2020: Basic Training for the Decade

Here's to hoping for a safe, happy, and productive 2021 - while acknowledging that it was very likely the first in a series of very troubled years.

December 31, 2020

Introduction: Don't celebrate just yet

In the final days of 2020, it's becoming common to hear "oh thankfully this year is almost over", a sentiment I think we can all agree with. Even if 2020 hasn't been particularly hard on you (it was actually a fairly good year for us), the weight it's put on some of our friends, neighbors, and communities has been very difficult for many.

Many of us hold the vain hope that things will rapidly change on December 32nd, 2020, and while we don't want to discourage optimism, January 1st is just a date. It's not a finish line, or a magic reset. Having some hope is just fine, but if we reflect on the past year and consider how it might shape the future, we can say with some caution that:

More likely than not, 2020 was a sort of basic training, or trial run for greater instability.
2020 got us. Let's watch out for speeding 2021s.


Before we get to the why, let's provide a little context and a caveat:

We're not saying that 2021 is the year Constantinople gets sacked. The U.S. will very likely persevere through whatever's coming. It might end up very different than the country we now live in, but given the global interconnectedness and complexity of the economic and governing systems, a complete failure is very unlikely.

That said, we need to keep in mind that even events that are tremendously damaging to national identity and civil structure can pop their head up, and with the wanton use of the phrase "civil war", it might be a good idea to ply some of those lessons learned in 2020, combine them with a strong understanding of emergencies, and do everything you can to insulate yourself from the troubles.

That means we may have limited time to get the supplies, skills, and connections we need to minimize the impact.

A Very Brief History

History is often neglected in looking at the present. Sometimes, that's for good reason; we shouldn't assume that what happened in the past is a perfect template for current events. On the other hand, when we evaluate history from a 20,000 foot view, we see that social disruption isn't that rare. This section isn't going to be a detailed history of conflict in the U.S., but it's worth your time to open this and give it a quick scroll:

American Involvement in Wars from Colonial Times to Present

The point to take from this is: The United States has rarely been at peace.

This timeline omits large scale socio-political upheaval, such as the frontier wars between colonists and Native Americans, the Reconstruction Era KKK, the Robber Barons in the wake of the Civil War, the Rock Springs Massacre, Wounded Knee, the Bracero program, The Watts Riots, the Civil Rights era, the LA Riots, Ruby Ridge, and Waco. Add to this the instability of the last 5 years and we have a fairly complete picture: 

Things are always somewhat F***'d for someone, and occasionally that spills over.

It doesn't matter what form of government, your political or ethnic identity or whatever else - this is the way of human history.

Forecast Continuity

In forecasting complex systems, a number of tools are of use, and one of them is "continuity". If there's nothing that's likely to cause a change, expect no change. 2020's chief contributions to America's national identity include:

  1. Widespread corruption, political grift, and 'for sale influence" of politicians and media. (Note: We typically like to cite sources, but this topic is so broad, so all encompassing, and so partisan that it's impossible. Simply put, when everyone is pointing the finger, trust no one.)
  2. Rampant civil disorder and commensurate dismantling of police in certain cities.
  3. Diminished state and federal projection of authority.

Now, this is admitted opinions based on the events, and it's not even close to all encompassing, but within the last couple days, there have been two attacks on infrastructure, one in Tennessee and one in Colorado.

The potential responses to this on behalf of the government are:

  1. Get ham fisted on their asses and become the tyrannical government they accuse you of being, galvanizing more populist support against you in a feedback loop that exacerbates the violence, or;
  2. Allow the disruptions to continue, victimizing local businesses and weakening local government to the point of 'no confidence', and paving the way for failures of critical infrastructure.

It's important to say that these are reasonably short term trends. The certainty drops the further you get, and I have no idea what the situation will look like in 2030, but given the starting points and input, given history and the trends, it doesn't look like 2021 is going to just ease the sheets and give everyone back their peace of mind that 2020 unceremoniously snatched.

So as we move forward, let's shape our expectations thusly:

2021 and on will very likely be like 2020 - magnified.


So, just like going through basic training, this year should have equipped us all for some strange times, indeed. It happened so seamlessly, that it might be hard to even really recognize some of them. We've had a taste of:

We've largely lost touch with the boom-bust cycle that shaped human existence for tens of thousands of years. We don't use the summer to prepare for the winter, anymore. The instability of the 202X's might wane and normalize, but the trends we're looking at say "now would be a great time to look at 2020 and plan for more of the same, but worse." Now isn't the time to relax on the hope we've created for ourselves that 2021 will be better.

It's a time to reflect on human history and acknowledge that the path forward might get brighter eventually, but it's darkest before the dawn.

Use this time wisely, and have a Happy New Year - even if you have to make it one.








Kelly, Martin. "American Involvement in Wars From Colonial Times to the Present." ThoughtCo, Nov. 4, 2020, thoughtco.com/american-involvement-wars-colonial-times-present-4059761.


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