"I want to talk about the next decade and what comes after your event. What it’s going to feel like to live through the next ten years. It does not feel like progress. However, it does not feel like conservatism either. There’s neither progress nor conservatism, because there’s nothing left to conserve and no direction in which to progress.

-- Bruce Sterling in 2009, making an eerily accurate prediction of what the 2010s would be like.

Last time I asked, "What if anything can be salvaged?"

Just as an experiment, let's see if we can assemble the pieces of a counternarrative against the gloom & doom.

The question is: "Did anything good happen in the 2010s?" To put it another way,

If you could somehow magically have a do-over on the 2010s, what would you keep?

I was born in January 1980 so my life decades conveniently match up with calendar decades, so when I say "what would I keep from the 2010s" it also means "what would I keep from my thirties". (More about trying to sum up my thirties later, in another post.)

My first list was very short:

  1. my marriage
  2. my current job
  3. um, there were some really good video games i guess...?

this is purely personal life, i.e. "I did OK while the rest of the world is going to hell". That doesn't help anybody. So let's think some more. Isn't there anything that happened in the wider world that wasn't horrible?

My current job, which I like a lot, is a company that does data analytics for solar power. I like it because I get to work on scaling up something that might actually replace a significant chunk of fossil fuels. We're trying to reduce the soft costs (e.g. financing and maintenance costs) of solar. But of course that's pretty far up the value chain. We can only start this company thanks to the fact that solar prices went like this:

(in 2009 it was $8.50 a watt, so it's gone down 65% in 10 years - source )

So that's real progress. That's a big thing I'd keep from this decade. Solar needs batteries to be really useful, and luckily batteries have also gotten drastically cheaper for reasons of their own -- first because of demand from cell phones/laptops, and later because of demand from electric vehicles. So here's a few more good things we can add:

  1. solar panels got cheap (thanks, Chinese manufacturing!)
  2. battery storage got cheap
  3. electric vehicles started to get affordable (Teslas are still too expensive, but Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt are accessible)

Next, despite US politics being a total disaster at the federal level, a couple of good things have actualy bubbled up from the state level. Which is how it's supposed to work, sorta? One and a half cheers for federalism? Something starts out as a fringe idea, something only weirdos support, way outside the Overton window. But the weirdos convince their friends, and eventually get enough support to convince one of the smaller and more adventurous states to try passing a law. And then other states see that the sky isn't falling and they try it too. And then there's a backlash, and we fight over it for a while, but maybe there's a tipping point where something starts to just become common sense, and eventually becomes law everywhere. Making change happen this way is agonizingly slow but it has a much better track record than trying to get the US Congress to do anything useful.

Two things where we saw this happen in the 2010s were first, marriage equality (Prop 8 in california was only 12 years ago, it's amazing how fast popular opinion has swung around) and second, not yet as far along but clearly with momentum behind it, is marijuana legalization. Those are good, let's keep those.

  1. marriage equality
  2. legal marijuana

It's good not because I like marijuana -- the one time I took it was a horrible experience I don't want to repeat, actually -- but because decriminalizing it is taking a major tool of oppression away from the government. Owning the wrong type of herb should no longer be an excuse to lock (disproportionately Black) people up in prison.

And then there are some areas where this process is much less far along, but where a lot of hard work and courage by a lot of activists has started to shake people out of their complacency. Movements like Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and Me Too, while they haven't exactly won a lot of legal victories, have at least started to change the conversation and force us to confront the vast gulfs of inequality remaining in society; we can't keep pretending shit is fine.

One concrete result of such activism is that a bunch of my friends all came out as trans in the last few years, which I don't think they'd have been able to do in previous decades. There's a lot of hard work changing minds that made that possible. I wouldn't want to go back to the 90s when they would have had to be in the closet. So there's some things we keep from this decade.

  1. trans rights
  2. awareness of inequality (hopefully we'll look back on this as the beginning of bigger changes)

So, good things did happen, they're just hard to see, buried among all the horrible shit that's been going on. This is not an exhaustive list -- there other good things, well-hidden, that we'll be digging up as we get deeper into this blog series. And I am curious to hear other peoples' lists as well.

  1. cheap solar
  2. cheap batteries
  3. electric vehicles
  4. marriage equality
  5. legal marijuana
  6. trans rights
  7. awareness of inequality

The reason I'm making this list is not just to look back or to keep score, but to collect signposts that point somewhere other than despair. We're going to need them for our task of beginning to construct a new Future. Put a bookmark in that thought, because first I have to explain what the hell I mean when I say that our old future has run out.

Last modified Jan. 6, 2020, 1:38 a.m..

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