For me, the last evening of the year will always be freighted with high expectations. I believe this stems from the times of my lower middle-class childhood, when my family would ring in the new year by watching televised images of glitzy party-goers popping champagne corks as the legendary ball drops in Times Square. I remember vowing to myself that one day, once my career as a rock star or celebrity poet took off, I would celebrate each and every turning of the year drenched in Dom Perignon and surrounded by super models in my Manhattan loft, which I imagined as being tastefully decorated with glitter balls, treasures from the Pharaohs’ tombs, and ming vases filled with cocaine. All the intervening years of supermarket cheese logs and Baby Duck sparkling wine have done nothing to diminish my hedonistic fantasies.
Apparently, I’m not the only one prone to self-indulgent visions. In the early hours of the first day of the year, the conversation amongst by clan turned a little bit dystopian, a little bit apocalyptic. One of our number reminded the rest of us about a story that had surfaced online a few years ago related to a World Economic Forum conference that was held in an exclusive mountaintop resort. Apparently one of the panel discussions at the conference had focused on the ways that the super- powerful and super-rich could survive whatever global existential cataclysmic event was likely to be coming our way. There had been talk about escaping catastrophe by living in underground bunkers. Problem for these folks is, though, how do you ensure the loyalty and compliance of the Poors, who will be needed to serve and protect you? Robots, perhaps. Or tightly controlled access to food, or maybe shock collars to enforce compliance.
Of course, I suppose it’s no surprise that the tycoons are keen to preserve the lifestyles to which they have grown accustomed by means of dominating and exploiting those beneath them on the economic ladder. Nor is it just a recent symptom of late-stage capitalism. Go back as far as you like. You can bet all the bottom dollars that you don’t have, for instance, that John D. Rockefeller, as he sat in his luxury penthouse atop a New York skyscraper, private airship tethered to the building’s spire, would light his foot-long hand-rolled Cuban cigars with a table lighter fashioned from the skull of a child. And would eye with deepest suspicion the French cooks in his kitchen who were busily shucking oysters and snapping the necks of songbirds in preparation for the evening’s meal. From a certain point of view, shock collars make a lot of sense. I, myself, have frequently thought about how a few judiciously applied jolts of punitive voltage might speed up the ordering process of the customers ahead of me in the Starbucks queue.
All of which is to say, I guess, “Welcome to the new year; same as the old year.” As always, the most fiercely contested arena in the battle for the survival of our species will inevitably be human nature itself. Let’s work towards finding a way to master our worst instincts, so it can all end well.