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The Next Decade


Wolf
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I guess we take turns attempting to breathe life into PRP? Well, who knows. In any case, read this gem from TIME: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1942834,00.html which suggests that, for Americans, this decade was "the decade from hell." As a conversation starter, I'd like to ask the group if they feel that the next decade will be better or worse than the one we're about to leave behind us. (And will we still have Fed2k around to kvetch at each other with in 2019? Again, who knows.)

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This is a matter of perspective, really. The article itself mentions in passing that the 'badness' of the decade depends largely on where you are and to what you are comparing it, suggesting that someone was ordered to write a doom and gloom article but had difficulty being really dramatic about it when considering, say, a world war or two. As for "the idea that terrorists can attack anytime and anywhere is new and profoundly unsettling," that's a load of rubbish. It wasn't that long ago that you could be stopped at a roadblock in Ireland and be shot for being the wrong religion. And this in a western country in 'peacetime.' With September 11 as a possible exception only in terms of quantity, it's just more of the same. I do find it a bit odd that the writer would then go on to list various terrorist acts of the 1990's, but I suppose blowing up some hotels in other countries just isn't as profoundly unsettling.

Likewise, what the next decade brings will likely depend on perspective. I'd like to think that the human population will learn some lessons from the mistakes of the early twenty first century, but all the signs right now are that it's doing just the opposite.

Of course, pessimists and optimists will predict different things. And coincidentally, at the end of the decade they will report different things as well. Shocker. So barring something completely unforseen, one could say that nothing much will change in the grand scheme of things. Wars and plagues will come and go, people will enslave and murder each other by proxy, some people will say that things have never been better while others will point grimly to the decade before and say "remember when all this mess started? We should have seen it coming."

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What I found most fascinating was the article's constant and unquestioning assertion that this was also a decade of "the most terrible X." The most destructive natural disaster in the US. The most money lost in a single market crash. The most people lost in terror attacks on US soil. Ignoring for a moment that the article is entirely America-centric (it assumes, for example, that diminished US influence on the global stage is a bad thing--never for a second considering the possibility that, like our economy, we may have been overextended and suffering as a result), I can't help but feel suspicious that TIME has swallowed too much of their own journalistic BS. Of course the news tells us that things are horrible; that's what they do! You can't sell as many papers with headlines that read, "Things Normal;" "World Going Along Just Fine."

Of course, there's 7 billion people on the planet, and mathematically-speaking, the nominal values are probably going to be technically "the most," if we're evaluating disasters and crashes in terms of sheer volume. But this is an article from the media--who possesses an inborn predilection for crying "doom"--telling us that this was teh biggest decade of dooms. Who wants to bet on what they say about the next decade? Now, I'm not saying that things are all peachy--times aren't good. We've all lost a little, have hurt a little, have had to save more, etc. We've all had to change our life plans in some respect and make some unanticipated sacrifices. But you tell me if, all of that being true, it is perfectly congruent with the assertion that the 2000s were "the decade from hell." That's a tall order. My "decade from hell" involves a complete collapse of the social order, government, and any institutionalized form of crime and punishment. Mad Max. If you wrong someone, and you're immediate concern isn't that you might have to pay with your life, then it isn't the decade from hell.

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Again, perspective. For a lot of people, the worst decade would easily surround one of the world war brackets, or even be so named for a much shorter period of time that came to define it. Those who experienced life under the Khmer Rouge might also be supremely reluctant to label the last few years as "the decade from hell."

On the subject of population growth and casualties though, I can't help but feel that, once again, the article is overstating the issue. When it comes to war, since 2001 Coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered 6214 fatalities. According to that source at least. The Battle of the Somme, 1916, saw the British forces alone suffer more than twice that number in a single day (19,240). And it's not as if you even have to go that far back to find times that were less than happy. The 1990's were not a period of unrestrained hope and joy. Just ask anyone in Rwanda or Sarajevo.

I had a look at history in terms of economic and natural disasters as well. Can't be bothered to paste all the links here, especially since I'm not sure what use it would be. The point is that, regardless of population growth, it's hard to say that anything that has happened in the last decade was "the worst" of anything. Again, with the possible exception of the World Trade Centre in terms of quantity. Though attacking civilians from the air is of course nothing new either.

And from that, I don't think I could say what I would consider a "decade from hell" to be. Events are good or bad, but added up there doesn't seem to be any period in history that was entirely bad.

I'm such an optimist.

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Normally I'd make a lengthy post that gives everyone food for thought for the coming week or so, but this time I happen to agree with everything that's been said in this thread.

I'll add that the global financial crisis was a bit of a dissapointment. It's undeniably bad when thousands of people lose their job, but that doesn't compare to the picture painted of the western world reverting back to the stoneage.

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I don't think you have to reach as far as Rwanda or Bosnia to find more "hellish" situations in recent memory. There was a period in the late-'60s/early-'70s in the United States where segregation still dominated most of the South; race riots rocked American cities; tens of thousands of US soldiers (as opposed to 6,000 soldiers from NATO/EU) were dying in Vietnam; the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons pointed directly at American and European cities; inflation was massive; unemployment likewise; and we call this "the decade from hell"? Have we just devolved into an entire country of spoiled brats?

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"If Iran should attack Israel, will the US and the EU feel obliged to retaliate in kind?  Or what if Israel goes on the offensive and makes a preemptive strike on Iran, how will Russia and China respond if their key ally is attacked?"

Iran is not a key ally of China and Russia, its little more than a political pawn.

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Regardless, Iran is part of that particular alliance and therefore, an ally.  This being the case, if Iran is attacked the world will look to China and Russia for some type of response.  Whether their response comes in the form of retaliation or the turning of a blind eye will likely depend upon which action would best serve their respective political, militaristic and economic agendas. Ostensibly, they could attack in Iran

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I think I agree with Newt: Russia and China strike me as pretty untrustworthy allies. I mean, during the Cold War, back when they were the only major socialist powers, they could barely bring themselves to cooperate--and eventually just fought each other sporadically. This is not to say that I think they're above manipulating Iran to frustrate the US/EU or to destabilize regional politics to their benefit; they're not. But that's not the same as going to bat for Iran should they be solely responsible for an illegitimate and unwinnable war.

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I think you're horribly misunderstanding the posturing and the gesturing going on within international politics.

And I think that you are failing to comprehend the lengths to which a powerful entity will go to in order to protect its economic interests and to further its political agenda.  It may not initiate an attack, but it will defend its interests and take advantage of an opportunity to advance its political goals when needed.

Russia (and in its day, the USSR), and to a lesser extend the PRC have always worked against 'Western' motions with in the USA.

Is that not abundantly obvious?

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Frankly, this past decade has been rather boring. Sure, some stuff happened, and some records were broken simply by virtue of the fact that there are more people on the planet today than ever before (so of course natural disasters and terrorist attacks will cause more victims, for example). But, for the most part, it was a decade of business as usual. Nothing really fundamental changed anywhere in the world. For example, no country changed its economic system. No countries were permanently annexed by their neighbors. Three new countries declared independence (East Timor, Montenegro and Kosovo), but they're small and irrelevant. There was no shift in the global balance of power. Some tiny steps were taken to protect the environment, but nothing significant was done. Even this big recession at the end of the decade doesn't seem like it will cause any social or economic change.

Basically, nothing happened. The first decade of the 21st century was a lot like the first decade of the 20th century. Can you name any world-changing events from 1900-1910? That's right, there weren't any. Future history books will talk about long-term historical trends that were started or continued during the years 2000-2010, but I think that will be all they will have to say.

I hope the next decade will be more interesting. I hope the period we are living in right now is the calm before the storm.

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Edric, I mostly agree--hence my assertion that we're spoiled. In other words, look how jaded we feel when this happens. But, I really have to take issue with this:

Can you name any world-changing events from 1900-1910? That's right, there weren't any.

Really? The death of Edward VII? (Who single-handedly engineered the politics of Europe for one purpose: the destruction of Germany.) The Boer War? The destruction of the Russian Navy in the Russo-Japanese War? First flight at Kitty Hawk, NC? The invention of the electric battery? I mean, for God's sake, E = mc^2 was penned by Einstein in 1905! I agree with you that this current decade is far and away too... marginal to be considered "the decade from hell," but that doesn't mean the most recent decade of 00-09 was, too.

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Really? The death of Edward VII? (Who single-handedly engineered the politics of Europe for one purpose: the destruction of Germany.) The Boer War? The destruction of the Russian Navy in the Russo-Japanese War? First flight at Kitty Hawk, NC? The invention of the electric battery? I mean, for God's sake, E = mc^2 was penned by Einstein in 1905! I agree with you that this current decade is far and away too... marginal to be considered "the decade from hell," but that doesn't mean the most recent decade of 00-09 was, too.

Yes, but none of those things changed the world immediately. They only became important later on. We only know that they were important because we have the benefit of hindsight. If we lived in 1909, would we consider the death of Edward VII or the Boer War or the Russo-Japanese War to be world-changing events? No, not any more than our Iraq War. Would we really care about the first powered flight or the electric battery? Silly useless novelties, at most! And we'd probably not even know who that Einstein guy was, let alone that he wrote anything important.

Perhaps there are similar things that happened over this past decade that will come to be considered highly important by future generations. Maybe something related to the internet or computers...? Maybe some new invention from a few years ago that seems useless today but will turn out to have spectacular applications? I don't know. But, as far as we know, nothing really important happened.

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Basically, my point is this: Some events are immediately recognized as being highly important, world-changing occurrences. Others are recognized as such only after many years.

The similarity between the decades 1900-1909 and 2000-2009 is that they were rather devoid of important events of the first kind.

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Are you serious? (It took me a good 5 minutes to get past this reaction.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1900s_%28decade%29 lists a great deal of events that both had immediate effect--such as the beginning of automotive mass-production--by the new definition you seem to have asserted by inference, and that "became important later on." Your assertion that "nothing happened in the 1900s" or the amended assertion "nothing important happened in the 1900s" is indefensible.

Now, to blow away your equally indefensible points: Edward VII's funeral was the last time in all of history that the assembled monarchies of Europe would gather in one place in their totality. It was, at the time, the largest funeral ever held. He was known, rightfully so, as "the uncle of Europe" both for his paternalistic attitude of meddling in European affairs, and for the fact that, genetically, he was related to pretty much all of them (of historical note, he despised his first cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm, because Victoria allegedly loved him more). At the time, it was hoped that his death would end a decade of seemingly-irrational anti-German policies (it's debated whether it didn't or whether Edward's damage was done), and the funeral itself was a staging point for many of the plans and alliances that influenced WW1. They all knew it was the most convenient bargaining table they would ever have, and the press knew it, too. To say they "didn't realize that it was a big deal" then is stupid, but knowing that you are not an idiot, I will simply assume that you are uninformed.

If you've ever been to Colindale, or any other archive dealing with periodicals, you'll notice that the sinking of the Russian fleet by the Japanese was notable at the time not only because the Russian fleet had been decimated, but also because it was the moment when the world realized that Japan was a serious, European-style player--it was, more or less, the 9/11 of the 1900s. But don't dwell on that too much, it's barely an analogy. To put it bluntly; people the world over immediately realized the "danger." A non-white world power? Are you kidding? They went nuts!

As for the technological innovations... first flight was "notable," (human flight, again, are you kidding?) and again, covered the world over. Though many at the time thought it was an novelty (the US Navy Department), many did not (the German Army General Staff), but it is clear that people rapidly came to understand the importance of what had occurred (at least by 1914!). To say that this doesn't fall under your self-imposed umbrella of;

Can you name any world-changing events from 1900-1910? That's right, there weren't any.

is insulting. Are you kidding? Human fucking flight? The electric battery certainly received less press, but it's applications accelerated and, indeed, "changed" the way many scientists were approaching many difficult scientific problems. Perusing the Wikipedia list, seeing things like the discovery of radiation, the formalization of the Triple Entente or the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia, I at first feel little need to elaborate on why these things might seem important both to the people that experienced them and to later generations. Wouldn't it be obvious? Apparently not.

Edric, you're probably the smartest person here. But this time you've really dropped the ball: your point on the decade of the 2000s was very well made without the labored analogy to the decade of the 1900s. As someone's whose read a Wikipedia page, let me tell you that it falls apart very quickly. The only reason you have for defending this point (which, I might add, is completely unrelated to the actually-relevant point regarding the true state of the 2000s, which I agree with you on) is ... what?

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Basically, my point is this: Some events are immediately recognized as being highly important, world-changing occurrences. Others are recognized as such only after many years.

The similarity between the decades 1900-1909 and 2000-2009 is that they were rather devoid of important events of the first kind.

Your point is a poor one. Evidence exists for these events, particularly, that indicates that they were immediately recognized as being highly important and world-changing. They were also really world-changing later on.

The similarity is superficial at best; nonexistent upon further examination.

EDIT: Really? How many .jpgs of headlines do I have to post?

EDIT 2: And then! This doesn't strike me as what you meant by saying; "Can you name any world-changing events from 1900-1910? That's right, there weren't any." Come off it, man!

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Ok, ok, I concede. I didn't exactly give this analogy more than a few seconds of thought when I first made it. It was only two sentences initially, after all. I pretty much just compared the 1900s with other decades of the 20th century in my head (like the 1910s, or the 1930s, or the 1940s), and the importance of the 1900s paled in comparison.

I'm still not entirely convinced that the events of 1900-1909 were so much more important than the events of 2000-2009, but yes, I was simply wrong to imply that nothing major happened in the first decade of the 20th century. I could amend my original statement further until I make it true, but there's no point in doing that.

I would like to point out, however, that the 1900s saw the invention of human flight in heavier-than-air objects, not human flight in general (like you implied). Humans had been flying in hot air balloons since the 1790s.

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I admire any man who knows when to say "uncle". It's a skill that reveals true maturity and one that I struggle ceaselessly to avoid employing. You would not believe the concentration required to...

In any case, I still think you're right about the 2000s. The fact that the 2000s are... well, marginal, and that's why we're upset, is a far better explanation than any of the ones that I was groping for above. I think that's exactly the problem: it's exactly why we're jaded, it's why we're cynical, but the worst part is that it's also why we're struggling to understand why we're even upset! It would be better, almost, if there had been a world war or a (real) great depression or a fascist dictatorship on home soil (if this comment sparks anything relating to it with the names "Bush" or "Obama" I will have a conniption), because then we would at least be able to explain why we feel so terrible. That would at least have been a real "decade of hell." But the worst is that... we can't! We're disappointed like a child that didn't get the Christmas gift he wanted; we're struggling to understand why things weren't that good, and here, I'm exaggerating, because the unemployment rate did double from 5% to 10%, and the DOW has suffered some amount. People have lost their jobs; some people have lost their homes. But this isn't the apocalypse.

As for the 1900s... there's an argument to be made, but there are other reasons why it it's not a perfect analogy. (Can any analogy be perfect, by definition?) For one, they viewed it (at the time, and after) as a sort-of golden age. That's not how we view the 2000s. At the same time, there's merit to your point that the Edwardian era (a better term) encompasses an "in-between" stage of more important historical eras, namely, the Victorian Empire and World War One. The awkward middle child always, it seems, feels left out. But beyond that...

And I must concede that you are right about human flight. If my writing was any indication, I was highly excited. I was, in fact, apoplectic.

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And I think that you are failing to comprehend the lengths to which a powerful entity will go to in order to protect its economic interests and to further its political agenda.  It may not initiate an attack, but it will defend its interests and take advantage of an opportunity to advance its political goals when needed.

Is that not abundantly obvious?

Not at all.  Russia's main economic interests do not lie with Iran, which makes your point rather spurious.

Edit - just read this on the BBC:

"The latest criticism of Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is another sign that new sanctions could be on the way.

The IAEA resolution, censuring Iran's secret construction of another uranium enrichment plant, was supported by Russia and China.

This does not mean they will join in a new round of international measures against Iran. But it does mean that Iran cannot count on them for diplomatic support. "

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