 2022 with hope, and even a little humor, because the human comedy is the longest-running show on earth and never closes, even for plagues.

There is also some good news to help us along. This comes from the Internet, so it must be true. A group of Bulgarian translators has come up with a new version of the prophecies of Nostradamus, which revises his original apocalyptic prediction. There will be no apocalypse in 2022 — that’s official. The end of the world has been re-scheduled for January 1, 2025, immediately after the election. So that’s all right then.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.