The Long 2022
We're in a historical period-boundary year
This research note is part of the Clockless Clock book project.
History has an inconvenient habit of organizing itself into natural periods that are just slightly longer than nice round numbers.1 Historians like to solve this problem by attaching the adjective long to periods (eg: the 125-year long nineteenth century).
These long periods tend to have shorter crisis periods inset in them, like gemstones in jewelry, that tend to have non-periodized names. For example, the Great Depression and World War 2 were crisis periods within the long twentieth century (which has no consensus definition; I define it as ~1890-2021). Though popular periodizations tend to use such crises as period boundaries (as in “post-War era”), in general that’s not useful for historical analysis, and not what historians seem to do. This is because when the dust settles around a crisis, it usually becomes clear that it was a logical part of the longer period, with a long run-up of causation, and a shorter aftermath of consequences.2 So both the Great Depression and World War 2 fit naturally into the story of the long twentieth century. Exciting and intense periods tend to fit in the middles of longer stories, rather than at the beginnings or ends.
Good period boundaries, by contrast, tend to be quieter liminal passages book-ending what I called deep stories in Tempo. They are not climactic periods but periods when the energy driving the current story weakens, and the energy driving the next one starts to cohere. Period boundaries are marked not by intense moods, but by mood shifts, including brief but unmistakeable periods of undefined void-like moods and dead historical calm. Of course, the world is a big place, and there are always leaks in both directions, as well as spatial asynchronies. Some loose ends of the previous period continue into the new period, and some previews of the next period are visible in the current period. Endings and beginnings may take some time to propagate across the globe (though that’s not as true today as it used to be).
But overall, the mood of a period boundary is liminal rather than climactic, and it becomes clear that one story is ending and another beginning.
A reference fictional example: the liminal moment in the Tolkien legendarium is the episode where Bilbo steals the ring from Gollum. The mood shift is palpable. The Hobbit is a light-hearted adventure story for children. The Lord of the Rings is a much darker story for adults, with a deep sense of loss and historical sadness pervading it. Though the Bilbo-Gollum episode is built around a fun game of silly riddles, there are ominous overtones that belong emotionally in the later stories. It’s not just a set up, but a mood trailer for what is to come.3
The strongest period boundaries, with the most marked mood shifts, tend to also line up stories unfolding at different scales. It’s not just a long-century boundary, but a long-half-century boundary and a long-decade boundary. Bilbo stealing the ring from Gollum is a punctuating moment on many scales. It’s not just the mood transition between the Bilbo and Frodo stories, but between eras in the history of Middle Earth.
I think the long 2022 (roughly beginning with the vaccines being widely available in mid 2021) is one such strong period boundary; a liminal passage at many levels of historical storytelling.
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