I have been accused of many things in life, most of them true, but even my worst enemies have never called me an optimist. I not only think the glass is half empty, I think the glass is cracked and I’m going to wind up with shards in my gums.
Still, even a habitual Gloomy Gus like me raised an eyebrow when the annual Gallup Global Emotions Report concluded 2017 was “the world’s most miserable year on record.”
Worse than 2001, the year of the Sept. 11 attacks? Worse than 1968, when Vietnam, riots and assassinations nearly tore the country apart? And speaking of tearing the country apart, how could 2017 have been worse than any of the Civil War years?
Well, the answer is Gallup didn’t start polling until 2005, so it’s only a tiny dozen-year sample size. Still, how could 2017 have been worse than 2008 when the economy had a heart attack? Or 2012, the year Sandy Hook Elementary was shot up, the Benghazi terror attack killed Ambassador Stevens, Trayvon Martin was murdered, Superstorm Sandy tore up the North East and the Syrian Civil War erupted?
Yes, 2017 was the year Donald Trump took office. For some of you, that qualified as the Apocalypse. But does the Trump presidency explain the global gloom Gallup describes? The Global Emotions Report surveyed 154,000 people from all corners of the earth, not just blue states. Somehow, last year was viewed more negatively than any year going back to the start of the poll in ’05, edging out 2015 and 2016, which had tied as the previous title holders.
Are you seeing a pattern here? For three consecutive years, the perception has taken root that we are living in terrible times.
“Collectively, the world is more stressed, worried, sad and in pain today than we’ve ever seen it,” says Mohamed Younis, Gallup’s managing editor.
Worse than 2010, when an earthquake in Haiti killed 230,000, some nut flew his plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas, the BP oil spill fouled the Gulf Coast, Kim Jung Un came to power and bed bugs invaded hotels here and around the world?
In ’07, the Virginia Tech killer murdered 32, a tornado hit a high school in Alabama and Scooter Libby was convicted and sent to jail.
In 2013, we witnessed the Boston Marathon bombing and Nelson Mandela died. In ’15, the Charlie Hebdo offices were shot up, so was an African-American church in Charleston, and a crazy German airline pilot flew his jet into the French Alps killing all 150 aboard. Every year has its good and bad news, some worse than others.
Yes, 2017 dished up a couple of doozies. Besides the Trump presidency (a blessing for millions, by the way) we experienced the slaughter in Las Vegas, a Klan/Nazi rally in Charlottesville and hurricane Harvey. Yet 2017 also saw the birth of the #MeToo movement, a long overdue day of reckoning for the men who have abused their power over women. Roy Moore was rejected by the voters of Alabama, China ended its participation in the ivory trade, the manatee was taken off the endangered species list and the economy skyrocketed, with unemployment plunging and help wanted signs popping up everywhere.
You’d never know it.
Perhaps the story that explains this epidemic of global negativity these past three years dates from June 29, 2007, the day the iPhone first hit the marketplace. This pocket-sized miracle promised to put the whole world in our hands. The problem is, it did. Now we can marinate in bad news 24/7, nights, weekends and holidays.
Crisis in East Timor? We know about it. Frankly, I have no idea where East Timor is. I assume it’s to the right of West Timor. Anyone? Buhler?
Does it really matter to us what happens in East Timor? Does it matter to an East Timorese what happens in the November midterms, or whether the gas tax gets repealed in California? The truth is we may be over-connected, bombarded with tragedy and turmoil from every quarter, nearly all of it devoid of context and often basic facts.
The reality is — and this may make me sound like Pollyanna, something else I’ve never been called — these are in fact the best of times. By nearly every standard of measure, this is the best time to be alive in the history of mankind. Gains in health, wealth, human freedoms, environmental enlightenment, women’s rights, sexual orientation and children’s rights, even animal rights have taken quantum leaps forward. Even with the Syrian civil war grinding on and other hot spots, casualties from armed conflicts are down, way down. The world sees fewer coups, fewer murders, fewer sexual assaults, breakthroughs in disease and healthcare have added a full 20 years to the global lifespan and for the first time in human history we have achieved nearly universal adult literacy. That ain’t chopped liver.
So why all the long faces?
Is it just possible all those memes and graphic images of abused animals and distended-bellied children we forward to each other are telling only a tiny part of the story? For some inexplicable reason, we humans define news as bad things happening and seem to write off all the incredible leaps forward as filler stories, those feel-goods they slap on the end of the evening newscasts.
The wonderful fact is, we are living in a second Renaissance, as turbulent and sometimes as frightening as the last Renaissance was 500 years ago, yet a giant improvement for all of mankind, including the perennial basket-case countries in South Asia, South America and sub-Saharan Africa.
By wallowing in random tragic events robbed of historical context, by divorcing our lives from the sweep of human history, we have convinced ourselves that the best of times are actually the worst of times.
Last week, the Census bureau announced the median U.S. household earned $61,372, the first time in history we’ve crossed the 61k threshold.
We have problems. Serious problems. Sometimes we take two steps back. Still, the world is not just stumbling forward, it’s sprinting toward a freer, fairer, wealthier, healthier and more enlightened future.
The present ain’t so bad either.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. Hear him weekdays, 5-10, on AM 790 KABC. He can be reached at: Doug@KABC.com.
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