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All for Naught? 

Figuring out what to call the first decade of the 21st century.

click to enlarge art16040.jpg

It's been 10 years and still nobody can figure out what to call the past decade. At the beginning of the 2000s, columns like this were full of ideas for what to call the first 10th of the 21st century. None of them stuck.

The only one that fits is the Aughts — a shortened version of “naught” used by Shakespeare and Milton when they wanted their words to really sing. And naught means nothing, so we really just lived through a decade of nothing.

Like I said, it does kind of fit. Maybe there’s another alliteration to consider — the Oughts, as in the decade in which we “ought to” have done something but, instead, did aught, or naught. We ought to have spent less — maybe even saved for a rainy day. We ought to have asked for documentation when that dancer in Vegas was borrowing to buy her 10th McMansion. We ought to have had a plan (or a budget) before invading the Middle East.

But we didn’t. As Rebecca Mead wrote in this week’s New Yorker, “the decade just gone by remains unnamed and unclaimed, an orphaned era that no one quite wants to own.”

So if we don’t name it, will it just kind of, you know, go away so we can forget it?

While it’s sometimes hilarious to have sitcoms about nothing, actual shared human experience always has meaning. We need to make sense of it. Since newspapers are supposed to provide the rough draft of history, here are a couple of parting thoughts.

The Aughts were a decade driven by fear.
It all started with us worried about our computers turning on us (Y2K bug), but soon enough, starting on Sept. 11, 2001, we had something real to fear. The decade ended in panic, with many Americans afraid they would lose their jobs, their homes, their health care.

The Aughts were the decade when Mother Nature got angry.
Hurricane Katrina, wildfires in California, out-of-season tornadoes in the Midwest, polar bears stranded on ice floes — anecdotally, the weather has been pretty weird. Add in the hubris of man, and we got things like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Aughts were a decade when we wanted to change but never quite got around to it.
We know that we can’t keep living beyond our means — we finally get it. We should use less gas, eat local food, sock away some cash and not be so greedy. We want to change — Obama knew that — but it’s not easy.

So let the debate begin over what the past decade really meant — or what we should call it. We may not want to own those Orphaned Aughts, but we do.

Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.

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