It would seem that a consensus has formed: this decade, the years 2000-2009, were terrible. Here’s Tom Schaller, writing in the Baltimore Sun: “I suspect the years 2000 through 2009 will be remembered for how little good they brought us…the lessons of this decade are mostly about the limits of American power and poise, of our haste and our waste.” Paul Krugman, in The New York Times, writes, “Maybe we knew, at some unconscious, instinctive level, that it would be an era best forgotten. From an economic point of view, I’d suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true.” And Andy Serwer, writing in a cover article for Time Magazine, dubbed it the Decade from Hell: “Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipeout at the end, the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post–World War II era. This decade was as awful as any peacetime decade in the nation’s entire history.”
There is, to be sure, a fair amount of availability bias at play here. The events and moods of the 2000s are vivid in Serwer’s memory because they just happened, but they surely pale compared to, say, the 1870s, which saw the collapse of Reconstruction, a recession that left people starving, the rise of the Klu Klux Klan, and a battle between black and white militias that left at least 130 black men dead. Every decade has it’s tragedies, and ours came earlier and left a larger mark than most, but any decade that does not see two American armies clashing on American soil cannot possibly be called this nation’s worst.
Hyperbole aside, I still can’t join those who are dismissing this as a decade of failure, disappointment, and sadness. Some of it is just objective: there was a huge amount of flat-out incredible art produced. Technology changed not only the way we communicate but our entire way of life – and not, I’d argue, for the worse. But more of it, for me, is personal. When this decade began, I wasn’t even a person, not really. I was barely twelve years old. This is the decade I grew up in, it’s where the vast majority of my memories and experiences took place, and when I read people attacking it I get angry. This is the time that shaped me, and I can acknowledge its flaws and its tragedies, but I’ll be damned if I’ll condemn it. In some ways, I’m sad to see it go.