By Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ December 28, 2020
While the traditional focus during the last week of the year is to review the previous year, balancing the good, the bad, and the silly, for 2020, even that has failed.
Dave Berry’s Year-End Review, long an enjoyable and humorous summation of the things that happened in the previous year, could find only one positive, and that was the failure of the murder hornets to terrorize North America. For the first time in human memory, mine at least, I was unable to finish reading Berry's review.
The end came for me somewhere around the fourteenth or twentieth line in a very long paragraph attempting to compress all the horror and disgust into a small enough dose to swallow. Pomposity is easy to satirize to release the tension. Decades of Russian humor under Soviet rule can bring at least a chuckle to tragedy.
Idiocy and incompetence are the foundations of our humor, like the Keystone Kops, Lucille Ball, and Jackie Chan’s slapstick still shows. Trump and Pence are near doubles for Laurel & Hardy, but humor requires a touch of humanity to give the characters and us some inkling of their own failings. No one will ever laugh at Trump & Pence. SNL struggled with Trump but had better luck with his rotating stooges. It is tough to make a parody of a parody.
The horror and overwhelming continuity of despicability was a lesson repeated, it seems now, for eternity. This has been a year and not just an hour or two of filling infinite school whiteboards with ‘I will not be stupid and hurt other people.’ Yet, an amazing number of Americans have not learned and may be unable to learn that basic lesson.
There is a level of tragedy that cannot be made into any type of comedy. The Holocaust and the Trail of Tears are two that come to mind.
With these failures in mind, why spend time looking backward. Let’s pretend we’ve learned our lessons and move on. What can we expect?
Work will never be the same. The problem is how it will change and whether there will be any pattern to those changes. Probably not for 2021.
We are already seeing the problems and growing pressure to return to the office grind with hours of pointless travel at the beginning and end of each day. Even though this has been an incredible relief for millions, who have no interest in the old office environment and know that the entire economic construct of work in the postmodern world cannot survive.
For millions of others who have honed their social skills, ingratiating themselves with their bosses as a road to success, a return to the office scramble is critical to their future. The bosses now have a problem finding a successful path through this new minefield.
This will be a growing battle that will add to the casualty rate among those organizations that refuse to change. It will cause workers' growing movement as jobs fail to return and the standards for success change in a volatile economy. The conflicting patterns of gig and contract work for maximized profits will meat an active workforce demanding greater security and independence. Herding workers into offices with high overhead does not fit into either of those perspectives.
Without commuting every day, people working remotely are moving to cheaper and less crowded suburbs with greater family opportunities. If force, many of these people will move to other jobs. Simultaneously, people who cannot work remotely will be more unhappy with their lot and look to education and other opportunities.
This will play into another pandemic trend, with many community colleges now being online becoming permanently so for cost and budgetary reasons. Retraining will be hot in 2021, but not for traditional colleges that insist on rows of seats in a classroom with post-work commutes. This will further break the community and small universities away from being feeders for traditional four-year degrees and research universities.
The return on educational investment will be different and must be faster for most adults. This trend will be a cost-benefit ratio with both money and time in the cost column and rapid employment as the dominant benefit. The old two and four-year degree requirements will begin to disappear for most adult education this year. Research and engineering degrees will survive and grow, but that is not an option for much of the population unless drastic changes are made in middle and high school public education.
Without going into the full range of public education, that won't be easy to call because of the US's political collapse. The movement to make all education free to residents is growing but needs to be implemented. That will not happen under Biden, who is committed to keeping things as close as possible to what they were.
The elimination of student debt while meeting the demands for greater worker independence through education will break much of the US educational system. In this conflict, the forces we will see, very much like the forces of political collapse, are not an area open to compromise. These are radical changes from the past or no change, and the majority will refuse that.
For the newest generation coming out of high school in the wake of the pandemic, I sense a growing trend toward foreign education. With rapid change and high risks all around, opportunities outside of the US are more attractive than at any time in the last century. The Trump disaster and the minimalist Biden ‘correction’ does not support optimism on anyone’s future in the US. Watch for this.
In summary, the forces we have watched with fear and loathing for the last five years will widen the population's gaps. These are forces moving great numbers of people toward the future with a smaller but significant number attempting to move to the past.
This will push people into taking action as these conflicts affect the workplace, the family, and education. Politics is no longer an effective tool for meeting public needs as the political system is no longer connected with most people. Disgust with the federal failures may mean the US Federal system is increasingly ignored as worthless.
How that will play out will not be an improvement for 2021 but it may for 2022.