“Truth, justice, and the American way” is a phrase one heard a lot when I was growing up, and as the years pass, it sounds more and more incredible and darkly comic. Despite my long-held reservations, though, for many years of adulthood I thought “fake it till my kids, at least, can make it,” was an okay strategy with respect to Truth and Justice, and maybe even the American Way. A risky strategy, sure, but what isn’t? After all, they now live in an America where anybody who would like to can get married, and today’s young adults are far wiser and better educated and informed, less materialist and more mindful than we were at their age in the 1980s, or so it seems to me. They are making meaningful attempts to create fairer, more egalitarian workplaces and political systems. They have all kinds of wild ideas! Every day I see young people trying so hard to be good to one another. Their high school history textbook was written by Howard Zinn, who at least didn’t think the Pilgrims were having a simply adorable turkey feast with the Red Man, which is what I was taught. These are some miraculous things that happened in my lifetime, and I believe they came about partly as the result in having faith in the possibility of a better future. You need to have that faith to raise children in a troubled world.
But then 2016 happened.
I’m not the only one to be uncomfortably reminded of Suetonius every time I hear about what’s going on in Washington. Since last November, it’s been plain as day that faith in the invisibly incremental progress promised (specifically, to me, by centrist Democrats) was, to put it kindly, misplaced, and did not prove anywhere near enough to counter the furious and unhinged enemies of that progress on the right. The enlightened atmosphere, so manifestly true and right, of increasing freedom, fairness, and equal rights that allowed my kids and their cohort to grow up in a condition of relative sanity is suddenly in terrible danger. What of their kids?! This is now an all-hands situation. Every social advance is threatened. And bewilderingly, the United States again finds itself in the crusty claws of Republican “trickle-down economics,” an economic theory unrivaled in its consistency (of abject failure).
Consequently, faith in the institutions that were meant to protect us against moments like these has also failed. Faith in the Hope and Change some of us worked so hard for, and which, in the end, delivered so little. Faith in a Senate made up of responsible adults who could be trusted to deliberate fairly and not loot the treasury and rape the Arctic in the dead of night. Faith that the tycoons of Silicon Valley would prove to be decent, no-evil-doing stewards of our information and our privacy. That kind of naivety went up in flames starting in late 2016. Things are not okay.
It doesn’t really matter who you blame for the mess we’re in: the drunk maniacs currently at the wheel, or the allegedly sober ones who managed, like idiots, to lose track of the keys. There are excellent arguments condemning everyone in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street for selling the country out — past presidents all the way back to Washington, past candidates, party leadership, lobbyists and congressmen, media, everybody who sat by and let the 1 percent grab everyone by the…well. Now what? None of our old leaders or institutions prevented this mess, and not a one of them is about to see the error of his, or their, ways. The degraded times we live in are such that no one in error will say, “I failed, and I now withdraw and leave better women or men to take my place.” No. They will all cling to the gnawed ends of their power until their flesh falls off their very bones. We need new and better leaders and institutions.
Part of the problem is one of accountability. Of simply remembering. Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, a journalist much admired for her cool detachment in dealing with the current president, recently had the face to compare him unfavorably with George W. Bush. Haberman was 30 years old in 2003, when the fraudulent war with Iraq began. There is no excuse whatsoever for this disgrace.
Fortunately a thicket of tweets sprang up to remind Haberman of the facts regarding the “tolerance” of George W. Bush.
You may be surprised to find that this brings me to my word of the year: blockchain. Blockchain technology — not bitcoin, the cryptocurrency it inaugurated in 2009, but the underlying technology — is a bulletproof record-keeping system. That’s it, really. Provided it’s running on a robust-enough computer network, blockchains produce incorruptible records. That may not sound like much, but records are remembering. Records are the protection of our memories for the future.
Money is the least of it! Anywhere you need records that can’t be altered or deleted, adequately distributed blockchains can (a) produce and (b) safeguard them. Blockchain systems can do a lot more for journalism, and for our future politics, but let’s just start with this. Incorruptible records.
Records that can’t be altered. That means no matter what, if you design the system well enough, and if computers and electricity persist. No matter which billionaire doesn’t like you; no matter who is president; no matter if Manhattan turns into a scuba park.
That’s why, in the wake of the catastrophe of 2016, I dedicated myself to producing journalism on a blockchain-based publishing platform. I’m totally not trying to sell anything here, so I won’t link. But I’m writing this because I want you in future to think differently about blockchain technology. There are a lot of scams around it, just like there were a lot of internet scams when the internet was born, as there are still. But blockchain itself is not a scam. Together with new ideas being developed and pursued elsewhere, including those we may not even know about, new ideas like blockchain may yet deliver us from evil.