I like to go dark places in my mind, but I contend—despite contrary feedback from my closest associates—that I am an optimist. And why?
Because I believe the world has never been better than it is now. Not only that, but I believe it is continuing to trend in the right direction.
Real talk, my ni**a.
How could anybody think such a thing? you may ask. Well, I believe the opinion that the world is collapsing is only a matter of perception…mistaken perception, to be provocative. There are certainly problems (more than 99–and bitches are at least one), but by my most important metrics the trend is in the right direction. While my opinion is only one perspective, objectively I think there is enough evidence supporting my point that it should be up for debate.
The debate seems absent. Some version of “the world’s gone to hell!” has been declared by talking heads, radio callers, workmates, and conversationalists so often it’s been accepted as fact. You hear it after Ariel Castro gets caught chaining three women in his house, after an episode of 16 and pregnant, or when you use a bathroom along the NJ turnpike. You hear it at the airport when the flight is cancelled, something is stolen, kids are rude, Sandusky starts a getting all molestey in the shower, and the list continues.
I let people say their piece in these circumstances, because they are usually upset.
This lady has BIG THINGS popping off in Albuquerque and she needs to get there NOW.
And when they’re not upset I lose the argument on an experiential technicality: “When were you born? Well, I was there so I know.” So, I’ve stopped arguing… because I can never overcome that assertion. Maybe they’re right…but my gut tells me otherwise. I wonder if I’m one of millions in the same shoes who stay silent…and maybe that’s a bad thing. It allows the complainers to hi-jack the narrative, distracting us from the true problems of the world and pacifying us with notions of futility over that which we can change. So, I want to challenge some of the ranting phrases I hear consistently, in the bravest way possible—behind peoples backs and in a forum where they can’t retort.
THE WORLDS GOING TO HELL!
(Other versions: “WWIII is coming”, “Africa, geez”, “just nuke the whole middle east”, “you can’t just vacation there any more like you used to”)
I’m starting broad for two reasons. First, Bill Gates very recently laid out his 9 reasons the world is better, and I must affirm my originality in thought. My thoughts were confirmed by that piece, but not created by it (I didn’t have a blog then, so there). Check it out here if you haven’t seen it. Secondly, this is the one I hear most often. The context of this sentiment usually comes during a major international conflict. 9/11 would be a prime example, warlords in Africa, beheadings in Mexico, and even the “crisis” in Crimea. And this is where perception comes in. We only think of these countries when something noteworthy happens…and in the news, noteworthy pretty much always means “god awful and terrible”. So, we’re left with this xenophobic picture of a world constantly at war, civil or otherwise, with child soldiers, famine, drugs, rape, and whatever the hell this thing is…
And yes, these are all terrible things, but all of the following are categorical improvements: women’s rights, access to water, eradication and containment of diseases, access to education, poverty, hunger, famine. In fact, even violence has gone down, meaning that if you are born on this planet you are more likely to live a longer, healthier and disease free existence than ever before. We forget about the destruction from the Crusades, Conquistadors, WWII, the Black Death, Genghis Khan, Imperialism and Christopher Columbus as though these were not a part of our collective global history as well. It’s all a distortion in perception of a world on the incline.
Crimea is a perfect example of distorted notions of global conflict, cold war comparisons are immediately being drawn by a peaceful annexation of a small region—done through a vote. Putin should not be acting like such a silly-ho and suckafoo, but still–lets calm down.
TEENAGERS THESE DAYS!
(Other versions: “This entitlement generation”, “the millennial are doomed”)
Another source of the apocalypse is our teenagers and how they’re being ruined. The strange thing is that they’re both being coddled AND “growing up too fast”. Some say the problem is that we told them to follow their dreams and they feel entitled. (Here is my sarcastic response where I explore—“what is the other option?”). Some of that is true, the human condition is to want more and adjust to a certain level of comfort and privilege as a state of normalcy. But some think it’s the opposite: that kids are not being sheltered enough from images of sex, violence and language.
The reason is that shows like 16 and pregnant and this guy…
give a false impression of normalcy.
And your kid is stuck in his iPhone, because it’s more exciting than what is going on at the dinner table—some dumb ass fogey ranting about the olden days. I know, only a fogey says the word fogey, but I don’t have time research what they do say. They won’t snapchat me back 😦 <—(this would be an emoticon, but I don’t know how to use them.)
There’s also some impression that they’re engaging in far more subversive and depraved acts than ever before. But think back to your childhood. Remember that thing? Oh yeah, you did that, and that was just nasty…but I wasn’t even talking about that. Do you remember the other thing?
Yup. You were kind of disgusting too.
The difference is that you think about yourself as you are now, transported back to 13 rather than the way the world saw you…
And those activities that go beyond our teenage transgressions?–they’re not happening. There’s a difference between an dumb activity that been “done” somewhere, and dangerous trend that’s “happening”. Butt-chugging, Pregnancy Pacts, Vodka in the eyeball all fall into this category. Another example: Rainbow Parties are not happening en masse. They just aren’t. It’s been over 11 years since I’ve technically been a teen and there are some timeless principles that run counter to these occurring. Lipstick doesn’t leave a nice clear ring (your wang would end up looking brownish purple and sickly). And, have you ever asked a bunch of people to bring something to a party? Coordinating that they have indigo, green and yellow lipstick is too complicated for a teen. It’s hard enough to get a BJ from one girl, let alone 6 when you’re 17.
So, yeah kids are watching South Park, and practicing the cursing they see us do masterfully, and the clothing lines are creating overly sexualized outfits for young girls. But so what? Teen pregnancy rates are declining, abortion too, drug use is dropping, and kids’ IQs are actually increasing. So in every measurable stat kids are better than they’ve been. Have you ever thought that maybe they’re right and you’re just lame?
TECHNOLOGY IS RUINING HUMAN INTERACTION
(Other versions: “nobody talks anymore”, “everybody’s head is in their phone”, “people only communicate via text these days”)
When you get on the plane, train or bus these days, everybody is on their phones or Ipads and not talking. This is supposedly the end of all human interaction as we know it. For me, this one is less about statistics as there’s not enough data to show the concrete effects of too much data (see what I did there?). But this one is about HOW we communicate. Most of the time people are on their communication devices…COMMUNICATING. At one point in human history there wasn’t a phone, but most people don’t look at the 1920-1940 window as the time when human interaction made it’s first downgrade. Yet, now “nobody knows how to communicate any more!” even though we are interacting more than ever. We are able to stay in touch with our loved ones and closest friends like never before–at work, commutes home, at airports, etc. In reality if your the one complaining that nobody likes to interact anymore…its probably that people don’t like to interact with you. Because, yes, in Mad Men Don Draper starts talking while on the train and then 3 scenes later he’s smanging some broad out in midtown. But if you really start talking to someone on the bus its usually THIS GUY…
…in a conversation that begins as normal and then gets surprisingly racist by the end. So yes, the work day is now 24 hours long which has negative effects and “socially awkward” reaches new heights. None of this is technology’s fault necessarily, and even if it is–F**K you, I need my candy crush.
IT’S NOT SAFE ANY MORE
(Other versions: “It used to be safe for kids to play outside”, “we didn’t even lock our doors”, “there’s just so many creeps out there now”)
At 8 years old my parents let me roam the neighborhood in a 4 block radius. One time David got stung by an assload of bees because he was the only one brave enough to throw rocks from that close in. Another time we saw how hard you had to throw a rock to knock out the window of an abandoned car. I could go on, and I realize now that a lot of my childhood memories are throwing rocks at shit. Imma mark that down for my psychologist in case I need to explore that further.
Regardless, my point is that this was the standard in the neighborhood. Make it home by the time the street lights go out or you’re in trouble. This was likely the standard for you, as well. Your parents generation too. However, nowadays it’s not acceptable to let your children out like that, whether you trust them or not. Many would deem that negligent parenting, and the idea behind this finger-wagging is that the world has changed. There are now more molesters, kidnappers, and murderers out there, lurking to do harm to your child. There’s more drugs and gangs and ninjas and pirates out there to prey. However…my parents were letting me out in 1991, the peak of crime in America. All measurable crime statistics show crime dropping nationwide each year over the last two decades… that’s murder, robbery, rape…all crime (except for cyber crime). It varies a little, city by city, but chances are that your neighborhood is at about the same crime rate it had in 1963…unless you live in NY in which case it’s remarkably safer.
To me, this is mostly about perception. Elizabeth Smart somehow changes from one freakish tale to something that OCCURS with any sort of statistical relevance after the media coverage we’re inundated with. Metal detectors go up in urban schools (but not Columbine, strangely). We relive the VA Tech massacre so many times over that we create plans in our minds for what if it happens to us. And when it comes to your kid, even when you wrap your mind around how unlikely it would be for any of these things to occur, you can’t help but play it safe…because there’s no concrete harm in being overprotective. There’s actually some new evidence that there might be.
The world (US included) is safer than ever. Give your kid some fireworks and a bag of broken glass and tell him to be home before sundown.
PEOPLE ARE CRAZY THESE DAYS
This is a simple rebuttal for me. Yes people are crazy, but people have always been crazy. With modern psychiatry we have the first age where a crazy person can actually attempt (with success at times) to not be crazy. Here is a list of crazy rulers throughout history.
I MISS THE GOOD OLD DAYS
(Other Versions: “Things just used to be simpler”, “Back in My Day”)
For brevity’s sake, I’m going to use this as the catch-all complaint. When people miss the good old days, its in a variety of contexts. And I’m not going to argue with someone who misses their childhood, or a time period in their life from their particular upbringing. But what I take issue with is the notion of a broadly defined existence that was categorically better for humans…or even Americans. Isolating it to America…what time period was that? Because being black, “poodle skirts” had a different meaning than the rest of america…
…it meant an actual poodle on your skirt…biting a hole in your ass. So I can’t accept much before 1965 as the “good ol’ days”, not for everybody. The 60s through the 70s was free love, drug abuse, the Vietnam war into the cocaine addled late 70s. The 80s brings us the cold war, the AIDS epidemic, and the emergence of crack. The 90s brought us the peak in crime, and JNCOs.
2000-2014 is usually the years we’re talking about as the beginning of the end. So when was this great time?
Of course, when I say “world” I mean “society” or “civilization.” Because there are environmental and climate change issues that have certainly become worse than they were. However, people’s response to such issues has improved in regards to consciousness and problem-solving.
Within the context of this post (in my view) there’s only 2 arguments that hold water to me about the world being worse:
1) Your pessimism circles around subjective social changes or the deterioration of tradition. You might be against the legalization of marijuana, gay marriage, the roe v. wade decision and access to pornography– among other disappointments. You wish marriages lasted longer and you enjoy simple straightforward definitions of what men and women do with their lives. While I disagree with the position, its OK to feel that way. My point here is that there are some general advances that we can all say are positive…like, not getting murdered as much.
2) It’s harder to make ends meet now. This is truer for a larger percentage of people today than it was 40 years ago. There’s plenty of studies and economists who tell that story far better than me, but the middle class IS shrinking. Lou Dobbs, the rest of Fox News and I all agree on this talking point.
Some of this shrinking of the middle class is due to gains from emerging countries. This is both outsourced jobs and improved conditions for such jobs making goods more expensive. To me this is inevitable and a sacrifice that might be worth it for the global community…sucky as it is to spend $500 on an iphone or a nice jacket. However, the other piece is the common talking point that wealth is trapped and exchanged among the rich in a system more exclusive than ever before. In other words, the gap between rich and poor is widening.
I do still believe in America as an extremely fertile place for opportunity and advancement. As unfair as it is, its fairer than everywhere else. So there’s no reason to look at this melodramatically. However, I don’t have any points to rebuke the wealth gap and say the situation is better. That’s why for me, if I ever ruminate about America heading in the wrong direction, its the wealth differential.
But I don’t ruminate much because, while there’s much room for improvement, the world is the best it’s ever been. I mean the Seahawks are Superbowl champs, so there’s that too.