Joanne Palmer
Joanne Palmer

The curse of interesting times

It might be a cliché that it is a curse to live in interesting times, but right now we are in a position to judge it for ourselves.

Remember the end of history? That was the lovely theory that gained traction in the 1990s, when the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama told us that we in the West had reached the summit of human achievement, and that the summit was flat, filled with bright flowers and their sweet perfume, and it is stretched on forever. (Okay, he didn’t use those words, but it was his implication.)

Boy was he wrong.

If in fact the 1990s were the summit of human perfection in the West, then that summit actually was a jagged peak, and we are sliding down it, gaining speed, bouncing over the rough parts, breaking bones and dreams as we go.

Maybe perfection was too boring. Maybe history had to go on because there is no narrative in perfection, and we human beings crave narrative.

We certainly are living a story now. As a plot, it’s a doozy. It has too many insane twists and impossible turns to be anything but real life; no editor would buy it if it were fiction. And it has far too many literally insane characters, pinch-me motivations, and odd speech tics for even the largest writing room, fueled with every legal or illegal drug in the world, to think of.

And then there’s Twitter. Pause for a second to think about the sheer improbability of Twitter, and then move on.

If we were to hunt for a bright spot in this mess — and we must, because we are human beings, and like plants most of us can’t help but contort ourselves toward the light — it would be in how it is driving all of us to be more and more involved. There is not much blandness around right now. People have opinions, and they voice them, and not just about politics. About everything. People seem to have found their voices, and that’s a good thing.

We see it here at the Standard. We are sent more opinion pieces, more letters, more story suggestions, than I can remember ever seeing before. Look at this week’s paper — social justice committees, impassioned debates about Orthodox women’s roles, more looks at the Holocaust, from new angles. Something’s up.

Maybe partly it’s the time of year. The sap will be rising in trees soon (to get all horticultural); it’s getting dark later, the groundhog did whatever it is that groundhogs do, which means that no matter what, dismal winter has less than six weeks left. Even the thought of spring does things to us.

But it’s not only that. There are ideas rising like sap. Many of us are worried, but many turn that worry into the fuel that propels us forward.

We don’t have any idea of how this story we’ve just begun will end, but one thing is certain. It will be very, very interesting. We’ll be talking about it for generations after it ends.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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