Mar 5Liked by Noah Smith

OK, I have a theory about why we never settled on a common cultural definition of the 2000s. It might seem like a silly theory, but I think it actually makes sense.

It's about the name.

Humans like to name and categorize things. Even things that only vaguely belong in the same category (like the early 60s and the late 60s). It's crude, but it gives the world a sense of order to us.

But we never decided on a common name for the first decade of this century! We call it "the 2000s", "the 00s", "the Aughts", and a few other things. But there's no simple name that everyone can agree on. And without a common name, it's really hard to enforce the fiction that it all belongs under the same category.

So as a result, we never started thinking of the years from 2000 and 2009 as a common cultural unit like we did for 1960-1969 or 1980-1989.

Again, I know this seems dumb and superficial, but I think it really matters, because (as you point out) the very concept of a cohesive "decade" is a fiction in the first place. The only thing that gives it any commonality is the name.

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“In other words, I think of the 2000s as the Pause Decade. Young Americans got to pretend it was still the 90s, sitting in their rooms and enjoying the the fruits of the peaceful and still-prosperous world created by the nation’s successes in the late 20th century.”

Spot on.

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I’d like to re-categorize 9/11 as another self -inflicted mistake. Not the actual attack, but the US’s craven reaction to it: TSA at airports, metal detectors at the entrances of public buildings, “color” alerts, “If you see something, say something.” I don’t think ALL of it was policy mistake (and not ALL of the mistake was cynical Republican efforts to make political hay), but the policy response validated the private fears.

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Mar 5Liked by Noah Smith

The 2000s was the coming of age of the last generation to experience "pre-internet" in a meaningful everyday way. I've never thought of it as a lacuna. For artists and creative culture, it was the DIY era (or rather, the end of the DIFM era). Hipster/Banksy NYC-er than thou culture (pre-woke? I wouldn't go that far).

What really separated it is that, probably because of the nacient internet, we had a LOT more in the popular consciousness. The era of Bush, 9-11, Iraq, dotcom, Obama, AND the housing crash? Everyone could have a public opinion, and nothing went unnoticed. We packed a lot into that decade.

It was kind of the 19060s of the new millennium. I wish I could remember it!

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Agree with all this.

As an addition, my recollection was that STUFF felt like it was improving rapidly, especially in consumer electronics. Broadband access, cell phones -> iPhones, video game consoles, flat-screen TVs, streaming video (and honestly so much great pirated content free)... If I bring out my old gadgets from the turn of the century, they look like museum pieces compared to what I had by 2010.

And that was fun! People like to experience things getting better! It is GOOD to feel like progress is happening, not like we are fighting over the scraps and dividing a finite pie.

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94 baby here. I was one of those young millennials and your characterization of the calmness and positivity is spot on. I remember riding the bus as a kid listening to music. One year it was hit clips, the next mp3s, the year after the ipod. Steve Jobs was my role model, technology was such a positive force back then. The web was still an open place. Twitter used to be a place our entire high school would go to dunk on each other during class. Strange to think how my opinion about tech has changed so much since then. I think we are headed back to smaller internet communities and platforms

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Mar 5Liked by Noah Smith

Well written piece. I found really nothing I disagreed with.

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Great post!

My kids were young in the 2000s, and here is something I noticed. The other factor that could have contributed to less unhappiness in the 2000s is the decline in bullying, which started with antibullying campaigns in the 90s. It blew me away just how decent kids were to each other in my kids' grade school. No one was getting shoved into a locker, like when I was a kid in the 70s/80s.

This is much harder to enforce online, and came back in the form of cyberbullying in the era of social media in the 2010s.

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Mar 5·edited Mar 5

As someone who also was a young adult in the 2000s, I thought this was a great read. However, I would somewhat quibble with Noahs' periodization. I'll admit this is partly influenced by a blog post I read on The Scholar's Stage blog awhile back but can't find now about periodizing recent American history, which got me thinking about this subject (which is fun, though it's usefulness is debatable). Anyway...

I think it's useful to distinguish a "cultural" decade from a calendar decade. For example, I'd say "the 60s" really runs from 1963 to sometime in the early 70s (you could argue it even goes as far as Watergate, which is getting into the mid-70s). And "the 50s" is quite a long cultural decade - it basically goes from the end of WWII to the Kennedy assasination.

In that vein, I'd say the three most recent cultural decades are as follows:

-The 90s: fall of the Berlin Wall to 9/11, 1989-2001

-The 2000s: 9/11 to Great Recession, 2001-2008

-The 2010s: Great Recession to Covid, 2008-2020

(Note that the 2000s are substantially shorter than the other two; this is a handy explanation for their relatively smaller imprint on our current culture.)

I further think you can divide cultural decades into sub-eras. Sometimes this is kind of obvious, and sometimes it's not (or there aren't really sub-eras). To go back to the 60s example, 1967 is clearly an inflection point and a lot of what we *really* associate with "the 60s" happens between about 1967 and 1970. But I think the slightly earlier era of the British invasion and the Civil Rights Act clearly belongs to "the 60s," there are just different parts of that particular cultural decade.

In that vein, I would say that the Great Recession era*, which straddles the late 2000s and early 2010s and which Noah is placing in the 2000s, are really the first sub-era of the cultural 2010s. Things definitely felt very, very different after the Lehman collapse compared with before it. And then there was another inflection point in Obama's second term - I'd put it at the Ferguson protests in 2014, when the culture wars came back with a vengeance, but you could place it a little before or after this I think.

For the 2000s, it's harder to do sub-eras, but I do think there's a bit of an inflection in 2005; Hurricane Katrina tanked Bush's popularity for good, a lot of the tetchiness that everyone felt in the years immediately after 9/11 started to fade. I tend to think of 2006 and 2007, in particular, as the "fake return to normalcy," but maybe that's just me.

Finally, on a somewhat unrelated note, it's kind of striking to me how much millennial attitudes about the 90s resemble Boomer attitudes about the 50s - a golden era, an age of innocence, all that. It really feels to me like the 90s have to come to occupy the cultural space that the 50s occupied when I was a kid.

*As opposed to the technical Great Recession itself, which ended in mid-2009. But the hangover on our politics and culture - and labor market - lasted until 2013 or so.

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Calling these events disasters is a monument to avoidance of causation. These are almost entirely the. Work product of the president the Supreme Court chose.

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"...invasion itself flagrantly violated the norm ..."

No, it flagrantly violated the law. It was illegal.

By America's own argument at Nuremberg, "aggressive war" is the ultimate war crime, the "kingpin crime that makes all the other [war] crimes possible". It's why the UN exists. It's really a treaty, co-signed by 190-odd that all agree (Article II.4) not to use force against other members. America's constitution (I.9) makes ratified, signed treaties are "the Law of the Land", which makes it American law to not invade other countries. (Most countries have such constitutions, which gives meaning to the term "International Law", as one enforced by every country, each separately.)

The exception is "permission of the UN Security Council", which the US asked for in 1990 - by charging Iraq under Article II.4 for invading Kuwait. Permission was given, by Article 1441, so 35 UN Members got together, and pushed the aggressor out, and stopped.

Powell asked for Security Council permission, and was denied. (Obviously superceding Article 1441, for the "1441 excuse" apologists out there). This was ignored, and America invaded anyway.

This is not an unfamiliar opinion in British press, or discussion forums. Tony Blair's status as "the war criminal", as many popular columnists called him, is up for discussion. Americans to quite a distance left-of-centre, don't even think to discuss Iraq as a crime; it was merely a blunder. Baffles me.

For the rest of the list, I agree with reed hundt: nearly all self-owns, to one degree or another, and all coming from the right-hand-side of your very, ah, exceptional, politics.

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Noah. I love you my man. But the 2000's were an absolute train wreck for the US, and altered the long term trajectory of the country. It was the end of the empire, the end of hegemony. 9/11, Iraq, GFC, China Industrial Dominance. I only hope the US has the ability to "continually reinvent itself" and find it's course in the 2020's. This century is going to be a long slog for global leadership, and the outcomes are far from assured.

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As a 94 kid myself I will say that I noticed a pretty big disparity between the Lord of the Flies/strict social hierarchies common in teen fiction and the relative lack of such things during my high school tenure. Even as a nerdy loner I was never hassled and could joke around with the then quarterback and his GF in Spanish class.

At the time I attributed this mostly to being in a small town and said town having a different culture then your average small town but maybe my age cohort was just more chill in general.

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“Without growth no matter how much redistribution you do, ppls incomes crater “

See post-Brexit Britain

Great work Torys!!

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I'm just writing about the rise and fall of neoliberalism, which has almost exactly spanned my working life. In that context, 2000 is the turning point because of the dotcom bust, which happened in March of that year. It killed off (or should have)

* the efficient markets hypothesis

* the idea of an endless stock market boom

* the assumption that the Internet would make everyone rich

The lesson was clear for those who chose to learn it, but of course had to be repeated, more vigorously, with the GFC, then again with austerity

The decade/millennium periodization works neatly with the generational split for once. Millennials have spent their entire adult lives in a capitalist economy which doesn't work as promised, and their embrace of socialism (whatever that means) reflects this.

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Great analysis, but curious to understand the final hopeful comment "We will make the world safe for peace and love again."....how and for whom?

I spent 7 awesome years in the US in the 90's (including 3 in a fraternity) and I ask my American friends the same questions.

First the how?

Despite having a military presence with 750 bases in 80 countries (and a defense budget > the next 10 countries), the reality is that the relative power of the US and few western allies has diminished to the point of irrelevance today (Afghanistan / Iraq proved this). Today, 5 of the world's top 10 military powers are now in Asia (China 2nd / India 4th) and 8 out the top 10 economies in the world will be in Asia by 2030. The more money in Asia, the greater the muscle over time (> going to defense including domestic manufacturing, which will improve rapidly in the coming years / decades for the Asian giants).

As the money / muscle power is now balanced (globally), will soon tilt over to Asia coupled with the fact that most Asian's don't trust the west (for several reasons going back three centuries), it's very difficult to see how the US / declining UK + Europe plays much of a role on shaping the world on the "peace and love" front moving forward (keep in mind the $ 30 trillion debt the US needs to sort out...as does the EU).

Therefore it is more likely that global "peace and love" will once again be shaped by the Asians (and their allies in the Middle East / Africa). In effect, the US + European allies will follow / play as per the Asian's parameters / rules as opposed to the other way around (which has been the case for the last 200 years).

And for the whom....the US / Western allies = 15% to 20% of the global population. Looking at the wars, invasions (Iraq), sanctions, etc. led by the US / western allies over the last 50 years, who exactly is supposed to be the recipient of this US led peace and love?

The world has changed dramatically in the past 30 years and won't be going back to a US / western led / shaped future for (pick a number) centuries, according to plenty of folks.

And this is a great out come for the world, as the 80% who live outside the US / western ally circle finally get to shape their / our own future based on their / our own 5,000+ years (in many cases) of what, how, why to live....including peace and love.

Here's to an awesome new multi-polar millennium...

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