Two Thousand and Eleven: What Went Wrong and How To Fix It, Maybe.

By Joseph Cardle

In 2011, the foundations of the modern world buckled under the strain of capitalist excess, leaving our generation to wonder, “What is the point in anything any more?” You can’t blame us. Time and again the government and our schools have demonstrated that they would rather sell out our future – purely to get rich quick – than ensure we have one at all. By hiking the price of tuition fees, they have not only given credence to the old stigma of university as an elitist pursuit, and increased the pressure on students to succeed to unbearable levels, but put too high a cost on stopping the world from imploding.

So, what do we do? We can’t change the world – much like Anakin Skywalker’s charred body, it’s far past the point of a full recovery – but we can make it more manageable. That’s not to say that we deck the world out in a black cape and scuba gear, of course.

To do so we must reflect, consider and most importantly learn from the past to give us an idea of where we are heading in 2012. Therefore to start us off, here are some significant things that happened this year. You’ll certainly be aware of most of this stuff already – Christ, I’d hope so – but when viewed out of isolation, they paint a pretty compelling picture of where we are and where we’re going. And since it’s been left upon all of us to clean up this mess up, I think it’d be prudent to go over some of these things twice.

The coalition government lurched into its second year of existence in 2011 with a manifesto that read – and I’m paraphrasing here – “WE’RE GOING TO TRASH THE PLACE.” Home Secretary and Chief Interrogator Theresa May is doing her level best to do away with the Human Rights Act. Foreign Secretary and Frequent Loser William Hague responded to 2011’s myriad of international crises with a series of “ums”, “ahs”, and “we’re examining all the options and hoping to put together a full report”. Professional Haircut and Some Guy Nick Clegg did… something, I guess. And David Cameron, Overlord, frequently told the nation that these were competent, intelligent people that he was proud to hang around with.

(Don’t think of this as a full endorsement of the shadow cabinet, though. I’ll vote for him, sure, but nothing Ed Miliband can do could possibly make me think of him as anything other than an even less competent version of Tony Blair.)

Other people David Cameron considered capable and intelligent in 2011 included the Murdoch species and Rebekah Brooks, who, of course, were at the centre of 2011’s biggest scandal. When it emerged that the News of the World had hacked into Milly Dowler’s answer phone messages after she had been abducted and murdered, I’m not sure that anyone was entirely surprised. After all they’d hacked everything apart from the spaceship at the end of Independence Day by that point, but sure people were rather disappointed that journalists could stoop that low.

I honestly believe that the rioting and looting that swept through the UK in 2011 were not wholly the result of some intrinsic British propensity for being violent for the sake of being violent. Rather, I believe they were the direct result of leading a nation to think that the future is hopeless. After all, if society has deemed you too poor to be educated, it has deemed you too poor to ever hope to contribute to society. It has made it clear that you are of no use. Under those circumstances, why bother to behave like society expects you to, particularly when that society is led by a bunch of corrupt, up-themselves losers? What’s a few days, or months, or years in the slammer next to a lifetime of no consequence?

International news of 2011 was a series of civil wars and natural disasters that never seemed to end. Japan was hit by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake and tsunami, killing more than 15,000 people and leaving more than 3,000 missing. Libyan rebels overthrew Colonel Gadaffi in a prolonged conflict that claimed between 25 and 30,000 lives. And in more grim news mudslides and flooding in Rio de Janeiro killed more than 900 people.

However, the two most talked about deaths of 2011 were undoubtedly Apple CEO and rhetorical hypnotist Steve Jobs and terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden. I didn’t really understand the “what-does-it-all-mean” fervour that surrounded Jobs’ death, nor the mass satisfaction and catharsis that followed Bin Laden’s. Jobs was an extremely clever guy, but he didn’t seem to have designed or programmed much since the 90s. He was a great salesman, I’m not so sure he was a prophet. All Bin Laden’s death proved was how useless the last ten years of war and suffering have really been. If all it was ever going to take was Seal Team Six, why did we ever invade Afghanistan and Iraq? Three thousand people died during the 9/11 attacks, but how many millions more have died since because of our misguided posturing? Under those circumstances, I thought that acting smug about it was quite gauche, to say the least.

We also all went a bit wedding crazy in April 2011 as Prince William and Kate Middleton got hitched in a marathon event of dull television and non-stop partying. It was a fun day – what I can remember of it anyway – but it’s worth remembering that we all had a big party because a very rich family and the bloody Royal Family, the patron saints of very rich families, decided to merge (mostly at our expense.)

Speaking of very rich families, it also became apparent in 2011 that no one really had any money any more. Ireland didn’t, Portugal didn’t, Greece really didn’t. This was what a sea captain would refer to as an “abandon ship moment”, and investors ran for the lifeboats without a backward glance. Interest rates for these countries were raised to a record high (they were taking out loans to pay off other loans, basically forming a financial black hole) which, in turn, prompted a quick-fire game of European cabinet musical chairs, Silvio Berlusconi being the latest European prime minister left standing up with the music off. The United States had money troubles of their own too, as their national debt spiralled out of control amid an internal political shirtless bar brawl.

Closer to home, Strathclyde really, really didn’t have any money this year, though it’s hard for me to figure out why. Four subjects were withdrawn earlier in the year – Geography, Sociology, Music and Community Education – on the grounds that Strathclyde is a place of “useful learning” and these things are not, which comfortably sits amongst some of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. Additionally, the Student Finance office has had its opening hours slashed, and ‘Rest of UK students’ now have to pay nine thousand pounds to come here at all. Where is all this money going? Straight into a shredder? I don’t know if it says more about me or my university, but I’d probably believe that.

So, what does all this say about us and what kind of future are we stumbling into? Well, I think it says that we are facing a crisis of engagement. With the world going to hell in a hand-basket around us, it’s hard to summon up any interest in saving it. Thus, the real issues and votes that we should be thinking about are a lower priority, while the fake issues and votes that don’t really matter – the X Factor, I’m A Celebrity – captivate our attention. The real war and suffering that goes on around us is sidelined in favour of the ones on Xbox Live. We have become a generation without direction, too content to shrug with indifference at the world’s problems.

I’m petrified that 2012 will be more of the same unless we start doing something about it. Instead of asking: “what’s the point in anything any more,” we should be asking: “what can we do to fix all this?” The answer is simply to be interested, to vote and to be heard. Otherwise, we’ll all be marching towards a Chinese salt mine to work in for the rest of our lives, paying off the debt of our former leaders, wondering what on earth happened. And we shall update our Twitters with the hashtag: doomed.} else {