THE TRUSTING TWENTIES
We need a decade that warms our rapidly cooling relationships
Decades are neatly packaged by advertisers and opinion formers.
The swinging sixties. The stagnant seventies. The selfish eighties. The caring nineties.
They contain a grain of truth, but hardly do justice to reality. Most people led conventional lives in the 1960s. The disco-themed 1970s swung more for most. People did not become selfish on January 1, 1980 and stop being selfish on December 31, 1989. Nor did they become more caring a day later. These descriptors are simply inadequate.
Which brings us to the twenty-first century.
No-one quite knew what to call the first decade, though opinion seems to have settled on the noughties. It seems not to have been socially defined the way previous decades were. The issues somehow got bigger: 9/11, the so-called war on terror, foreign invasions, the global economic crash.
The 2010s suffered from a linguistic handicap. The tens and the teenies mean little. The decade remains undefined, though its issues haven’t. The emergence of social media and the big tech companies. Austerity and the effects of the earlier crash. The rise of populism. The poisoning of politics and the weaponising of social media. The reassertion of Great Power confrontation. Climate change.
Now, after twenty years, we’ve arrived at a decade that can be processed again. One UK newspaper has already declared it the roaring twenties. Leaving aside this political spin, a little reflection on the 1920s is called for. These roared for a wealthy, self-absorbed elite. Many families lost relatives in the Great War and others had traumatised fathers returning from the Front without societal understanding or support. The decade merely represented a lull between world wars. Germany felt humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles. The economic depression of the late twenties led to a resurgence of poisonous nationalism. Extremism was normalised. If the 1920s roared, it was with the voice of a wakening monster.
Each decades leaks into the next. To predict the 2020s is a risky business, as so few of us called the last two decades right. That we didn’t shows our shaky grasp of history, because the 1920s and 1930s clearly evidenced the emergence of populism, nationalism and xenophobia in the years following a catastrophic global crash.
The 2020s will deepen the trends begun in the earlier part of the century. Tech will get bigger and more pervasive. Surveillance by company and state will be normalised. Populist rhetoric about ‘the people’ will strengthen, ignoring its use by the most repressive of regimes and running the risk of a tyranny of the majority against whichever minority group stands in the way of an agenda. Climate change will accelerate because of previous decades.
We tend to polarise over the future. We are pessimistic or optimistic; defeatist or triumphalist. But human progress is nuanced and it is predicated on trust. Trust’s erosion may be our biggest social challenge. As the globe warms, it feels like the ecology of our relationships is cooling. We need a decade that cools the climate and warms our community.
The scale of this is huge, because social media has allowed us to broadcast every thought we have about someone else and what they believe. It is the speed of technology that has overwhelmed us, leaving our courtesies behind. A new social covenant is needed. And those who trust in Christ will know reform always starts at home.
The moniker ‘the trusting twenties’ is so counter-intuitive as to be laughable. But even if there is only a grain of truth to it, we would be on our way. For some are the salt of the earth.
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