In defence of 2018

For starters: there is no reason under the sun why the calendar year should ‘start’ or ‘end’ at precisely midnight on 31st December; or indeed, at any other specific date or time

I’ve always found it a tiny bit awkward to write the traditional, retrospective, ‘end-of-year article’: you know, the one that usually starts, ‘As another year draws to a close’, blah, blah.

For starters: there is no reason under the sun why the calendar year should ‘start’ or ‘end’ at precisely midnight on 31st December; or indeed, at any other specific date or time. In fact, it never used to in the past… not, at least, before ‘human beings’ suddenly sprang out of nowhere, and started tampering with the mechanics of the entire cosmos (as they have a tendency to do).

Yet ‘years’ had been steadily rolling by in their billions before that… without such things as ‘calendar dates’ to ever actually ‘start’ and ‘end’ on. So why do we celebrate New Year’s Day on ‘January 1st’… and not, say, ‘the thirteenth of Thrimidge, at precisely four strokes past evensong’?  It’s a question I’ve been asking for donkey’s parsecs now, and I’ve yet to hear a single, logical reply...

But a far more serious problem is that ‘end-of-year’ articles, by definition, always have to be written for the last Sunday of the year… which also means that technically, the year in question will not quite have ‘ended’ yet.

Kind of unfair, don’t you think, to simply write off a passing year – labelling it ‘the Year of This’, or ‘the Year of That’ - when it still has two whole days to go? It almost reminds me of the death of legendary British footballer George Best in 2005: when UK newspapers were in such a mad rush to be the first with the story, that around five of them reported his demise while he was actually still alive (though not exactly ‘kicking’).
Well, 2018 is ‘still alive’, too.

On its deathbed, perhaps… maybe taking its last gasps as we speak. So don’t you think it’s kind of rude to be talking about it in the past tense… like it’s already snuffed it, and gone to take its place in the Great Almanac in the Sky? Show a little respect to the dying, for crying out loud. After all, years have feelings, too. We say ‘Happy New Year’, remember? And if years can experience sensations such as ‘happiness’, they can surely also feel loneliness, sadness, fear, and suffering. (You never thought of that, did you? No, you only ever think of yourself…).

Besides: a heck of a lot can happen in two days, you know. The entire universe, for instance, was created in only six: and you can just imagine what might have been left out, had God decided to give himself a four-day week instead.

Take 2018, for instance. Already it has been widely blamed for things like ‘Brexit’ (which, let’s face it, is exceptionally unreasonable… when you consider that 2018 wasn’t actually around to vote in the Brexit referendum anyway); and just like all its predecessors, it is also being held responsible for all the celebrities and cultural icons it ‘took away from us’.

Stan Lee, Aretha Franklin, Stephen Hawking, Peter Shelley, Bernando Bertolucci, Nicholas Roeg, Emma Chambers, Burt Reynolds… what, so it’s suddenly 2018’s fault, that they all just happened to kick the bucket within the same, arbitrarily-selected 365 days? Suddenly, it’s no longer the terminal illness that killed them… or the tragic accident, or the fatal overdose, or the whatever… but the year in which they actually breathed their last?

By that reasoning, you could charge every calendar year from Anno Zero with mass murder in the first degree. Every historical genocide you care to mention would simply pale into insignificance, compared with the global body-count of a single year.  And no particular reason to single out 2018 for any special treatment, either. Let’s face it: it could have been worse. It could have taken Keith Richards away, but (yet again) chose not to…

Ooh, hang on, wait. Like I said: there’s still two whole days to go. Plenty of time to reverse the Richards reprieve, and maybe even throw in Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr – or both – to the bargain. But then again… by the same argument, 2018 might still have a surprise in store in its last 48 hours. All those people it ‘took away’? Well, it’s still in time to give them all back.  Hey, don’t laugh: it’s not like it’s never happened before. Why, at least two people in recorded history – Lazarus, and Jesus - came back from the dead… and if I’m not mistaken (but I might be) it was roughly within the same year.  Or at least, not too many years apart…

The bottom line is, it may be a bit premature to claim that 2018 ‘robbed us’ of Aretha Franklin or Burt Reynolds. In the scale of ‘possible-but-improbable possibilities’, one cannot realistically exclude that they – or any other of 2018’s victims – may rise from their graves before the stroke of midnight on Monday. Who knows? It may even prove to be the start of the Zombie Apocalypse: something else to look forward to in 2019…

So tell you what: let’s all cut 2018 some slack for a change. It wasn’t exactly the best of years, but it wasn’t exactly the worst either. And on both counts – i.e., literally ‘for better or for worse’ – it cannot be blamed for any of the events that made it the (admittedly rather lousy) ‘year it was’.

It is not 2018’s fault, for instance, that the local political atmosphere has darkened to such a degree, that people are now openly reorganizing their social lives on the basis of pure political trench-warfare… something I have not seen in this country since the distant 1980s.

Nor has 2018 – in and of itself – made any direct contribution to all the financial stats and figures that the government likes to boast about so much: the fact that our economic growth rate, at 7.1%, is the highest in the Eurozone; or that employment is almost 100%, etc.

Indeed, looked at from those two contrasting perspectives, it is only natural that 2018 would eventually develop some kind of neurotic, multiple personality disorder. It has been branded an ‘annus horribilis’ – only marginally less ‘horribilis’ than its predecessor (and boy, was 2017 a stinker) – by all those who believe we’re living in some kind of totalitarian, dystopian nightmare… yet also hailed as a ‘record year’ for prosperity and civil liberties by all those who concurrently believe we are currently going through ‘L-Aqwa Zmien’: a slogan which implies not just the ‘best of times we have seen yet’… but also the ‘best time possible’: i.e., ‘better that it can ever be again’…  

Small wonder that 2018 would eventually lose its marbles enough to go on a global, homicidal killing spree like that. It messes with your mind, to be simultaneously described in such completely antithetical, mutually incompatible terms. Clearly, 2018 can’t have been either as ‘horribilis’ or ‘mirabilis’ as it is made out to have been. So maybe… just maybe… the problem really lies within the hopelessly tribal, polarized mindset that tends to view reality only from those two, entirely warped perspectives. (If so, it is doubly unfair to blame 2018 for something that actually precedes it by decades, if not centuries…)

And therefore, esteemed members of the jury: like so many other vulnerable misfits and outcasts, my client – I mean, Year of Our Lord, 2018 - is nothing more or less than the victim of what a sociologist might term as ‘socio-cultural scapegoating’. Far from a perpetrator of all the ghastly crimes with which it now stands accused – two days before its death, please note - it is in reality a mere innocent bystander, onto whom the truly guilty parties have projected all their own inner biases and malevolence.

Contrary to claims made by the prosecution, it was not 2018 who ‘brought with it an intensification of political hatred’ in this country. That is something only political haters can do; and if they chose to do more of it this year than last… well, whose fault is that? The people who did the choosing, or the year in which they made the choice?

Conversely, we shall have to also agree that 2018 may be unfairly credited with ‘successes’ in which it played no part; and which, in any case, are always going to appear more ‘successful’ in the eyes of some than others.  

Let us therefore do this much-maligned year the justice of at least recognizing all the exceptional circumstances that led it to its current state: i.e., that it happened to come at a time when we were all at each other’s throats anyway; and that, if things seemed to have got worse in the course of its 365 days… well, that is our fault, not 2018’s.

Lastly, esteemed jurors, spare a thought also for the family of a year that is, when all is said and done, now dying… especially the young ones. Like Baby 2019, for instance, who will be born at precisely midnight tomorrow. We wouldn’t want her to start out in life burdened by all the guilt so unfairly heaped on her father, now would we? It would hardly be a ‘Happy New Year’ if it got off on such an ominous note, now would it?

No, as any sociologist would also tell you: little babies are only ever going to be as ‘happy’ or otherwise as the family atmosphere they are born into. It’s true of humans; and it is obviously true of years, too (if nothing else, because in 365 days’ time we will also be blaming 2019 for all our own, entirely human shortcomings, as we are now doing with 2018).

So when I end this article with the traditional, inevitable ‘Happy New Year’… what it actually means is: ‘make an effort to be happier this year’. Not ‘sit back and hope that 2019 will arbitrarily, and for no apparent reason, make things happier for you…without you ever lifting a finger to make things happier for 2019’.

Damn, now I’ve gone and screwed up my traditional ‘end-of-year’ article ending. What a great start to the New Year…

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