Brian Gallagher in Nautilus:
You may have noticed it by now: the—I guess I’ll call it an impulse—to anthropomorphize “2016.” It began gradually. First, we objectified it, likening it to a disturbing film, a force of nature, broken hardware. As Slate put it:
In trying to wrap our heads around 2016’s all-reason-and-logic–defying onslaught of tragedy and absurdity, we objectified the year. We gave it a shape and form, likening it to a melodrama, a malfunctioning machine, an unstoppable meteor, anything to get some small grasp on the year’s surreal and hellish parade of events.
Then we subjectified 2016. We wrote letters to the year, chastising its bad behavior (for, among other things, offing beloved celebrities). John Oliver went further, detonating a large “2016” structure in an arena. A recent Atlantic article ran with the title “‘Fuck You, 2016’: On blaming a year for the things that happen in it.” But why are people blaming 2016 anyway? It could be that we’re anthropomorphizing the year to connect to it, and we need to connect to it because so many of our other connections are broken. In a study published in October, Jennifer A. Bartz, a psychologist at McGill University, with her colleagues described anthropomorphism as “a motivated process” that “reflect[s] the active search for potential sources of connection.” Bartz wanted to see if she could replicate, and extend, findings from a 2008 study by the University of Chicago social psychologist Nicholas Epley, and colleagues, who claimed that socially disconnected people may “invent humanlike agents in their environment” to help feel reconnected. Those researchers, Bartz and her colleagues write, “found that lonely people (compared with nonlonely people) were more likely to ascribe humanlike traits (e.g., free will) to an alarm clock, battery charger, air purifier, and pillow.”
This year, with its Presidential election, seems to have offered many occasions for Americans to question their sense of belonging. Neil Gross, a sociologist at Colby College, wrote in the New York Times recently that many people have been wondering, “Is this America?” “It’s a telltale sign of collective trauma, a grasping for identity when the usual bases for community aren’t there any more,” he writes. “For progressives, moderates and ‘Never Trump’ Republicans, the political order they long took for granted—defined by polarization, yes, but also by a commitment to basic principles of democracy and decency—is suddenly gone.” A recent Pew report, titled “A Divided and Pessimistic Electorate,” illustrated this: “Beyond their disagreements over specific policy issues, voters who supported President-elect Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton also differed over the seriousness of a wide array of problems facing the nation, from immigration and crime to inequality and racism.”