Libraries, Archives, Technology, Impending Doom
Not many people will lament 2014 coming to a close. Certainly, as with any year, there are numerous individuals who experienced moments of great joy and personal fulfillment over the course of the year; however, if one steps back from individual humans to look more broadly at humanity it seems that 2014 was not a particularly good year. Granted, what was the last year that we can claim was a “good year for humanity” without succumbing to cynical laughter or anxious qualifying?
Any attempt to reflect upon a year risks treating those twelve months as if they exist in a historical vacuum – as if those 365 days somehow stand at a remove from the years that have come before. In 2014 the trends that had long been visible over the course of previous years continued on their courses, and though there were numerous flairs of resistance that illuminated these trends and temporarily made them more visible, it is not for 2014 alone to tell if any of these trends have been seriously altered or definitively resolved. To give but a sample of the trends that continued gathering momentum in 2014 (admittedly, these are focused on trends most visible in the United States): continued widening of economic inequality, evidence of a legal system that has traded “law and order” for any gesture towards justice, the steady hollowing out of democratic and public institutions, increasingly dire ecological projections, evidence of growing informational risks in a highly technological age – even as technology becomes held up ever more as the one true faith, the still present specter of oppressive ideologies (racism, transphobia, misogyny, homophobia, targeting of religious groups), and grotesque evidence of human rights violations that are met with a cold hearted shrug of “but we knew this already.” Dark though such trends may be they had their origins before 2014, and it takes no great imagination to conclude that these trends will continue to be felt in 2015.
Yet 2014 was a year in which many took action to defy the progress of these regressive trends. That gross injustice is met with an impassioned response is better than for injustice to be met with no response or with a Panglossian calmness. Hope remains fixed upon the possibility of doing away with injustice, but insofar as pursuing “the good” instead of settling for “the goods” represents a sort of existential commitment one is left with the discomforting recognition that as long as there is injustice there will be a need for a response – and we are many miles from our hoped for injustice free destination. Indeed, it seems that we have even lost the map that was guiding us on our path.
Thus the upsurge in organizing and activism that continues to resound through 2014 is encouraging – even as the ongoing presence of the injustices against which these protests aim remains quite discouraging. 2014 witnessed massive “Climate Marches” in which humans demanded that those who, apparently, represented them take the threat of climate change seriously; while, in a series of protests that continue, protestors took to the streets to decry police violence under the demand Black Lives Matter. Many people took to the streets to protest in 2014, and given the things being protested the surprise is not that the protests took place but that more people did not take to the streets.
It may be that 2014 was a year defined by a sort of growing political-agnosticism – it is not so much that people are proclaiming “the State is dead!” as that they are seriously pondering “is the State dead?” A general loss of faith can easily be detected. There is ample reason, after all, to withdraw faith from a State that seems only interested in hearing the prayers of parishioners who can drop several million dollars in the collection plate. This context provides a thick manure in which anti-democratic principles can take root and likewise grants an opening for new saviors to sing their gospels. Why blather on about an old document like the Constitution when you can just click “I agree” on a Terms of Service agreement? The ascendency of high technology, and the firms closely tied to it, continued unabated in 2014 and it is possible to see in people’s adoration for high technology a reinvestment of the faith that they had withdrawn from other institutions. Granted, it is a dangerous move to shift from worshiping the State to worshiping technology – for the high priests of the State and of technology are all still busily paying fealty to Moloch and Mammon. Though the exhortation to place faith in technology is another trend that continued building up speed in 2014.
We may now be more than a decade into the twenty-first century, but humanity’s ethics still seem stuck in bygone days.
The way in which we are accustomed to speaking about years can easily suggest a sort of clean break that we know does not actually exist. While January 1 may be the first official day of a new year, from the perspective of December 31 it is also simply tomorrow, and from the perspective of January 1 the previous day is simply yesterday. Granted, the opening of the New Year is a moment that is often treated as though it is pregnant with fresh opportunity – here is a new year which will provide us the chance to set out ambitious goals which we may cling to resolutely or casually discard after the second week of February. While the types of resolutions that people are generally encouraged to take-on usually feature some strong component of self-betterment, the waning days of 2014 provide a serious reminder that our selves exist in a world and society filled with other selves. What good does it truly do us to resolve to “get in shape” in the New Year if the world around us is getting steadily warped out of shape?
2015 will begin long before the issues of 2014 have had a chance to come to any sort of a resolution, indeed 2014 had begun before the issues of 2013 had a chance to come to any sort of a resolution, and indeed 2013…you can imagine the way this sentence would continue. One of the important challenges at the start of 2015 (and at the start of any year) thus becomes to not treat the previous year as though it has vanished into the past, as though it has disappeared into the murky reaches of history from which it can only be extracted by historians and archivists. It may seem like not a very ambitious goal to proclaim at the outset of 2015 that you are resolved to actively remember 2014, but as 2014 has tragically shown there is a societal tendency to forget the past – even the recent past.
While hoping for the best in 2015 it is tempting to ignore all of the events from 2014 that make it likely that 2015 (to say nothing of the years that follow it) will be a difficult year. The events of the previous year do not magically reach a tidy resolution just because we have reached the season of making personal resolutions.
Resolve to remember 2014 – it is a resolution worth keeping.