There was a word for people who approached decisionmaking rationally: losers
Sure, people always miscalculate. We drink too much at a party, scrape our side mirrors, spend $3.8 trillion while taking in only $2.5 trillion in taxes. We are risk takers at heart: fracking shale, driving with Amanda Bynes and reading poorly written S&M novels in public. But risk takers are not the people who messed up in 2012. This year, reasonable people went wrong making wise decisions and getting totally hosed. This was the year of the bad call.
NFL owners thought no one would notice if they used replacement refs during a labor dispute, since all refs--zebras--dress exactly the same. Then the scab refs blew the outcome of a Monday Night Football game so dramatically that when the owners settled with the pro refs, fans were so thrilled that they waited an entire week before yelling at their TVs about how stupid the pro refs are. After two years of editorials warning that the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision was going to let rich people control politics, rich people reasonably tried to control politics. And failed. Conservative billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers and Foster Freiss wasted more than $100 million, which they could have done simply by paying higher taxes.
It all seemed so safe. After all, how could you lose by getting in on the Facebook IPO? What permanent stain on our musical culture could be left by just clicking on a link to a Korean rapper's YouTube video? Who's going to see this small, microbudget Middle Eastern action movie financed by a wacky Coptic Christian guy? How could Egyptians get upset about Mohamed Morsi's grabbing a little more power right after he cut the Palestinians a sweet deal with Israel? Why not give an Oscar-winning octogenarian icon the chair he's requested just before speaking at the Republican Convention? What is a more reasonable newsmagazine cover line right before the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision than one calling Justice Anthony Kennedy "The Decider"?
Meanwhile, the gamblers all won. A little remote-control car thrilled people with its double-bank-shot landing on Mars despite the fact--proved by the film John Carter--that no one cares about Mars. That Austrian Evel Knievel guy Felix Baumgartner safely parachuted to earth from some sort of a spaceship while--and this was the crazy part--hopped up on Red Bull. Scientists found the Higgs boson despite the fact that every time they went to look for it, they first had to spend three hours explaining it to everyone. The White House defended Obamacare with an argument so dumb that the conservative Supreme Court actually laughed at it, despite the fact that--as with Lindsay Lohan's Lifetime movie about Elizabeth Taylor--no one was trying to be funny. Frank Ocean ignited his career of singing sexy songs to a black audience with a Tumblr post about his relationship with a man. DreamWorks made a hit movie out of a Doris Kearns Goodwin book. In the most insane yet successful risk of all, Germany bankrolled the 3,000-year-old Greek civilization for another year.
Some bad calls did, of course, seem dumb at first. Yes, eating a bowl of spaghetti and drinking a glass of milk right before singing and dancing onstage is pretty much guaranteed to lead to stage barfing, but it might have seemed like a conservative preshow choice, assuming Justin Bieber had just read the Dean Martin biography. And sure, General David Petraeus got into a mess by sleeping with a woman jealous of a busty identical twin who got shirtless e-mails from a federal agent that she hid from her indebted cancer-surgeon husband, but that may have seemed normal to Petraeus if, as I assume, he watches nothing but telenovelas. And, O.K., it was sort of dumb of Prince Harry to party without clothes in a Vegas hotel, but in his defense, who wants to look at a naked ginger?
Saddest of all were the bad calls by the most reasonable people, non--Tea Party Republicans. They methodically parsed their options against a weak President in a bad economy and thought, That good-looking Mormon guy who ran a huge company, the moderate governor from Massachusetts, the God-fearing robot who can't get caught drinking, gambling, screwing around or sipping Coke--he won't say anything stupid on the campaign trail.
When you have this many bad calls, you wind up accomplishing nothing. After all that sound and fury, we end 2012 exactly where we started it: same President, same health care law, same debt issues, same economy, same Middle East instability, same inability to find Bieber barf on eBay. We are massless bosons who never made it through the Higgs field. If we continue to be so safe, we're going to be in a lot of trouble.