The best of 2011? It's impossible to argue with the Arab Spring, but honorable mention goes to the teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico. They went on strike for more books, computers, and other supplies for their students. For themselves they asked nothing.
The worst: The wave of revolution began in Tunisia when street vendor Muhammad Bouazizi set himself ablaze. Perhaps I flatter myself to think that I can understand his revulsion, his despair, and certainly much good has come of his primal challenge, but this new custom of suicide as protest really must end. It has been going on in rural communities for decades now, tens of thousands have died by their own hand around the globe, with the abominable practice being particularly prevalent in India. Loathe though I am to intrude upon such a profoundly personal matter, but to the extent that these self eliminations were undertaken in the sangfroid of political calculation and done for effect, then to that end it is a wasteful and counterproductive strategy. Many suicide-protesters have perished now and in most places where they occurred nothing has changed. If you wish to change the world, not merely to exit it, then resist. For the reformer or revolutionary, suicide is defeat.
The revolution didn't happen this year, this wretched, squalid, insatiable beast we call capitalism still pins us underhoof. But the future belongs to those who, like the sacred teachers of Oaxaca, are strong in love. So it would do us good to remember Wordsworth's poem, "The French Revolution":
OH! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!--Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,
When most intent on making of herself
A prime Enchantress--to assist the work,
Which then was going forward in her name!
Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth...
What temper at the prospect did not wake
To happiness unthought of? The inert
Were roused, and lively natures rapt away!
They who had fed their childhood upon dreams...
Were called upon to exercise their skill,
Not in Utopia, subterranean fields,
Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!
But in the very world, which is the world
Of all of us,--the place where in the end
We find our happiness, or not at all!
Happy new year! Bliss will it be to be alive for the social revolution, which advances with each dawn.