2016 in review

It’s early for this sort of thing, but time has collapsed.

I played at being a one-percenter in 2016. I can see the appeal. I swam in rooftop pools and people called me “sir”. I waved my Platinum Ambassador card and drank champagne in airport lounges. I learned an important part of playing rich is smiling and saying thank you with plausible sincerity.

Turns out I haven’t the sustainable income or the shamelessness the lifestyle requires. A year of pampering will suffice. But I’m keeping the sport: Le Mans, Centre Court, Wrigley Field, Lord’s. Still something moving about the sacrifice, something (in DFW’s words) about athletes’ ability to “carve out exemptions from physical laws”. Wales at the Euros was beyond imagining, all heart-bursting hiraeth and boundless gratitude.

I got into cycling because it’s what thirty-something men do in my city. I worked on a few challenging projects and spent many days deep in the British Library, researching the book. I can now talk convincingly about Kantian ethics and non-human forms of agency.

My favourite album was Pantha du Prince’s The Triad. The USA elected a neofascist.

2016 – we must will it behind us, even now – was unique in its dread, so determined was its self-infliction. We wielded the razor brave and true down our own wrists. How do I reconcile the guilt of the best year of my life against a backdrop of such distress?

Perhaps it’s easiest to wallow in dystopias, because those war game scenarios, aren’t they just irresistible? Choose your own apocalypse: Putin rolls into the Baltics / Erdoğan goes full totalitarian / North Korea finally gets their physics right – whatever the route, the endgame is the same. Per Tobias Stone’s speculation, flags are hoisted, DEFCONs plummet, and people like us topple into mass graves, our Kantian ethics useless. Long-term calamity is of course assured too, now climate deniers run the world. But the long term no longer seems to matter; the future has become an anachronism.

And this is what we voted for.

Come on, they say, this is a laughable overreaction to protest politics. But I’ve read Orwell, man, I have an Economist subscription, I am the problem. We all die, but I was right, I was right, if only you’d listened…

Enough self-indulgence. Nihilism is a luxury only the privileged can afford. But the other immediately promising strategy – desperate hedonism, live for now before the New Dark Ages set in – well, I’ve rather played that out this year.

Which leaves… I don’t know what. I’m too old and cowardly for the Black Bloc antifa shit, but being careful with pronouns, reassuring people they’re welcome: it’s noble and generous, sure, but it does nothing to change this momentum. There must be other strategies, more ways to fight what today seems bleakly inevitable. I hope I find out what those are in 2017.

Cennydd Bowles