2012 and 2013

December 27, 2012

Mars rover asks Bob Wright for Bloggingheads gig

I have to do a Bloggingheads chat with Bob Wright later today (he’s the author, as you know, of “The Evolution of God,” and is working on the sequel, “The Evolution of Bob”) and talk about big ideas, looking back on 2012, and looking ahead to 2013. [The chat should be posted around Jan. 1.]  I’m nervous about the chat because, although I always run rings around Bob intellectually, he’s a genius with software and I am fumble-fingered with technology of any kind. I’m the guy in the kitchen complaining about how can openers used to be much simpler. The Bloggingheads software historically tends to sneer at me and call me a stupid human. I’m always just one misguided keystroke from digital oblivion. (Fact: The tilde key scares me.)

When I look back on 2012 I see another year of personal obsolescence, a year in which I finally and grudgingly adopted the technologies and journalistic platforms that the really smart people abandoned in, like, 2009. And I cling to antediluvian notions of what journalism should be, which is why I spent so much of the year talking to ordinary people in ordinary places, scribbling their thoughts in a vintage reporter’s notebook, and later struggling to read my handwriting in motels with paintings of sailing ships on the wall. I liked doing those stories, but realize I am carving bark canoes in the age of starships.

So what should Bob and I talk about?

Gun control will obviously be a huge issue in weeks and months ahead — as will the culture of violence. Here’s the story we did on the brutal history of gun control. These are tough battles but in the long run we can see real progress — just look at the decline in homicides in the past two decades. The murder rate is the lowest it’s been since 1963 (it peaked about 20 years ago during the crack epidemic).

To my ear one of the subtle trends has been the rise of a declinist philosophy within the GOP, which now faces an existential crisis as it stews in the corner, trying to decide whether to double-down on ideological purity or instead broaden itself to have some shot at winning the White House and Senate again. There’s an element of declinism in Paul Ryan’s 2010 manifesto, as I noted earlier this year, and in Mitt Romney’s 47 percent gaffe. The argument is that America is going down the tubes because excessive government spending — the safety net-turned hammock has softened our societal fiber. I think that misreads the country and smells of despair; it also invites hatred of the disadvantaged and unfortunate (hate is not a plan). Positive political messages will likely be rewarded at the polls, and they’ll also be rational and accurate, because the  country is not about to fall apart and very well may be on the cusp of a real economic recovery (see Neil Irwin’s piece on this on Wonkblog). Don’t be shocked if in 2013 people start throwing around the phrase “Morning in America.” It’s overdue.

But I’m wary of making a straight-out prediction about anything, because I’m almost always wrong. See my piece from a few years back on how no one saw the Internet coming.

Excerpt:

“The most important things happening in the world today won’t make tomorrow’s front page. They won’t get mentioned by presidential candidates or Chris Matthews or Bill O’Reilly or any of the other folks yammering and snorting on cable television.

“They’ll be happening in laboratories — out of sight, inscrutable and unhyped until the very moment when they change life as we know it. Science and technology form a two-headed, unstoppable change agent.”

So, that’s a safe bet. Science and technology will change our lives. Going out on a limb! Though I have to say I’m a little bummed that the Higgs turned up right on cue. The theoretical physicists were hoping for weirder results. Is this the end of physics? At least we still have the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.

The truth is, we’ve never known 30 years out what the world will be like. It’s always different from what we expect. Which is why I liked that quote from futurist Christine Peterson:

“If you look out into the long-term future and what you see looks like science fiction, it might be wrong,” she says. “But if it doesn’t look like science fiction, it’s definitely wrong.”

 

  

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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Joel Achenbach | December 25, 2012