‘2015 in Review’ Review

Too often lists which remind us of the events of the previous year only highlight the contingent way in which we live, the demands now being expedient to the lessons of before or the hazards of after. The events of 2015, like those of all previous years, stamp our human consciousness with both visceral elements that unite us with collective memory and visceral elements which particularize us with individual experience. This is the human condition — to be both a part of something much larger and to be a unique individual. On this score, cataloguing our collective experiences is a noble endeavor — to remind us all that we are interconnected, interdependent, and share in common experiences, from the heartache and anguish of seeing our fellow citizens killed through senseless violence, to the joy of seeing the text scroll upward as the sweeping theme of Star Wars returns us to a familar (and yet also unfamiliar) world, to the continued disappoint and disillusionment that the American political process inundated us with fake scandals and empty rhetoric with only a glimmer of hope, to the strength of character displayed by those who stretched out a helping hand to those devastated by natural disaster or war or famine. To remind ourselves of what we mutually experienced is a noble endeavor.

What we cannot forget is that it is not a unique one. Too often we are bombarded with the foolish notion that something is “breaking news” or that some event is categorically unique, when, in fact, it is not. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called it the ‘eternal return’; Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams referred to it as the eternal roles we all play. We live in a time where we only identify the world with our individual identity, and, therefore, any perceived new experience is unique and exceptional be it is new to our perception — not because it is actually unique. The anti-intellectualism and anti-historicism of the contemporary culture fuels this along with the rhetoric of identity politics. There is nothing new under the sun, even if that contradicts our direct experience.

This isn’t to say that we abandon the individual experience completely to the collective. This kind of apathetic framework, an inhuman form of stoicism, also diminishes the human condition. To downplay all excitement of someone engaging with something new, or the anguish another feels at the death of someone they love, at their home (or homeland) being destroyed, is just as foolish as understanding the world through only those new eyes.

We cannot crush the individual with the collective, though nor can we always place the individual in domination of the collective. So even as we collectively remember the events that have defined our 2015, even if they may not have defined your particular 2015, we must remember that the human experience is both collective and individual and that even though our individual experiences may differ and we may experience things that are new to us for the first time, it doesn’t make it “breaking news” for all of us.

We need to remember that a selfie is inherently a narcissistic activity because it divorces us from needing another human being to aid us in capturing a particular memory. We must also remember that not all events will define everyone’s life as it is portrayed in the mass culture (not everyone is going to experience the Force Awakening nor is everyone going to experience an economy humming along at near full employment). We are our collection of individual and group experiences. That our time riding on this beautiful rock as it revolves around the sun is experienced together, but the events that happen where you are standing on that rock your experience.

I hope that as we review the events of 2015 and herald in the new events of 2016 that we remember that nearly no event is categorically new to our collective consciousness but that every event is a new category for our personal consciousness. May we remember that human beings are both we and I, and I wish, for all of us, a memorable 2016.

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