After reading too many columns summarizing what was in 2011, predicting what might be in 2012, and explaining why the predictions made a year ago were not quite on the mark, I am more than ready to dismiss the entire exercise as a waste of energy. Yesterday's poll suggesting most Canadians are entering 2012 in an optimistic frame of mind will soon be undone by a bad-news story, and that optimism will be dashed. Of course, if the poll were the other way around, the opposite would also be true.
This is not to say such polls are meaningless. Canadians in an optimistic frame of mind are more likely to spend money and take risks than those in a pessimistic mood. Polls and predictions are significant not for the accuracy of what they say but for their effect on those who read them. When it comes to predicting what might shape the world in 2012, a wider lens is needed. Reading January newspapers reminds me of lessons learned from my holiday reading, which tempers the confidence of New Year's predictions.
One of the books I enjoyed was Condoleezza Rice's recently published memoir. The inside story of the White House response to the inadequately-prepared-for events of September 11, 2001 was a sobering reminder of how our framework of expectations shapes what we see. With hindsight, there was lots of evidence which officials "should have" noticed in order to better prepare for or perhaps even prevent the attacks of September 11th. But the "should" presumes an imperative which was not present. Evidence wasn't noticed because officials weren't looking for it, until it was too late and the framework of expectations changed entirely.
Another book that occupied a few hours was Pierre Trudeau's Memoirs. I noticed the book on a shelf and picked it up, wondering how the National Energy Policy of the 1980s was rationalized. This policy is significant both historically and as a contemporary political metaphor. I found surprising to see how starkly Prime Minister Trudeau admitted that ideology was a driving force motivating this policy. "The role of the federal government is to distribute wealth from the affluent to the disadvantaged" writes Trudeau on page 295. "That was our policy for individuals, for regional equalization, and for energy. We were consistent in our devotion to sharing, and I take pride in that."
The third book I read over the holidays was from a very different genre. Just before Christmas, Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott released The Theology of Jonathan Edwards which provides an updated overview of the Edwards scholarship. I was reminded of how important "metanarrative"—a term which I associate more with twentieth century than eighteenth century theology—is to understanding Edwards. His History of the Work of Redemption was intended to provide "an entire new method" of doing theology, focusing on a historical rather than a descriptive unfolding of sin and grace. Reflecting on some of Edwards' text, I was struck how different his approach to public theology was from much of what is practiced today. We are inclined to seek out biblical principles and describe what they mean for us today; Edwards' method was to observe what was happening today and ask himself, "What does this mean for the unfolding of God's plan of redemption?"
It is a bit of a segue from holiday reading to the nuts and bolts of everyday life, but there are some holiday reading lessons worth applying as we consider the predictions for 2012. Our framework of expectations shape what we look for and see. What we believe often shapes what we do. There is much more going on in the world than just what meets the eye.
Happy New Year.