Why Things Aren’t As Bad As They Seem

Posted on February 5, 2019


In this age of rapid-fire communication, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the bad news that keeps popping up everywhere: Horrific weather events keep gently nudging us that we are on a collision course with the environment, and that far worse is in store. Democracies around the world are failing, replaced by dictators, demagogues, and despots.  Bullying has become a tool for governments, as well as for teens.  Drugs allow countless millions to survive and ruin the lives of countless millions of others.

About the only way to get any perspective on any of this is to take the broad view. And that, amazingly enough, is that we are in some kind of NeverNeverLand of well-being. The upward trajectory has been going on for many years now, while we have been crying into our soup (or, in Life in the Boomer Lane’s case, her coffee Haagen Dazs).

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof declared that “by many measures, 2016 was the best year in the history of humanity”, with falling global inequality, child mortality roughly half what it had been as recently as 1990, and 300,000 more people gaining access to electricity each day.  In an interesting twist, he predicted 2017 would be the best year ever.  (Those of us unfortunate enough to have been alert on January 20, 2017, might disagree with him.)

In January of this year, Kristof brought us up to date: “2018 was actually the best year in human history.”

Each day on average, about another 295,000 people around the world gained access to electricity for the first time… Every day, another 305,000 were able to access clean drinking water for the first time. And each day an additional 620,000 people were able to get online for the first time.  In 1960, 19 percent of children died before age five. Now, four percent do so. 

Never before has such a large portion of humanity been literate, enjoyed a middle-class cushion, lived such long lives, had access to family planning or been confident that their children would survive. Let’s hit pause on our fears and frustrations and share a nanosecond of celebration at this backdrop of progress.

Yet, the perception is otherwise. Nine out of ten people believe world poverty is

increasing. The reality is that in the early 1980s, 44 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty.  Now, fewer than 10 percent of the world’s population lives in
extreme poverty, as adjusted for inflation.  This goes on and on, no matter what the topic.
We believe that, on all counts,  things are getting worse. The reality is the opposite.  The holdout is climate change. It’s as bad as we think, or worse. Unless someone is making money from it being otherwise.

So, to use language as polite as LBL can possibly muster, what the fuck is going on?

Why aren’t we all dancing in the street over this amazing evolution of mankind?


Here’s the answer:  Humans are wired to crave order, continuity, and a world they can understand and depend on. They discover fire and how to edit the genes of embryos.  They invent the wheel and computers.  They explore what is across the river and what is in outer space. All the while they are doing this, they are changing our perceptions of reality.  And that change of reality is a bit difficult for many humans to take. It’s like everyone is watching the sun come up in the middle of the night.  The fallout is fear and confusion and resistance to this new reality. It’s the human conundrum.

LBL is sure that a lot of people thought the wheel and the combustion engine and space travel  were the Devil’s work. She is also sure that a lot of people think being gay is the Devil’s work (or being Muslim or Jewish or a Democrat/Republican). She is sure that the notion of women voting (or being in the armed forces or getting paid as much as a man) is the Devil’s work.

The industrial revolution, which, in its time, time was as dizzying as computer technology is now to create massive changes in how people lived and thought, was the breeding ground for the eugenics movement, forced sterilization of “inferior beings”, and for a disparity of wealth that allowed people to prey on others with abandon.

All movement forward involve a deep desire to go back. Women’s rights have been having a heyday, accompanied by a rise in misogyny. Our society is now more inclusive than ever of varying religions and nationalities and sexual orientations, accompanied by a rise in hate crimes. We move firmly toward the notion of a global society and elect a president who lives in an us vs them (or me vs everyone else) mentality.

LBL, personally, is trying to keep all this in mind, as she tries to make sense of what seems, on a day-to-day basis, to be inexplicable. She tells herself that all human action, no matter what, has a reason.  The issue is not the action, but that we don’t know what the reason is. Once we know it, the action makes sense, even if we don’t agree with it. She will tell herself this over and over, in order to calm herself down. It sometimes works. For the rest of the time, there is ice cream.