We need not worry about Y2K
By JEFFREY LANGAN
As the millennium approaches, the ill effects of the Y2K virus are foremost on our minds. As presented in the media, the virus will shut down computers and computer chips that are essential to the running of factories, utilities, cars, businesses, machines and much, much more.
Y2K will potentially lead to a breakdown of major utilities and financial centers. We could lose our heating, electricity and plumbing. The stock exchange might shut down. Banks will be unable to fix their interest rates. The IRS won't be able to collect. This will lead to economic collapse, political turmoil, violence, rioting in the streets and looting. As I heard on the radio yesterday, perhaps the biggest threat of all, it may even lead to computers in our schools breaking down, causing teachers to actually have to teach once again. (Apparently, many Chicago-area public high schools are not Y2K compliant.)
Few, however, have looked on the bright side of the Y2K problem. For one, it might render TV irrelevant, oh happy day! In fact, a little reflection on what the virus might do to society will teach us what we should actually do to welcome the millennium — take the year off. More mildly put, there are many things that we could actually do to welcome the millennium that thinking about the Y2K problem might help us see. Facing up to Y2K might actually help us really live what a Jubilee year entails.
To begin, we have recently seen, and we will probably see more in the upcoming months, the European Union and some American congressmen advocate debt relief for third world countries. This is a noble cause based on a biblical teaching that during the Jubilee year that comes once every 50 years all debts ought to be forgiven.
But these politicians have too narrowed the Jubilee year requirements. Two others come to mind: letting the fields lie fallow (translation: taking the year off), and giving back all land purchased in the past 50 years to its original owners. In particular, taking the year off has great social benefits. The first is no less than avoiding the need to have a functioning economy for a year. If you plan on taking the year 2000 off, the breakdowns caused by Y2K will not stop you from carrying out your plans.
Taking the year off would also have good effects on this particular society. We work too much and for the wrong reasons. The sociological and psychological evidence is endless. We put too much pressure on ourselves to succeed, to be the best, to be No. 1. This does not have good consequences for our souls. It simply is not a good preparation for eternal life. It also happens to have fairly bad consequences for those who are only concerned about this life. For example, the popular approach to work does not seem to lead to personal satisfaction or healthy families. Taking the year off would almost force us to contemplate a bit who we are and what we really want to do with our lives as individuals and as a society.
What could we do while taking the year off? The list is endless. Ideally, we could do things that we often neglected during the past 50 years (and more) as individuals and as society. Things that counter our obsessive concern for money. In our American government classes, almost all the textbooks present Americans as concerned about their economic security. Did you ever notice that at the same time America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, has one of the largest middle classes and is capable of financing the most debt? Financially, we are extremely powerful. At the same time, we are the most worried about money. We could do things that perhaps we should already do anyway. Pay more attention to our family, friends and neighbors.
We could do more creative things for a year. We could put on a play in our neighborhood or learn how to drink good wine. We could take the time to learn how to play an instrument or something of that nature.
In other words, the idea is not to take the year off and do nothing; the idea is to take the year off from the normal dehumanizing life we often subject ourselves to and to do things that make us more human. Perhaps if we do that for a year, we will be able to make the next 50 years more tolerable than the past 50.
Next, we should give back land to its original owners. This too, would have good benefits for society. Every one is worried about how people are going to live when Y2K hits. If we make all the corporations and monopolies give back the land to the original owners, then people will have something to live off. They won't need the to rely so much on others for eating. They could, at very least, hunt and gather food.
Giving the land back would solve other social problems. We are a society of fat people. In addition, too many of us have limp wrists from too much computer use. We could all use a good diet. We also could all use some real labor. Going back to the land would force us to work for our food. That would enable those of us who are fat to lose a few pounds and everyone else could toughen up a bit.
So next time you start worrying about Y2K, reconsider the problem. There might be seldom thought of benefits behind what you think to be impending doom.
Jeffrey Langan is a graduate student in the department of government. His column appears every other Friday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, November 5, 1999