The New Year is a construct. Sure, it marks the completion, roughly, of the earth’s orbit, but that has happened since the solar system was formed, long before we—homo sapiens (and earlier versions of us!)—evolved from simpler life forms. It is good to recognize the New Year for what it is —a construct, because much of the misgiving, even dread, as well as the hopes and expectations that come with a new calendar comes about because of thinking of the New Year as some already written script just waiting to be acted out. For astrologers, it is written in the stars. For palm-readers, it is etched on the palms of our hands. It is this way of conceiving the future that assures seers and soothsayers and quacks of all varieties a constant stream of patrons and that has allowed trade in feng shui amulets, trinkets, and talismans to flourish into serious business!
We have long ago recognized that human cognition goes by way of constructs, even if we did not always call them “constructs”. We referred to world-views, conceptual frames, a priori forms of thought, models and paradigms—and while I will readily grant that one can always nit-pick at the nuances in these concepts, the underlying conviction was that we look at the world through lenses and that somehow, we establish an order by which we perceive and know! And because constructs are what they are, there is the possibility of de-construction (a much-abused term, hardly ever understood decently by those most inclined to use it!). In short, we choose to order our lives in such wise that after 365 days, we change calendars, start counting anew and, in some aspects, endeavor to do things differently. In respect to calendars, that we are dealing with a construct cannot be more evident, for January is not the start of the academic year, nor is it necessarily the start of the fiscal year. It is not even the start of the liturgical year that started in November with the first Sunday of Advent!
But constructs are constructed because of their usefulness. They provide us with a handle on things. Richard Rorty, who is not everyone’s favorite, put it well: We do not need mirrors of reality, but handles! A New Year is the salutary reminder—probe even—to make possibilities come to pass. We are self-defining, self-inventing beings. We write our own narratives, and there is no pre-written script that we must merely act out. So both “predestination” (as commonly understood, not the version argued in involved fashion by the likes of Aquinas) and karma (including the beliefs about the prospects of the Year of the Ram!) are disfavored concepts. Our future cannot be written in the stars nor in the lines of our palms, else it would not be authentically a human future. The future is the open-endedness of human existence, while it is there, and the fact that one can move from misery to opulence, or from luxury to privation.
To be sure, the commonly held belief that “one can be whatever one wishes to be” is wrong because there are limits. Some call these limits facticities—the unchangeable elements of one’s personal life that co-determine the future that can be realized. Others call them frames. Whitehead clarifies that the becoming of a new occasion (a new entity) is not the simple incorporation of the past, but a selective prehension of elements that came before. In this way, one cannot simply erase the past that enjoys some kind of “objective immortality”—an endurance we cannot choose to do away with. All the same our freedom to write our narratives should not seriously be in question.
2015 then is the construct, the excuse we give ourselves to start narrating, in the awareness that there can never be complete discontinuity from the stories we can tell of ourselves before 2015—and that others can tell about us—that is as clear as the weight, the burden, the angst as well as the joy and the challenge that come with the realization that are free to write for ourselves surprisingly new chapters, interestingly unpredicted episodes that all go into making that narrative by which we define ourselves!