The year began and ended with lonely deaths triggering those mysterious expressions of mass emotion that punctuate our sentimental, superficial and social media-driven age.
When the Wellington vagrant known as the Blanket Man died in January, one half-expected Mayor Celia Wade-Brown to declare an official day of mourning. As it was, her mini-eulogy - "he lived life his own way" - summed up what many felt.
Given that the Blanket Man's way involved drug and alcohol abuse, petty crime and anti-social behaviour, gang members and assorted riff-raff up and down the country must have wondered why he was admired while they are abhorred. The answer would seem to be that he was a one-off in a culture that values distinctiveness over distinction, and his peculiar state of being - a very public solitary man - made him unthreatening.
This month, two Sydney radio personalities became international hate figures after their prank call to the London hospital where Kate Middleton was being treated led to a nurse's suicide. The outcry reflected our about-turn on suicide: until 1961 attempted suicide was a crime in this country, but people who die by their own hand are now referred to as "suicide victims".
That term could and perhaps should be applied to those who have to live without them.
2012 provided further evidence that zealotry is undermining democratic societies' ability to confront the big issues. In America, for instance, the Tea Party would rather degrade the country's creditworthiness and social fabric than take a few extra tax dollars off people earning $1 million a year.
Neither the almost routine mass slayings nor the fact that roughly as many Americans are shot dead each year as die in automobile accidents can prise open the minds of those who oppose any tightening of gun ownership laws. As they recited their idiotic slogan, "Guns don't kill people; people do", in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, news came in that 22 Chinese schoolchildren had been slashed by what can safely be described as a knife-wielding maniac. They will be scarred, for life in some cases, but they are still alive.
We shouldn't be too smug because the same scenario of ideology, timidity and paralysis is evident in our inability to debate meaningfully, let alone tackle, the major issues facing this country. The superannuation time bomb is ticking, yet the very idea of exploiting our apparently extensive oil and mineral resources is portrayed as a betrayal of everything New Zealand stands for. Meanwhile, every month thousands of Kiwis vote with their feet by relocating to a country where the political focus is still firmly on the standard of living.
It's often said that history is speeding up and in 2012, the 4-year-old National Government showed the signs of decay - arrogance, indiscipline, complacency - that are traditionally associated with third or fourth term governments.
While John Key's multimillionaire, man next door persona remains one of National's prize assets, it's a truism of politics, sport and war that your strengths can be your weaknesses. As the leader of a team of ministers who this year slipped on more banana skins than a silent movie fall guy, you'd have thought Key would be more concerned about the batshit levels around the Cabinet table than the entirely academic question of David Beckham's intelligence.
National's other prize asset is the Labour Party. As was the case with Margaret Thatcher, Key has been lucky - thus far - in his opponents.
The Kim Dotcom farce wasn't the only blow to our international standing. There was also The GC, a taxpayer-funded mockumentary about young Maori living it up on the Gold Coast which made Jersey Shore seem like Brideshead Revisited. It's surprising conspiracy theorists haven't floated the idea that the Government, via NZ on Air, funded this abomination to put a positive spin on the great transtasman exodus.
Then there was Conservative Party leader Colin Craig's assertion that New Zealand women are the most promiscuous in the world. In this day and age when people will go to almost any lengths to stand out from the crowd, it could be argued that to lead the world in any field of endeavour is by definition a good thing. And it's indisputable that not everybody shares Craig's view that our sheilas' partiality to a bit of how's-your-father is a bad thing. Perhaps all those rangy Nordic backpackers aren't here for the clean, green experience after all.
Despite everything 2012 threw at us, we can enter the new year with a spring in our step thanks to an English Magistrates Court ruling that to call a New Zealander an Australian constitutes racial abuse. It mightn't be the best of times, but it surely isn't the worst.By Paul Thomas Email Paul