Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A retrospective on 2015

This retrospective involves looking back over my shoulders at the year that is now over. It seems only yesterday that 2015 began and now a new year is already starting. The years flash by, seemingly faster and faster as I age. My parents learned this a long time ago, and now I am convinced. 

Aging can be a good thing if you talking about a fine wine or cheese, but for people, it means becoming more and more decrepit.  It means aches and pains and frequent doctor's visits. That is part of my story this past year. Dr. Seuss expresses the problem of aging in his distinctive way. Thankfully, my condition is not this bad!

Having already past the "three-score years and ten" milestone, I am only too aware of what the psalmist in Psalm 90 is referring to when he describes people as "dust." This phrase is echoed on Ash Wednesday when the priest intones, "Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return." All of us are mortal. In fact, the mortality rate of the human species is 100%. There are no exceptions!

God, according to the psalmist exists "from everlasting to everlasting." The psalmist writes that for God "a thousand years . . . are like a day that is just gone by, or like a watch in the night." For me, and indeed for the rest of us as well, our lives are over before they have hardly started, just as 2015 has flashed by.

These are not simply the idle musings of an old codger but this is a truth that everyone discovers if they live long enough. Teenagers tend to be blissfully unaware of this fact, but that does negate it. The year 2015 is now history, and one day all of us will be too. In the meantime, let us savor these brief moments.

Permit me, therefore, to engage in a brief retrospection. What happened in 2015? To answer this, I don't want to rehash old newspaper headlines. There were too many noteworthy events to list in this short posting. Instead, I prefer to ask myself: Did any of the things I speculated about early that year actually transpire? More important: Are any of them related? And if so, how?

In January, I wrote about five things that I expected to happen in 2015. Most were relatively safe bets, but I am surprised at how well my guesses turned out. For the record, here are the five I listed (unchanged from last year):
  1. Pope Francis will continue to make waves in the Roman Catholic Church.
  2. The growing wealth inequality in the world.
  3. More racism in the U.S. and some other countries.
  4. More conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
  5. Greater progress on climate change.

What I discovered by looking back at the five speculations is how closely connected all of them are. I wrote extensively about many of them during 2015 or at least touched on each one. All of them, as is my self-imposed mandate, deal with religion in some way. Let me briefly describe each of them. 

Pope Francis did indeed make waves and thereby earned the ire of many people both inside the Catholic hierarchy and outside of it. Yet this self-effacing Argentinian -- a first for the Americas! -- has endeared himself to millions of people, whether Catholics or not. Both in his lifestyle and his proclamations, he has clearly affirmed that he stands with the poor of this world. Like Luther, he could say, "Here I stand! I cannot do otherwise!"

The growing inequity of income and wealth in this world has been in the news consistently since Thomas Piketty exposed it in best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), Pope Francis, who was elected the same year, has crusaded not only on this issue but also on climate change.

Piketty's book has done much to wake up the world, even if the captains of the corporations who receive the megabucks have not changed their ways. Nor are they likely to do so while the governments of the world remain in their thrall. They are the ones who buy elections for their chosen candidates. And they are the ones who may yet stop Donald Trump from getting the Republican nomination. 

Trump's vision for 2016

Trump's supporters are typically less educated, poorer, white males, who feel that they have been left powerless by the elites who run the country. These men are often racists and are opposed to any form of gun control. They are afraid of terrorists and are thus susceptible to appeals that play upon this fear.

Not only Trump but also former Prime Minister Stephen Harper used such fears in order to win re-election. Harper's supporters tend to be more elderly and rural people who are terrified by the influx of refugees, many of whom are Muslims. A proposed ban on women wearing niqabs defined their fear.

Harper restricted the number of refugees that would be admitted to Canada. In contrast, the new Liberal government has enthusiastically welcomed them. But some European countries, such as Denmark and Hungary, have banned any refugees from entering. Islamophobia is a form of racism nd it seems to be growing all over the world.

There are many other examples of racism such as the wholesale killing of blacks in the US by white police. In many cases, the police have not been criminally charged, although civil suits have been filed. 

The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians shows no signs of abating. Part of the problem is the unwavering support that some Western countries provide to Israel while neglecting Palestine. Canada is one of these countries. I hope that will soon be past tense. The war in Syria and Iraq has fed anti-Muslim feelings and thus has exacerbated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by encouraging further support for Israel.
Climate change finally got the attention it deserved at COP21 in December in Paris, where more than 190 countries reached an agreement on limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees C as compared to pre-industrial levels. This accord is unprecedented and represents an enormous advance over earlier agreements. 

The support of Pope Francis no doubt contributed to this successful development but there was also a widespread realization that something had to be done to reduce the effects of greenhouse emissions. Even some climate change deniers reluctantly came on board and approved the agreement.

2015 was quite a year! In spite of the way the year flashed by, which may have been just my personal impression, much happened during this year. I was impressed not so much by my own speculations but rather by the way all these things came together. That is the nature of the world in which we live. Events are never isolated from each other but are woven together in ways that only become apparent in retrospect.

For 2016, I am not going to hazard any new predictions. Instead, I suggest that these five are good for another year. Let's wait and see what happens by the end of the year. If my experience is a reliable guide, we will probably not have to wait very long. Fasten your seatbelts! It's going to be quite a ride!

Enough of my rambling! I wish all of you a blessed 2016! 

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