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To look back on 2011, we can’t help but think of what is being talked about for 2012. No, we will not discuss whether John Cusack will save the world or not – as depicted in Hollywood’s contribution to the 2012 myth. Pre-Columbian prophecies have been interpreted as predicting that next December will mark the end of the world. But if one does a bit of research, it is quickly concluded that 2012 simply corresponds to the end of a cycle as calculated by the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. The rational consensus is that 2012 is supposed to usher in a new era. Based on what we know, can this be applied to our daily reality? Again, when looking back at 2011, we can’t help but notice unusually world-changing events.

Source: Lel4nd on flickr

Bad Guys Dying

No less than three world-renown symbols (and sources) of hardship gasped their last breath in 2011: Osama bin Landen, Muammar Gaddafi, and most recently Kim Jong-il. These types of “leaders” (not comfortable using this term with regards to these characters as it implies some type of positive undertone) are an endangered species because the world they took over has changed. Back in the day, governments that wanted to control and suppress their people needed only to lock down borders and cut off communication in order to manage and apply their regime – which rested on segregation. But with the world intertwined and communication so available, managing in this way is becoming nearly impossible. Therefore, this might mark the beginning of the end of all dictatorships.

Uprisings

The winter of 2011 was marked by the awakening of the Arab World and people’s expression of dissatisfaction with their situation. Social media was used to coordinate protests and force governments out of power. It is undetermined if these uprisings will lead to improved situations for the instigators – but we can safely assume that things will never be the same again. Like a viral You Tube video, the movements spread quickly and uncontrollably. However, uprisings weren’t limited to this one part of the world. The UK Riots taught us that even in the most stable environments; people are capable of expressing unhappiness in a messy way. The public may have realized that collectively, it can have a voice – when justice and democracy fail to deliver fairness and prosperity. Will 2012 bring more of these and force more systems to change?

Protestors in Tahrir Square. Source: AhmadHammoud on flickr

Euro-Trashed?

For most of the year, world financial markets and moods fluctuated based on the news coming out of the Greek and European debt crisis. Just years ago, this would have been unthinkable: the basis of Western Civilization and the “old and stable” continent teetering on the verge of economic collapse? Europe has been in trouble before (World Wars), but the issues in 2011 threatened to affect the globe’s economic state. Is this just a (large) bump in the road for the dream of a unified and powerful Europe? Or further evidence that the balance of economic power is shifting from the western world and moving to the new and emerging markets? The next section provides more proof of the latter.

Artwork by James Montgomery Flagg, 1920, commenting on post-World War I conditions.

Uncle Sam Needs…Money

Ten years ago, the thought of the largest, most powerful economy struggling in its own debt crisis and trade imbalance would have been laughed at. But as the boom of the early and mid 2000s faded, a housing crisis hit, and the 2008-09 recession having never really disappeared, we have a wounded U.S economy. Consequently, the government couldn’t generate enough income to pay its debts and the U.S was forced to (dangerously) increase its own credit card limit. Every empire has risen and fallen – is this end of the American-dominated world that we have come to know? Again, economic growth figures coming out of the emerging Asian markets are indeed pointing towards this…and have been for a while.

Occupy Something

Are protests and pitching tents in downtown park spaces a way to make corporations and governments change their ways? The effectiveness of the numerous “occupy” movements can be argued. But they do symbolize people’s frustration with the distribution of wealth and prosperity. Are more of these on the way? Will people bring these “to the next level” and force the powers to be to actually change the system – with the ultimate goal of closing the gap between the 1% and the 99%? 2012 might provide some answers. Nevertheless, the socio-economic issues are undeniable: the gap between the have and have-nots is growing as the middle class is apparently shrinking. Sales at discount stores like Walmart and other like-minded retailers are growing. Interestingly, figures for luxury items remain healthy. But middle-of-the-line business is still stagnant as recessions in developed economies linger. If the trend continues, more people will be unhappy with their situation and may have reasons to voice these concerns.

Source: david_shankbone on flickr

Looking Ahead

In conclusion, 2012 can very well be the end of an era. It might be the year we will look back on and say “that’s when things changed”: economically (end of the Euro?), politically (more governments falling?), and socially (more uprising?). In the same way older generations looked at the Great and Second World Wars as the end and beginning of new eras, our present period might very well change our perspective, mood, and thoughts on how the world works. Whatever the upcoming year has in store for us, let us hope that despite the volatility it may bring, the events and changes will aim to produce a better world for us all. Come midnight this Saturday, I will raise a glass and drink to that…