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2020 did not start the fire

Roar writer Cristiana Sandeva on the difficulties we face moving on from 2020, and how those difficulties aren’t all that different to those we’ve faced in the past.

It was 1989, and American star-singer Billy Joel had recently turned forty. While at a recording studio in New York City, he met twenty-year-old Sean Lennon and a friend of his. The two were complaining about how the end of the 1980s was the most terrible time in history to be approaching adulthood. Joel, in turn, observed that he thought the same when he was a twenty-year-old in the 1960s. They concluded that history eventually follows its course, but never makes it easy for young generations to pave their way into the future.

Billy Joel summed it all up in a chorus: “We didn’t start the fire, it was always burning, since the world’s been turning”. The song goes on listing events from 1949, the year he was born, until 1989, the moment that discussion took place.

Here we are now, thirty more years into history since then. Twelve months ago, everybody was greeting the start of a new decade. One year in, the best way to describe it thus far appears to be with the worst adjectives.

The circumstances the world has been plunged into since the beginning of 2020 can make it remarkably easy to justify confusion and complaints, especially on behalf of the younger population. The world’s GDP has dropped by nearly 5%, global unemployment is at 5.42%, and the current situation is still too delicate to afford the possibility of giving precise predictions for the future ahead.

Perhaps it would have been easier to be of a job-seeking age ten years ago. But what about the 2008 stock market crisis, the 2009 swine flu, the 2016 Trump election, and the UK’s Brexit referendum? 

Maybe it would have been easier twenty years ago, then. But what about 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the early 2000s dot-com stock bubble burst, the dismantling of Yugoslavia? 

Just as the 20th century had its share of pandemics, epidemics, wars, and crises, the same is thus far true of the 21st century. Most King’s students have been around on this overheated planet Earth for the past twenty years, but most of them do not have a conscious memory of the early 2000s hardships their families surely lived through, albeit in different ways and parts of the world.

In a nutshell, 2020 did not start the fire.

Humanity is now only twenty years into the 21st century – both the best and worst are likely yet to come. To prove this point, imagine the plausible life of a person born in the year 1900. They are a teen at the outbreak of WWI; a parent at the start of WWII; a grandparent during the Cold War, an elder at the fall of the Berlin Wall. The post-WWI inflation and crisis this fictional person had to face at eighteen would have been nothing to worry about compared with everything else yet to happen in their 20th-century lifetime.

Similarly, people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s have yet to see what will happen. The 21st century has just begun. It is not a journalist’s call to predict how, when, and what events are going to take place, but it is the call of a logical thinker to ascertain that more such events will inevitably take place. It may be the case that the worst of this specific period is at our backs, as it may be the case that the downfall marked by the “Great Lockdown” has not even reached its climax yet. 

One shall live to see – but whichever disaster humanity is going through now, it is not the worst, and it will certainly not be the last. 2020 did not start the fire, and it is not going to put it out. As the world enters a new Gregorian year, history continues to move forward.

A Brexit deal has just come into effect. President-elect Joe Biden will be entering the White House on January 20th. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is leaving office next autumn, marking the end of an era after fifteen years of leadership. Covid vaccines are already being approved and rolled out worldwide, with the process due to speed up as the new year progresses.

It is not possible to accurately predict the future – and, arguably, it is not even necessary. What young generations need to be is ready, adaptable, and aware. There will be stress, relaxation, and rushing, but this is the necessary course of history, and the necessary course of lives lived in all historical periods. With youths who are ready for historical ups and downs and adaptable to circumstances, the 21st century will proceed.



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