Think of this as Volume 15, Number 51 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Me. Not so much. (Pictured, of course, is Georges Seurat's "Sunday afternoon on the Island of Le Grand Jatte," the masterpiece hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago that inspired another masterpiece, Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George.")
It's not that I don't care. I have political views which I express often. It's just that I became convinced this year that politics matters less than I thought, and that in any case political change is baked-into our system.
Some may be surprised at both conclusions, so let's take the first one first.
Why doesn't it matter? Because in the end politics reacts to change, it doesn't lead it. I am utterly convinced, now, that economic change drives the American train.
The Civil War came about only after it became evident that machines could produce more than people. It was about the John Henry story, not Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Populists and progressives arose only after it became evident that utility markets needed regulation in order to deliver fixed-price inputs to mass manufacturing. J.P. Morgan worked on behalf of this change, not against it.
The New Deal arose after it became evident that production needed consumption or would inevitably result in deflation and disaster. FDR and Hitler were saying the same thing – buy.
The 1960s were not about social change, but economic change. Less Jim Morrison, more Apollo XI. Less Easy Rider, more Apple.
Renewable technologies are finally ready to take off. Convergence – the point at which renewable energy becomes the cheap energy – is definitely in sight. We get there through simple, predictable steps in technology, production, and the channel.
I'm reminded here of Benjamin Franklin looking at George Washington's chair as he prepared to sign the U.S. Constitution, the last great public act of his life. “I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising, not a setting sun."
My own prayer all year has been that, unlike Franklin, I might see more history. I have felt this way because 56 is that kind of an age, but also because I have felt, all my life, that I was rushing toward something, anxious for something important to begin, and terribly at odds with the times I was living in.
Through my whole adult life I've ridden a bicycle, and now I see bicyclists parade past my home every workday. Through my whole adult life I've lived in cities, and sought a place that might be walkable. The place I live has now become such a place. I have raised my children to prepare for big adventures that now lay before them.
I am content.
I know, now, how the story of our time comes out. There is no energy crisis. The Sun shines, the wind blows, the tides roll, and we live on a molten rock. Prosperity is coming.
I know this, and have learned this year how we will exploit this reality. This is the future that lies before my children, and their peers, the work of harvesting the abundance that is all around us, and doing something useful with it.
As they do that, other problems that seem intractable today will fade into the background, become history, while new problems that we can't conceive of today will rise before them.
How do we go about really terraforming the planet, creating a stable ecosystem that is in concert with the way God made the world?
How do we end the present period of extinction and create biodiversity?
How do we get off this planet, permanently, and begin to explore the cosmos?
These are the questions of the 21st century, a century that only now has well and truly begun. They extend far beyond my days here. I won't see their answers. But what I know now, as 2011 comes to a close, is there will be answers.