12/28/2012 12:24 am ET Updated Feb 26, 2013

The Times They Are A-Changin'

As Bob Dylan once told us and the TV series Mad Men continues to remind us, things can remain the same for long periods and then... everything changes.

As we watch Mad Men it's hard to believe there was ever a time when doctors smoked as they chatted with patients, kids didn't have car seats and adults lacked seat belts, and pregnant women drank alcohol. Or, more seriously, African-Americans, women, the disabled, gay and young people all sat at the back of the bus (or in the secretarial chair) and were virtually invisible while all good jobs went to older white men, who ran the world.

And then...

The pressure built up and -- seemingly all at once -- the center wouldn't hold. Society suddenly shifted in the mid-1960s and hasn't been the same since.

In the late '80s and early '90s a similar sudden shift happened in the Soviet Union. A seemingly formidable empire just melted away in a few short years.

And what about 2012? As the year ends, it seems that we're at a familiar tipping point. After decades of fruitless anti-gun protests, suddenly gun violence and the NRA seem at last to be on the losing side of history. And the post-election conservative right, seemingly in charge of every shouting argument in the post-9/11 era, finds itself scrambling to appeal to the very demographics rejected by the right in the Mad Men era, now formidable in their collective numbers.

And after decades of resistance, the arguments for taking climate change and environmental issues seriously seem to be at last (and far too late) gaining traction once again in the wake of Katrina, Sandy, and the Big Oil spills.

So are the times really changing once more?

Will 2013 usher in an era of rapid social transition where we outlaw assault rifles, seriously tackle climate degradation, start to honor the work of government employees like teachers, outlaw fracking, legalize pot, recognize the environmental causes of cancer, rein in the corporations and reverse the Supreme Court decision that gave them more rights than ordinary citizens, bring the troops home from Vietnam (er, Afghanistan), and start thinking about going back to the land again?

The answer, my friends, is blowin' in the wind...