Go into any church today, and you will hear how 'our society is falling apart' or 'we live in a sinful and Godless age.' You will hear the same doom-and-gloom from politicians, on both sides of the aisle: environmentalists warn about global warming and the oil crisis, while conservatives bemoan violent crime and falling standards in our schools. It seems like, if a minister stood up in church and said things were getting better, he would be branded a heretic. Or if a politician said the same, he would be considered politically incorrect. Why is everyone so pessimistic? Are things really that bad?
Would you be surprised if I told you that we are living in the best era of human history? That, far from getting worse, many of the things we worry about are getting better? Let's look at a few of these myths of doom, shall we?
1. Violent crime and drug abuse: It's down. Almost every indicator of violent crime shows a steady, long-term decrease from highs in the 70s and 80s. Use of heroin and cocaine is down. Teenage drug use is down. Murders have decreased.
2. 'Our schools are failing.' Ok, they could be better. But compare dropout rates now to the 1960s, when they were over 30%. Teen pregnancy rates have also fallen. Schools now offer programs for children with learning disabilities who would simply have been ignored 30 years ago. By the way: there are two reasons students in North America do poorly in math and science scores compared to Asian countries: first, they don't study 14 hours/day, and secondly, they aren't allowed to cheat on the exams, as students in Asia are.
3. 'The environment is getting worse.' In some places, yes. But air quality in most North American, European and Japanese cities is much better than it was a few decades ago. The Great Lakes are cleaner than they've been since before I was born. Unfortunately, that's because we've exported our dirty, heavy industries to China. Global warming is a growing problem too (but how big of a problem is not clear yet).
4. 'There are wars everywhere'. In fact, aside from Iraq, there are no wars between nations anywhere in the world today. For the first time in world history. There are still lots of civil wars, but even those are fewer and less bloody than in the last century. Remember Central America in the 1980s? Now look at it: not a war anywhere in sight (knock on wood!). The same can be said for much of Africa: in the 1980s and 1990s there were civil wars in Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Congo, the other Congo, Central African Republic, etc., etc. Now there are wars in the Congo, Chad, Sudan and Somalia. That's it. While across Africa, economies are growing by an average of 5% or higher, fueled by China and India's demand for raw materials such as copper.
Infant mortality, worldwide, is lower. China and India used to have yearly famines. Neither has had a famine in 30 years (50 years in India). More than 2/3 of the world's population can read and write, compared to maybe 1/4 a century ago.
So, let's count our blessings, and 'accentuate the positive' for a change. It's not a sin to be an optimist.
An old pickup truck on a dirt dusty road. Me in the back, 6 or 8. Camp counsellors going to town to do the laundry. Someone lifts me up to sit on top of a washer. Big machines, industrial. They put quarters in the slots- 2 or 3. Slide them in. Push some buttons. I watch carefully, fascinated. The machine starts to shake. I don't remember their faces, or names. The counsellors. Grown up now, for sure, with children grown up. I think we went for ice cream after, then home. Late. Too late for supper, but there's some saved for you, on plates.
And the name and the logo of those washers I remember still. 'Queen', and the logo a crown.