For the vast majority, the future isn’t what it used to be. The inevitable reckoning and consequences, still unscripted, will be Shakespearean in scope and proportion. “To be, or not to be” really “is the question” right now.
And ‘’All the world’s a stage… all the men and women merely players” is a fact of daily life, and death. We all have new roles and lines to learn for this looming, real-life epic. There are no exceptions and for better, or for worse, very few choices.
Warning: Canadian Microsoft researchers recently determined people now lose concentration after eight seconds, down from 12 since 2000 when our digitalized lifestyle began. The average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds.
Keep KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) in mind and a single Word of the Year (WOTY) in hand to help clean up our act. Dictionary.com has selected: “Complicit” as this year’s WOTY. It is defined as “Choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing… to be responsible, at some level, even if “indirectly” [emphasis added].
In last December/January’s issue, Common Ground focused on Oxford Dictionary’s 2016 WOTY “Post-truth.” It has stood up and stood out in the interim, ubiquitous on its own, and in synonyms such as “fake news” and “lies.” In fact, Collins Dictionary just recently put “fake news” on top for 2017.
But “complicit” is more significant in reflecting the ethos and capturing the zeitgeist of our time, attracting more interest and provoking much conversation. In 2017, we looked complicit up, on-line, at a rate of 10,000% more than the previous year.
The first spike in searches was on March 12, the day after a Saturday Night Live satirical ad featured an Ivanka Trump look-alike hawking “Complicit, the fragrance “for the woman who could stop all this, but won’t.” In a glittery gold dress, the fake first daughter was tagged: “She’s beautiful, she’s powerful, she’s complicit.”
The next spike on April 5, up more than 11,000%, followed a TV interview with the real Ivanka Trump. When asked if she and husband Jared Kushner were complicit in her father’s actions, she responded, “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit.”
A few days later, the mother of all spikes occurred, when an outed, Ivy-league-educated, Ivanka, mouthed, “I don’t know what it means to be complicit.”
This 2017 WOTY had many other moments, including US Senator Jeff Flake’s unexpected retirement. “I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit,” he explained, citing a “flagrant disregard for truth or decency,” adding, “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.”
We have been complicit in speech and action and also when we remained silent. The cultural and political landscape – and the very landscape itself – demanded answers to not only what complicit means, but also what it means to be complicit.
And we turned to dictionaries. No one knows definitively what sends us looking for word meaning, but lexicographers report it’s a combination of seeking definition and searching for inspiration and emotional reinforcement. These quests, online, now show up in ongoing, digitally trending big data.
Complicity hit every hot button, globally. Touching everything from Russian collusion, to mass murder, opioids, Site C, Syria, the evil oil industry. extreme weather, humanity’s role in planetary implosion, obscene growth in inequity, normalized hate speech and groups and myriad other results, enabled through the collective ‘turning a blind eye.’
“Our choice for Word of the Year is as much about what is visible as it is about what is not,” explains dictionary.com’s Jane Solomon.”It’s a word that reminds us even inaction is a type of action. The silent acceptance of wrongdoing is how we’ve gotten to this point.”
Refusing was “a grounding force of 2017.” Five million stood in the worldwide Women’s March. Dozens of professional athletes knelt in anthemic protest against systemic injustice. The most impactful, far-reaching F**k You ever. Personal stories of sexual harassment and assault with the hashtag #metoo, finally gaining traction against age-old foundations of white male hierarchy, right down to micro-fiefdoms.
What does it mean to be complicit? Silent? Processing our current, globally existential question requires questioning our own behaviour, including co-dependency. Who knew what, when? Could I have spoken out? Did I go along because it was the path of least resistance?
Some silence, of course, is essential to self-preservation. And sometimes speaking out is a privilege unto itself. Not everyone’s voice is heard, after all. But refusals to accept the reprehensible, the repugnant and the questionable, transform apocalypse fatigue into action.
How tragic, absurdly comic or happy we make 2018 is down to us – most definitely down to our resistance. Last word on this most useful 2017 WOTY, to dictionary.com lexicographer Solomon: “We must not let this continue to be the norm. If we do, then we are all complicit.”
Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.