Welcome to December. That wonderful time of year when children all over the world suddenly become interested once again in how well they’re behaving. Everyone knows that if one expects to get anything nice for the holidays, whichever one is being celebrated, there’s a level of niceness, or goodness, that has to be achieved. Nowhere is this driven home more than in those cultures that celebrate Christmas with the concept of Santa Claus bringing toys and treats to good boys and girls. Children are obsessed with being good as demonstrated by the whole “elf on the shelf” phenomenon.
Of course, parents enjoy taking advantage of their children’s attention, using it as an opportunity to get a little more out of them, especially in public settings, because, “Santa’s watching.” For the duration of the month, the little ones are more willing to sit still in church, say nice things around adults they don’t like, pick up toys, play nice with siblings, feed pets, and maybe, just maybe, clean their rooms. Parents love using the leverage of “I’m going to call Santa,” and try their best to stretch it out as far as they can. That never works, though. The tots go right back to being their horrible selves the instant all the colorful Xmas wrapping is sufficiently scattered across the living room floor. We might try to pull Santa’s influence at other times, but kids know better. Santa has no pull in June.
The concept of naughty or nice lists never truly leaves us when we become adults. Even if we don’t necessarily believe in Santa Claus any longer, we still like to toy with the idea of whether someone has been endearingly nice, deliciously naughty, or a straight-up old grinch. We invite the nice to our parties, the naughty to our bedrooms, and the grinches get a middle finger as we walk out the door on Xmas eve. We revel in this annual act of judgment without questioning whether our behavior is appropriate, because we’re not really the ones judging, it’s all Santa by proxy. The normal rules of social behavior don’t apply. This is strictly Santa’s territory. We don’t make the rules, we just modify them to fit our needs and desires. Surely Santa will understand.
Never mind that in the face of all this listing hullabaloo that we look right past the actual meaning of Xmas or any other holiday. Naughty and Nice lists as adults are all about fun, we keep telling ourselves. We don’t mean any ill will against anyone who doesn’t actually deserve it. Sure, we remember the meaning of the holidays and we’ll get around to that part eventually. For now, we want to enjoy the wrapping and unwrapping and singing and cuddling and all the good feelings we can manufacture while pretending we’re being nice and inclusive for a month.
If Santa were real, though, and he genuinely had to make naughty and nice lists for everyone on the planet who acknowledges him (thereby cutting the number down a bit from seven billion), how would he actually make that determination? What criteria could possibly be used that would provide an accurate averaging of our deeds and misdeeds, the good and the bad, appropriately weighted based on content and intention? Could there even be a special Santa Claus algorithm that magically calculates the list and provides a detailed spreadsheet somewhere in mid-December?
If you think about it, the task is quite daunting. While there are always the good things that we’re quick to bring up, anyone who’s been paying attention all year knows that there have been plenty of moments for everyone where we’ve not shown quite as brightly as we’d like everyone to remember. In fact, looking back over the whole of 2021, there have been some rather dark moments for just about everyone.
To demonstrate just how difficult Santa’s job is this year, we’re going to look at specific areas of society rather than directly picking on individuals, and consider where things have gone well, and where they’ve failed, sometimes spectacularly. As we look at different areas, deciding whether the sum of their year is positive or negative is not necessarily an easy call, and even if a portion generally trends positive, there are still individuals who come up on the grinch list hard and heavy. Nothing here is black and white.
So, we’re going to take a brief look at the fields of Business, Science and Medicine, Technology, Culture, Sports, and Government and Politics, consider the year each has had, and decide whether we think they should be on the nice list, naughty list, or subpoenaed and put in jail. I can promise you right now that there are far more people in that last category than anyone should find amusing. And while there have been some incredible up points this year, the downs have hit us hard for the second year in a row and we’re all beginning to run short on patience. I’m going to try to be as gentle as I can, but this is a tough list to make. Hold on, here we go!
How Santa Looks At Business
On the surface, business may not seem all that bad. The economy is putting up good numbers, unemployment has decreased a bit, wages are definitely up, and people are buying more than they ever have. At the same time, though, inflation is soaring at levels higher than we’ve seen in 30 years, people are quitting at such high rates that we’ve given it a name, and across the board, people are saying that they don’t feel as well or as secure as they were this time last year, and this time last year was not a positive place to be. Did we mention the supply chain problem?
Santa has to like the fact that, at least in the US, GDP grew at an astounding 6.7% for the second quarter of the year and a projected 2% on top of that for the third quarter. Already, the fourth quarter promises to end the year strong. All economic indicators are showing positive, except for one: public confidence. Public confidence is in the toilet and for business, that’s a major concern because there are always consequences to public opinion.
What Santa sees is the effects of inflation on families below the poverty line, the dominance of the mega-corporations flirting with over a trillion dollars in revenue, how major corporations such as Starbucks and Amazon have fought against their employees unionizing, and an increase in the number of mergers the SEC finds troublesome. Those are going on the naughty list.
On the good list, though, are the number of small businesses who, despite the struggles, managed to continue to pay their employees all year, gave their employees raises so that they can survive without needing three jobs, and those who have protected their employees from the insanity of aggressive and vocal customers who defy mask and vaccine requirements. Protecting employees hasn’t been easy, so those who have done so definitely deserve a reward. Maybe an extra tax break if you can, Santa.
Santa and the Big Tech Blues
2021 has been a rough year for technology. From a severe shortage of the chips that run everything to some serious questions about who knows what and what they’re doing with the information, Big Tech has had a year when it seems like everyone is gunning for them, looking to bring them down, with a pretty good chance of succeeding. The situation is so dire, that when I started looking for any sign of good technology this year, it took several pages of searching before I found anything.
What has come under fire is not only the years-old matter of privacy but marketing tactics that put specific people groups, especially minors, in the crosshairs for danger. Instagram was slapped hard this year for their algorithms that targeted teens with content that encouraged them to participate in dangerous behavior. TikTok received a lot of scrutiny for their influence as well. The ever-expanding dominance of technology in everyday lives, especially the further development of AI, has raised a lot of questions and tech firms aren’t providing answers that cause people to feel any better about what the companies are doing.
Interestingly enough, it is the European Union who is most likely to get bonus gifts from Santa this year because of their increased scrutiny of and restrictions on Big Tech. While the US Congress has held endless hearings that result in nothing more than an increase in the release of methane into the atmosphere, the EU has passed strict laws governing what tech companies can do, what data they can collect, what they have to divulge, and the limitations of their algorithms in regard to things such as race, gender and sexual equality, misinformation, political preference, and potentially harmful content. Given that tech companies don’t want to have to develop different policies for every different country, they’re applying the EU restrictions to all of their software across the globe, making everyone safer. That’s a big point on the nice list for the EU.
Santa Loves Science & Medicine
After years of misinformation questioning everything in the realm of science, 2021 started with a sense that things might improve for them this year. There were vaccines on the horizon, and once they were approved, all our problems would be solved. Except, that’s not what happened. The Delta variant came along and made 2021 more deadly than the year before. Where the vaccine is readily available, roughly a third of the population is too stuck on the politics of the matter to get jabbed, and even worse is the fact that pretty much the entire continent of Africa has been ignored and has trouble getting the vaccine. The result? Enter the Omicron variant, spreading at least twice as fast as Delta, and potentially more deadly.
Things didn’t go any better with climate change. Sure, there was a big policy conference that everyone attended. There were plenty of speeches about how everyone needs to do better in controlling the release of greenhouse gasses and becoming carbon neutral but at the end of the two weeks, there was little result that has any actual meaning. Even if all the participating countries are able to meet the goals they set for themselves, it still isn’t enough to keep Santa from having a shortage of snow at the North Pole by 2030. The science couldn’t be any clearer about the dangers of climate change, but no country seems to have the guts to take the drastic and dramatic steps necessary to solve the problem.
What’s getting nice marks from Santa, though, are things like the developments in CRISPR technology that allow genes to be edited directly inside the body. As scary as that may sound to some, what it means is that debilitating diseases, especially those like muscular dystrophy and other genetic diseases, might be curable by directly fixing the problematic genes without the painfully slow process of extracting genetic material and replacing it later. Progress in the use of psychedelic drugs to treat PTSD has exploded in the past 12 months. And what may well shape the future is progress in the development of fusion as an energy source with more power and almost no waste compared to current fission-powered nuclear technology. The new discoveries this year are many, even if few outside their native fields are paying any attention. Be sure that Santa sees every last one, and approves.
Santa Has A Thing For The Truth
For the second year in a row, culture has wrestled with the topic of race and largely lost. We didn’t do too well in our treatment of history, either, with a vocal group of people getting upset to the point of violence out of fear someone might be teaching the truth. Sad girl music rules the radio. People are mistreating wait staff more than ever. On the plus side, though, we’re starting to get back into the theatre, just as a new variant may make that a bad idea, and Peter Jackson brought the Beatles back together and streamed them into our homes.
American culture has continued along the divisive us versus them path of complete disagreement on ideological lines that look dangerously like fascism on one side and communism on the other. Neither extreme is workable and Santa is paying careful attention to who is making the most noise, voicing the most threats, and putting the most people in danger.
At the same time, though, more people are finding their own voices. Extra presents this year goes to those who have finally had enough and are standing up to systemic racism, sexism, and homophobia whether it exists in the workplace, at school, in research centers, or anywhere else. This has been the year to be assertive in making sure black history and indigenous history get heard and accepted for the bloody and inhuman reality that it is. The arrest this past week of the parents of a school shooter and the conviction of three white men who murdered a black man show that maybe, just maybe, American culture isn’t a total blackmark. We’ll have to work hard to maintain any presence on Santa’s nice list going into next year, though.
Santa Is His Own Party
When it comes to matters of government and politics, the US pretty much started this year with a giant black mark as fascists stormed the Capitol on January 6 and some members of Congress didn’t want to do anything about it, especially when it was revealed that the outgoing president may have had a hand in organizing the event. Then, we politicized vaccinations the same way we politicized wearing masks last year. We pulled troops out of Afghanistan after 20 years and that country’s fall into the hands of malicious, radical, pseudo-Islamists was so fast we had to take emergency action to save those left behind. Sure, a new infrastructure bill was passed, which is wonderful, but members of Congress are calling each other names, posting cartoons depicting them murdering each other, and making attempts to see who can be the craziest. This is not a good way to run a government.
Things aren’t looking much better internationally. Successful coups have eliminated burgeoning democracies in both African and Southeast Asian countries. Civil wars have erupted over the right of certain ethnic groups to exist, setting off an immigration crisis that no one in the world is handling well. Syria is now making more money from its cocaine business than all legitimate exports combined. Chinese communist party officials have explicitly stated their intent to usurp the role of the US as the top economic and political leader in the world. Russia is massing troops along the Ukrainian border.
I’m not sure there are any politicians on Santa’s nice list this year. Some have been too weak and hesitant to lead in ways that help their constituents. Others have embraced the dark side of Nationalism and fascism, endangering the lives of millions while the politicians continue to inflame the violence with incendiary rhetoric that straight up encourages people to put themselves boldly on Santa’s permanent naughty list. If the people who lead us are supposed to be setting a good example, they couldn’t be failing any more spectacularly than they have done this year. We only hope they don’t take that statement as a challenge.
Fewer Balls Under The Tree
As much as we’d like to think of sports as a way to escape all the nonsense and negativity going on in the rest of the world, it, unfortunately, isn’t. Sure, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their first-ever Super Bowl. The rest of the year hasn’t gone so great. We found out that the FBI botched the investigation of abuse in women’s gymnastics, a handful of athletes put everyone on their team at risk by refusing to get vaccinated, high profile athletes have been arrested for everything from driving under the influence to assault and drug use. Then, right as Santa starts paying attention, Major League Baseball locks out their players for the first time in 20 years over a dispute in how fairly younger players are paid.
The 2020 Olympics were finally held in Tokyo this year, and while a handful of records fell, what everyone is more likely to remember, if they remember anything at all, is that the threat of COVID-19 put almost all of the city and the Olympic Village on lockdown. Events had few spectators. Many star athletes failed to perform their best.
Santa is slipping extra gifts in his bag for those athletes who put their personal health and well-being ahead of their sport, people like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka who dared to say, “No, I’m not going to participate so I can take care of myself.” The Women’s Tennis Association scored big points on the nice list by standing up for Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai and suspending all tournaments in China until they can confirm the safety of the player. In fact, it’s been women, almost exclusively, who have stood up for their rights and positively affected their sports. Men, on the other hand, largely sat around and complained about having to take a shot.
Something Other Than Coal
In the overall balance of things, it would seem that Santa won’t need to deliver as many presents to adults this year. He can be more forgiving of children as long as they didn’t run around with guns killing people. Adults, though, are supposed to know better, set a better example, do more to improve not only their own lives but those of people around them, whether they’re family or not. Adults this year have been a huge disappointment. We’ve let Santa down and I can’t imagine he’s terribly happy about that.
Traditionally, in some cultures, Santa leaves lumps of coal in the stockings of those on his naughty list. However, the jolly old elf is quite aware that coal is not a sustainable, eco-friendly choice even as a form of punishment for bad behavior. He’s been looking around for alternatives that would send a clear message without doing any further damage to the environment. Thought has been given to cheap exercise equipment, last year’s calendars, and thoroughly misinformed self-help books as an alternative. Diet pills and cleaning supplies were also considered given that most of the people on the naughty list could probably benefit from one or the other, if not both.
But in a super-secret direct line conversation, I had with the man himself this morning, I happen to know that the disappointed-but-still-jolly old elf is simply going to allow nature to run its course and let those on the naughty list experience the full weight of the consequences of their actions, or inactions as the case may be. Nothing he can do compares to dying because one refused to take a simple vaccine. Neither does he plan to intervene when fascists meet an unsavory and possibly violent end. If you find a box under the tree with your name on it and open it to discover that it’s empty on the inside, take that as a warning that you probably need to reconsider how you’ve behaved this year and make some serious changes.
As for everyone else, Santa’s warning that even the North Pole is experiencing some supply chain issues. While he raised elf compensation to 25 candy canes per hour and instituted a liberal family leaves policy, that hasn’t offset the difficulty in getting raw materials over the rapidly melting snowcap. There are certain problems that even Santa’s magic can’t solve. While most presents will be delivered on time, please don’t be terribly upset or offended if you get an IOU on some of the more popular things you desire.
And for everyone who doesn’t believe in Santa or his tradition is not part of your culture, know that there’s still someone watching you, making a list of who’s naughty and nice, and will reward or punish based on your actions. It just recently changed its name to Meta. Happy Holidays.
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