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A year of clarification

A year of clarification


Much of 2022 has felt like a swirling mass of bad news, but it might just have laid the groundwork for better things to come.

For much of the year, 2022 has felt like an all you can eat buffet of depressing news: Putin’s invasion of Ukraine; women’s rights knocked backwards; inflation biting; people striking; British politics an unfunny joke; covid resurgent; the climate crisis relegated; and, surely, more than enough stories about princes. 

But as we shut up shop for the year, I can’t help feeling that 2022 was a clarifying year; in some senses, more than that, a springboard to big and better things.  I’m James Harding, editor of Tortoise, and this last editor’s voicemail of the year will, I hope, say two things: one is that, if it sounds like my voice is breaking, that’s because like pretty much everyone else at the end of 2022, I’m knackered; the other is that decisive things have happened this last year that can, and should, make us come back with a sense of expectation to 2023.  

And, with apologies if you think this is stating the obvious, here are realities that crept up on us in 2022.  

– America is the world’s defining superpower: the American century is not over, because, judging by who provides the military hardware, invests in green sources of power, sets the rules for technologies and drives economic growth, it’s the US. 

– Russia is beatable in Ukraine: when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, many thought the war would be over in a matter of days, certainly at a timetable of his choosing; Ukrainian defiance and Western (chiefly US) military technology have checked Russia’s progress; if the world chooses, it can drive Russia back and, in time, Putin out. 

–  The second generation civil rights movement is growing: the Mahsa Amini protests in Iran that continue to erode the authority of the ayatollahs in Tehran; political organisation that was so effective in the US midterms following the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade; the A4 white paper protests in China that have, it seems successfully, challenged Beijng’s lockdown rules; Disney’s, eventual, engagement on the side of gay rights, Rewe suspending its sponsorship of the football given FIFA’s refusal to allow advocacy of gay right at the World Cup, and Omnicom’s stand on responsible free speech on Twitter, corporates taking sides on issues of civil rights.   You might say these are battles of the sixties and seventies that we shouldn’t have to be fighting again; but you can see it differently: the battle is joined – and there are more people, in more places joining that battle and, with it, the promise of entrenching progress.  

– Science that makes you believe in the future: the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore Labs in the US gave us a glimpse of a net-zero, nearly zero cost energy future this week with the achievement of fusion ignition; Lecanemab suggested different ways of tackling Alzheimers that might begin, finally, to yield some progress on illnesses of the brain; the James Webb telescope opened our eyes to the universe.  

– Post-populist politics: you’ll say it’s too early to declare victory for the forces of reason and competent government, but, then again, it’s not been a good year for populists: Olaf Scholtz settled into running Germany, Emmanuel Macron won the French elections, Donald Trump’s key Senate and Gubernatorial candidates lost; Britain’s libertarian double-act, Truss and Kwarteng, were outlasted, famously, by a lettuce; even China looks as though it’s easing lockdown and, next year, surely, opening up again to the world.  

– Britain back in play: the damage to Britain’s credibility courtesy of the Kwarteng mini-budget coming on the back of the, still so far, failed Brexit experiment has meant that 2022 has also shifted fundamental expectations of British politics: the next General Election is Labour’s to lose.  As a result, 2023 is going to be a much more meaningful argument over concrete ideas, as both sides, for the first time in a long time, have to a) restore confidence in Britain’s future and b) come up with plans to fix the country.   

There’s a fine line here between realism and optimism.   There’s still an information circus out there, but, from Tortoise’s small vantage point, it’s been amazing to see there’s that the open rates for our daily Sensemaker keep rising; the numbers tuning in to the Slow Newscast and all our podcasts have been soaring; encouragingly, there’s an appetite for slow news and sensemaking.  Of course, the depressing stories in the news are real.  But so too are the developments that have crept up on us in 2022.  And they set us up for a 2023 that could well surprise us on the upside.  

Have a very good weekend – and, I hope, you get to have something of a holiday in the next couple of weeks.  All of us at Tortoise wish you all good things for 2023.  And we’re looking forward to getting back into it in the new year.