I was nice about it. I didn’t make any demands on 2000. I didn’t fuss that we were nowhere near launching that manned mission to Jupiter’s moons, that we hadn’t broken regolith on the lunar base, or that Pan Am’s service to the orbital hotel was very far behind schedule. I did not even demand that most basic right of every American — my own flying car.
Now that it’s 2010, I don’t think I can be quite so generous. After all, I went into the decade a relatively young man with parents, grandparents, a series of novels on the shelves, and even a television show about to appear on (not then quite so ubiquitous) basic cable. I came out the other side with a cubicle job, an AARP card, and a lot of “out of print” citations on Amazon. Not exactly a tragedy, but it does leave me feeling that I’m entitled to a least a Nexus 3 to help out around the house. So be warned, 21st century teen decade, I have high expectations for you.
Now that the decade we still don’t know how to name is in rear view (even if the “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Seem” label is still very visible), there’s been something of a movement to forget the last ten years. There are web sites, pundits, and television shows pushing the idea that we should just put the decade of zeros out of our minds, write it off as a lost period, and move on.
Of course, many people remember nothing about the naughts but moments of unmatched horror. To understand why, here’s a simple experiment (animal lovers turn away now) involving rats and a tank of water. Rats can swim, but that doesn’t mean they like it and a rat in the water is generally a rat in panic. Scientists tossed rats into a small tank of water in which a block of clear plastic had been suspended. Everywhere else in the tank it was so deep that the rat had to keep on paddling, but if the rat reached the plastic block it could climb up, rest, and shiver in relief. The scientists let the rats catch their breath, took them out… then tossed them back in again. It may seem cruel, but there’s a point to it. On repeat visits into the tub, rats remembered where the plastic platform was and scrambled over to it much more quickly. But here’s the kicker: rats given a compound that blocked the action of adrenalin on their first visit had a much harder time locating the platform on their return trips. In other words, they remembered better when they were terrified.
The same rules apply to us. If you think you remember the worst days more clearly, it’s because you do. There’s a good reason for this. For a primate making it’s living back in the savanna, every moment of every day wasn’t worth recording in the big book of memories. But the time you went down to the water hole and a leopard nearly jumped you? That one gets a page all it’s own — one with flashy stickers and a bright red border.
As tempting as it is to forget the bad times, the reason there’s a whole friggin’ biological system built around the idea of burning these events irrevocably into your cerebellum in 18pt type is so you don’t do it again.
Here’s the thing about the naughts: there was nothing magic about the numbers. It wasn’t because of a double-zero in the middle of the dates that we launched an invasion that’s cost the lives of thousands of Americans, the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and a trillion dollars plus out of the pocketbooks of taxpayers. We launched into that still unresolved idiocy because of bad policy based on the conservative philosophy of smash things first, think never. We went there because of a extreme version of American exceptionalism, one that views America as above the the rules of law and exempt from questions of morality. A view that says not only if the president does it, it’s not a crime, but that if America does it, it can’t be wrong.
It wasn’t the decade that caused the economy to come down in tatters. It was a conservative approach to the marketplace that views government as the enemy, greed as the only acceptable motivation, and the only solution for disasters brought on by a lack of regulation as still less regulation.
It wasn’t the calendar that brought down the banks, or American manufacturing, or American’s influence around the world. It wasn’t the date that added torture to the list of growth industries while erasing our budget surplus.
Don’t forget the naughts, because this decade, no matter what anyone on the right might say, was conservatism on trial. You want less taxes? You got less taxes. You want less regulation? You got less regulation. Open markets? Wide open. An illusuion of security in place of rights? Hey, presto. Think we should privatize war by handing unlimited power given to military contractors so they can kick butt and take names? Kiddo, we passed out boots and pencils by the thousands. Everything, everything, that ever showed up on a drooled-over right wing wish list got implemented — with a side order of Freedom Fries.
They will try to disown it, and God knows if I was responsible for this mess I’d be disowning it, too. But the truth is that the , everything that they’ve claimed for forty years would make America “great again”. They didn’t fart around with any “red dog Republicans.” They rolled over their moderates and implemented a conservative dream.
What did we get for it? We got an economy in ruins, a government in massive debt, unending war, and the repudiation of the world. There’s no doubt that Republicans want you to forget the last decade, because if you remember… if you remember when you went down to the water hole and were jumped by every lunacy that ever emerged from the wet dreams of Grover Norquist and Dick Cheney, well, it’s not likely that you’d give them a chance to do it again.
And they will. Given half a chance — less than half — they’ll do it again, only worse. Because that’s the way conservatism works. Remember when the only answer to every economic problem was “cut taxes?” We have a surplus. Good, let’s cut taxes. We have a deficit. Hey, cut taxes even more! That little motto was unchanging even when was clear that the tax cuts were increasing the burden on everyone but a wealthy few. That’s just a subset of the great conservative battle whine which is now and forever “we didn’t go far enough.” If deregulation led to a crash, it’s because we didn’t deregulate enough. If the wars aren’t won, it’s because we haven’t started enough wars. If there are people still clinging to their rights, it’s because we haven’t done enough to make them afraid.
Forget the naughts, and you’ll forget that conservatives had another chance to prove all their ideas, and that their ideas utterly and completely failed. Again.
The point of remembering bad events is to stop them from repeating. So remember, and remind others if they start to forget. Because really, this is one trip to the water hole we can’t afford to repeat.