Swans Commentary » swans.com December 19, 2011  



Perspectives: A Review of 2011


The Words Of 2011


by Fabio De Propris







(Swans - December 19, 2011)   By 1911, the twentieth century was already provided with most of the words that it will be remembered for, among others: avant-garde, cubism, futurism, oil, automobile, airplane, psychoanalysis, aspirin, colonialism, and nationalism.

What verbal ammunition have the 2000 to 2011 years provided us with? Have we already acquired the vocabulary that the rest of the century -- Mayan calendar or other dark prophecies permitting -- will repeat and build upon? An outright affirmation, a loud "yes," would be hazardous. Still, it can do no harm, based on what we have learnt so far in this century, to draw up a list of words that plausibly portray the year 2011.

The words I have chosen may very well not be the right ones. Only the future will tell -- if there is to be a future. Readers who wish to add or subtract words from my list, or else put forward alternatives, will be welcomed in Swans Letters to the Editor section.

1. Default. In 2008, the USA, followed by Europe three years later, as with less crucial economies earlier, Argentina in 2001 or various Africa countries, seems unable to keep up its interest payments. Somehow the whole world as the century begins is in default. The workings of the global economy are far from perfect, and we are playing a "no winners, all losers" game. The general economic default is due to a lack of real measures of control, which ought to be calculated on a global economic vision that no one seems to have. At the same time default settings of our computers give us a sense of security. If we don't change anything, the machine -- even if not in the most effective way -- knows how to do its job. Ay, there's the rub. Being in default is a global emergency, but the D-word has achieved a reassuring meaning in the field of information technology. The baleful truth is that if we don't do anything to change our irrational economic practice and our slow computer settings -- never mind defaults -- the fault is ours.

2. Preventive War. A new war strategy has opened with the century and if taken up by other warrior chiefs around the world is bound to make our century the shortest ever. The ancient Romans said, "If you want peace, prepare a war" (Si vis pacem, para bellum). President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have corrected them: "If you want peace, wage a war." That this is not what we could call progress is demonstrated by the dire straits of Iraq and Afghanistan. But if we would manage to wage a preventive war against the financial tricksters, we could speak of genuine progress. A lamentable idea in one field can perform with brilliance in another.

3. Information Technologies. IT development in the twenty-first century corresponds to the terms "automobiles and airplanes" as used in the twentieth. This will probably be the freeway and the airspace we shall move through in the next decades. Nothing easier to predict than that new means of transport for IT contents are going to be created. Africa and Asia could eventually play a major role here, and not only by supplying raw materials for smart phones.

4. Spread. The spreads of the eurozone government bond yield to German bunds might seem a parochial matter. However, the sovereign credit of Portugal, Ireland, Spain, and Italy is at stake. France and Great Britain are not out of danger and Eastern Europe has not reached economic maturity yet, even if that area is the most dynamic in Europe. Will the European Union have a future, or will it disintegrate? Spread Your Wings was a song of 1977 written by John Deacon and performed by the Queen rock group. The lyrics drew a dreary picture, pointing out in the chorus a way of escape. Freddy Mercury's voice put vigor into the melody. In 2011 Spread Your Bond Yield would be a gloomy song with a dismal chorus.

5. Wiki- from Wikipedia, to WikiLeaks, to WikiEverything. IT can become a global instrument to develop democracy thanks to "wiki" philosophy that, if still a distant hope, is nevertheless an excellent goal for the century. The key problem is that you need some cultural depth in order to join a Web site community of writer-readers. Does the wiki approach provide everyone a method to judge its contents, or will there always be an elite, educated elsewhere, maybe in established universities, leading the world of information?

6. DNA Medicine. Deeper knowledge of human DNA has led to a project: a different medicine for each and everyone, engineered according to our personal DNA. This could merge the old humanistic vision of medicine, whose goal was to cure a wo/man who had lost her/his balance, and contemporary medicine, which aims to identify and destroy a specific illness. But once we discover what our DNA tells us we are, will "we" still exist or will what we were be substituted by a DNA sequence?

7. Bric. A new word for former Third World countries. Brazil, India, and China rocketed into the First World skies and broke their ancient constellations. These countries have proved that if you want to be a star, exporting goods can serve better than exporting democracy through drones and bombs. Should labor and civil rights keep up with economic growth, the Bric countries could write a great page in this century's history.

8. Arab Spring. In North African countries the twentieth century ended with a bang. What happens there in 2012 will surely shape the next decades in the entire world. An Islamic belt from Morocco to Pakistan or even Indonesia could dramatically upend the map of international relations.

9. WYSIWYG. The principal philosophical statement of this century. No illusions. The Age of Aquarius has ended before it began and the Maya calendars are out of print. What you see is what you get. Are you able to see something?

10. Neet. Young people who are Not in Education, Employment, or Training are the scariest vision on the West's horizon. The workers and robots of the Bric countries are doing all the work. So what are we Neet supposed to do? Buy all those goods, of course, consume, full-stop. Where do we get the money? Answer that and you will win a Nobel Prize for Economy in 2013.

11. Neutrino. Either a revolutionary discovery or an error in the calculation of the results of several experiments made in September and November 2011 in CERN laboratories in Geneva, Switzerland, and also in laboratories in Central Italy: Some subatomic particles called neutrinos seem to go faster than light. Is Einstein's theory on the brink of becoming twentieth century scientific archeology, or are we just playing the old "trial and error" game? A change is gonna come in physics, too.

12. Sustainable Development. The idea was born in the 1970s, but has now grown dramatically. Not only scattered Green Party members isolated in the USA, Europe, or India, but all the leaders of the world must write these two words in their agendas -- not to say in their heart's core -- if we care about the lives of our great-grandchildren.

13. No future. In the late 1970s, punk rockers -- the Sex Pistols for instance -- desperately shouted this slogan. They were the "no future" generation. At the beginning of the present century corporate executives repeat it under their breath, but conveying much more desperation. We have to credit the Sex Pistols for their foresight. Artists always arrive first. What if some corporate executive was fired and spent a month or two busking with his out-of-tune guitar in the corridors of the London Underground? Maybe he could then set up a new economic model and next year the acronym "Neet" could begin to fade from our memory.


The author thanks Peter Byrne for his help.


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About the Author

Fabio De Propris is a Roman writer who has also lived in Istanbul. He has published three novels (Brenda e Plotino, Se mi chiami Amore, Nero Istanbul) and translated books from English (Markheim of R. L. Stevenson, Paradoxes and Problems of John Donne, An Anthology of William Hazlitt's Essays) and from Turkish (Two Girls of Perihan Magden, translated with Mehmet S. Bermek, The Clown and His Daughter of Halide Edip Adivar.) Fabio teaches in Rome and writes occasionally in Il Manifesto. He is presently at work on his fourth novel. His poems appear in the paintings of the group Artisti di Fortebraccio.   (back)


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Published December 19, 2011