How was 2005 for you? If you had to get it down to ten bullet points, what would they be?
Martha at Wanda Harland had the very interesting idea a while ago of getting your memoirs condensed to that form. I'm sure it's possible, but I think it would be more achievable if you were to start with something a little narrower in scope.
So do by all means click here to try out my 2005 - The Year In Review Bullet Point Generator. In just a few quick clicks, you'll have your own personalised Year-In-Review to copy, paste and email to all your pals.
So how about 2005? What didn't it have? An election of exquisite tightness; Didymo; the world's fastest Prime Minister; intolerable levels of taxation; ceaseless social engineering by the Clarkitects of Helengrad; vaulting fuel prices; the leader of the free world putting his office lawyer up for the Supreme Court because she was "plenty bright" and playing his gee-tar when the levee broke.
I started the year with a book deadline bearing down on me. I got that out of the way, but I'm ending this year under the same yoke. It's poor management on my part that I should have a largely automated business and yet spend so much time at this desk. This New Year's resolution will therefore be a reprise of the previous one.
Not grumbling in the least, though. Life is good. Our little girl is the light of our life. We've contrived to arrange things in a way that avoids most of the malaise that can afflict today's workforce warriors. We count our blessings; although it has to be said we have also tucked away the mother of all disaster survival kits in our garage with a couple of courses of Tamiflu. When hysteria comes calling, we do a little prudent buying.
I remain incurably optimistic and sunny in my outlook, though. I wrote this in the conclusion to that book I mentioned which was hanging over me last Christmas:
If this story isn't true, it ought to be. Apparently there is a shop somewhere in England with this sign in its window:
'We have been established for over one hundred years and have been pleasing our displeasing customers ever since. We have made money and lost money, suffered the effects of coal nationalisation, coal rationing, government control, and bad payers. We have been cussed and discussed, messed about, lied to, held up, robbed, and swindled. The only reason we stay in business is to see what happens next.'
One of the things I like about the New Zealand attitude is that we're quite likely to laugh at bad luck. Perhaps we have the view that it's been a bit of a roll of the dice trying to make a go of a country at the bottom of the world, thousands of miles from anywhere. We've come unstuck often enough, but by any measure, you'd have to say that the roll of the dice has actually paid off. There are more than four million of us generating more than 100 billion dollars worth of GDP a year. We were, for a little while, one of the richest nations on the planet. If you were an adult at that time, though, you probably didn't take too much assurance from that. My parent's generation grew up in the shadow of the Depression, and it seems to me they'll never forget what that meant. They also lived through world war. They remain, it seems to me, a little on guard against calamity.
By comparison, the half century that I've lived through has been remarkably benign by any historical standard. No pandemic, no world war, rising prosperity, no depression. The optimists say it will stay that way. ACT party president Catherine Judd, at their 2005 conference, recommended the proposition by Matthew Parris in The Spectator that 'we should be glorying in the fact that the right has won the argument'. They were, she said, "part of modernity, part of the winning side of the argument." Supporters of individual freedom should be able to grin.
Well, maybe. As the saying goes about the French Revolution and its impact: it could be too soon to tell. The more-market economic orthodoxy holds all the cards for now, to be sure. But to hold, it needs to ensure the cohesion of those societies. Maybe the ubiquity of consumerism and the aspirations it creates among its poorest will be sufficient. But a society short on spiritual fulfillment does seem to go looking for it. And the answers people find may or may not keep them dutifully turning the wheels in their little hamster cages.
Tim Hazledine told me 'I wouldn't want to be born now basically, I must say. There are some really big issues in the world, mainly sustainability issues, I think, that we're not recognising at the moment.' But, he said, 'I like to think I'm an optimistic sort of person and perhaps we'll come to grips with it, sooner rather than later would be better.'
Who to believe? The ideal from this point on sees prosperity and democracy spreading out across the globe, and all boats rising. Who wouldn't hope for that? But history so far suggests that you don't tend to get smooth sailing for too very long. Some of those factors are entirely beyond our control. Tsunamis, earthquakes and cyclones all prove that. Some are arguably within our control: pandemic, environmental catastrophe. If you want something to truly worry about, worry about them. Worry, but also hope that we manage to use our ever-wider accumulated knowledge to meet the challenge.
For most of humanity, the notion of Hobbes' assessment of a solitary, poor, nasty, brutish existence was discouragingly accurate. Enormous catastrophe could perhaps put us back into such a position. But would that be the end? Any number of generations before us had to deal with that: seeking, overcoming odds, and hanging on by an altogether thinner thread.
If you tallied up all the dreadful ways the world could end tomorrow, you'd never get out of bed. Volcano, meteor, transmuting virus, nuclear catastrophe, it's horrible. But we do get up, and we whistle each day past the graveyard. By contrast, much of what we fret about here in New Zealand - as others quite probably do to an equivalent extent in other places - looks like small beer.
Wherever and whoever you are, cheers.