31 December 2009

The decade with no name

So we come to the end of the decade with no name. We had the Twenties, the Thirties, the Forties, up to the Nineties. We have the habit of characterising each of these ten-year periods by its major events, its tastes and trends in art, literature, music and fashion. But for the decade following the Nineties, no one can agree on a name.

This way of perceiving time is so ingrained that many people celebrated the turn of the century and the millennium a year early. The 31st December 1999 was the end of the 1990s, but not the end of the 20th century, and the first decade of the 21st century will only end in a year's time.

But it is how we perceive decades, because of the easy way of naming them. Many historians see the 19th century as being bracketed by the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War, beginning in 1815 and ending in 1914. It was a century of relative peace, in the sense that such wars as there were were relatively localised. Not that there was much peace in southern Africa, which was the scene of many of those local wars. Several of the Eastern Cape Frontier Wars were fought then, and the Anglo-Zulu War, and the first and second Anglo-Boer Wars, to name a few.

Most of the 20th-century wars, however, were fought elsewhere. The closest that the First World War came to South Africa was Namibia, then known as German South West Africa.

Over the last decade I've managed to put most of my journal on computer, and so one of the things I do most mornings is to look to see what I was doing this day 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago, and finally 25 years ago, the midpoint between 50 years ago and the present. So I look back and see what I was doing at the end of the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s. '90s and '00s. Perhaps we should call the last the zeroes.

Twenty years ago I noted the end of the annus mirabilis, 1989, when democracy was breaking out all over. Dictators fell in many countries: Egon Krenz (remember him?), Nicolae Ceausescu, and P.W. Botha. The euphoria of that year was rather spoilt by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and the Wars of the Yugoslav succession that followed. The decade of the zeroes saw wars of aggression provoked by the USA and Britain in Afghanistan and Iraq. On balance it hasn't been a good one.

In South Africa the fall of P.W. Botha was followed by the advent of democracy in 1994, but we haven't done much with it in the last 10 years. Instead of a concerted effort to undo the ravages of apartheid, politicians have been more concerned with jockeying for position, grabbing the spoils of office, and slagging off their rivals. Well, that, at least, is the impression one gets from the media, and it has to be tempered with the knowledge that there is nothing the media enjoy more than a big fight. Perhaps there has been something good going on behind the scenes that they aren't telling us about, but it seems more likely that there is not much to tell. Before the 1994 election the ANC produced a blueprint for a Reconstruction and Development Programme, but within a year they had abandoned it. Twenty years ago some of the biggest problems in the country were education, health and policing, and since then there has been little or no improvement in any of them.

Let's hope the next decade will be better. Anyone got a name for it?

One thing I have noticed is that most people seem to call the years of the past decade by the thousands -- "two-thousand" to "two-thousand-and-nine". But 2010 is called "twenty ten".

Perhaps 2010 will prove to be an annus mirabilis too, in which South Africa not only hosts the World Cup, but wins it. But I'm not holding my breath.


Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

I can remember exactly where I was when this awful decade came into being. Believe it or not, when I rang in the new year on January 1, 2000, not only was I stone-cold sober - I was at church! My then-girlfriend and I attended a special midnight mass at the local Catholic church to welcome in, not only a new decade, but a new century and a new millennium. I remember feeling filled with optimism. By entering this new era, I felt, we could wipe the slate clean. Maybe this would be a new age of peace, love, brother and sisterhood. EVERYBODY SING!

This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius!
Age of Aquarius!

How utterly naive on my part, huh? By year's end, all of that hope was out the window and into the toilet. In December of 2000, an ideologically perverted Supreme Court would assist in a stolen election by stopping the vote count in the state of Florida, installing a corrupt little frat boy with the I.Q. of a half-eaten box of Milk Duds as president of the United States. It was all downhill from that moment on. From the birth of "Reality Television" to the worst attack on American soil since the Civil War, it was quite a strange ten years to say the least. Thankfully this awful decade is a mere three days away from being forever consigned to history's scrap heap. Hallelujah.


Tom Degan

CherryPie said...

Maybe the the Tenties or the Teenies?

Happy New Year to you :-)

James Higham said...

The names applied to these two decades I shan't be applying.

Anonymous said...

In my own head, I've always thought of them as the ots and the teens.

BTW, the bishop has acquired a very knowledgable, engaged and dedicated person in Reader John. I have gotten to know him over the past few years because of our mutual admiration of N.T. Wright and subscription to an email list discussing Wright's works. He lived "in the neighborhood" (a relative term in California, a large state), about two hours away from me, until just recently. He has been very helpful on my journey into Orthodoxy, and I continue to occasionally pepper him with questions, which he patiently answers in ways that keep me pondering. I am honored to have him for a friend.

Dana Ames

Steve Hayes said...


I met Reader John briefly at Christmas, but haven't had much chance to talk to him yet.


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