The Age of the Lout

Not everyone need agree, and it is unlikely everyone would, but I am certain I could walk out my front door and get a consensus of ten people within ten minutes that 2010 sucked more than most in memory. I would nominate it my worst year ever, with the caveat that things can always get worse. I learned long ago not to take comfort in the old “Things can only improve” solace. Not necessarily.

When you Google “2010” and click on Wikipedia’s first entry, this is what you get:

“2010 (MMX) is a common year that started on a Friday and is the current year. In the Gregorian calendar, it is the 2010th year of the Common Era or the Anno Domini designation.... The United Nations has designated 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity and International Year of Youth.” Clicking on the highlighted word “Biodiversity,” you may learn, as I did, what it is. “Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet. Biodiversity is one measure of the health of ecosystems. Life on Earth today consists of many millions of distinct biological species. The United Nations declared the year 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity.”

That 2010 was so designated and the fact that it was in this very year that an entirely new life form has been discovered, one based on arsenic, no less, and right here in California, is one of those coincidences that have me looking at it perhaps too closely. And just one month ago, on November 17: researchers trapped 38 antihydrogen atoms for a sixth of a second, marking the first time in history that humans have trapped antimatter.

These are not the only areas where the year has dovetailed oddly with science fiction. Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two is a case in point and while it does not score high on prognostication, that was never really science fiction’s job. The job of science fiction, as well as the function of all literature (the stuff I read, anyway), is the examination of human nature under interesting circumstances. This criterion was met extraordinarily well in John Brunner’s 1968 novel, set in the year 2010, Stand on Zanzibar. The title comes from the idea that in that year, the population of the Earth (“numbered in many billions”) could, early in the novel, stand shoulder to shoulder and cover the island of Zanzibar. By the end of the book, humanity is up to its knees in Zanzibar’s surf.

Brunner does, in fact, score high in extrapolating certain trends that have come down the four-decade-plus road with us and show little sign of fading; one is the idea of information as a real kind of currency. There may have been others who, in 1968, foresaw Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere (Brunner’s phrase) with personal computers as powerful as then-corporate mainframes, but if so, none come to mind. Also, the kind of prison chic we see and hear everywhere now with shaved heads, tattoos, and jargon (“Dog,” “Bitch,” “Punk,” etc.) rife with obscenity was envisioned in S.O.Z. in the form of former sociologist character Chad C. Mulligan’s popular book within the novel, The Hipcrime Vocab, a kind of Bierce-like Devil’s Dictionary of the 21st Century. Mulligan, a cross between Marshall McLuhan (The Gutenberg Galaxy quoted at the opening of S.O.Z.) and Abbie Hoffman (Steal This Book), is also the author of You’re an Ignorant Idiot.

A sample from this latter fictional volume is this advice on how best to deal with “muckers,” someone who has gone violently “postal” in Brunner’s 2010: “… if you want to survive a mucker, the best way is not to be there when it happens.” Reflecting on any perceived coincidence between “The Year of Biodiversity” and the discovery of arsenic-based life forms, The Hipcrime Vocab may shed some light as well: “COINCIDENCE: You weren’t paying attention to the other half of what was going on.”

John Brunner also seems on the page with us when it comes to 2010 as “The International Year of Youth.” Personally, I have come to think of this year and the past ten or more as “The Age of the Lout or Oaf.” Ignorance, illiteracy, incomprehensible mumblings of “Brotherman” and “Homeydog” punctuated with “KnowhatI’msayin’?” has become verbal currency, the price of admission to a fellowship of populist moronism.

Among deaths this past year that have affected me to some degree are actors Robert Culp, Dennis Hopper, and Kevin McCarthy, and more so, R&B singer Solomon Burke and writer J.D. Salinger.

A note of encouragement in the Age of the Lout might be the Nobel Prize going to Mario Vargas Llosa.

R.I.P., 2010. Better yet, R.I.H. (three guesses).

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Well, John, I will not jolly you about the holidays. What I will say is that you are still here, still writing, and still refusing to give up. That's real success against the Norns.

I will never forget your foray into CW music. There is much to be sad about in our world, which makes it important to seek out the laughs and joy. You could always make me laugh, and I will always remember that about you.

I won't say "Happy Holidays," but I do wish you the very, very best.

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