, Salem, MA


January 13, 2014

Shribman: Anomie or achievement?

New year, new challenges. These challenges come for a political system that is in disrepute, in a world that is in upheaval, in a society that is undergoing fast and fundamental change. The year is only a dozen days old and already changes are sweeping through Washington, the Middle East and Russia.

And, yet, we know that the changing of the calendar year is an artificial event, driven by our need for order, by our impulse to organize events and by our notion, probably faulty, that the seasons of nature are in a cosmic, or perhaps a divine, alignment with our earthly concerns.

For all the folly of doing so, still we attach outsized meaning to the changing of the calendar and to the labels we affix to it. The four digits “1914,” which were employed for 365 days a century ago, are heavy with one meaning alone. So are the digits “1939.”

So what are the digits “2014” destined to mean?

It is, of course, impossible to say, though we do know that the forces that will produce the answer are already well in train, and that in looking back upon 2014, we will see the roots of its meaning in a political crisis that began years earlier, or in a movement that started with an unnoticed slight in a place faraway, or in the inspired imagination of a loner innovator in a remote garage.

Nonetheless, there are collision points we can foresee even in the middle of 2014’s first month, tensions that must be addressed, crises that must be confronted, barriers that must be breached. Here are some of them:

The president’s mysterious persona

Barack Obama came to the White House promising a new beginning, beyond party and partisanship, and yet his five years have been mired in a partisanship that has no equal in modern times.

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