I do think that we've had decades since the Dark Ages (which ended in roughly 1300 AD) in which civilization has slipped back, when catastrophes have mounted more quickly than gains. I don't think that we've ever had a century pass in which life didn't get better for most people in the West.
How does now compare to 100 years ago? What was going on in 1916?
Starting with the border, Pancho Villa was leading raids from Mexico into New Mexico and killing American soldiers. Imagine what Trump and the 24-hour news cycle would do with that.
|Mother and child wearing gas masks, |
somewhere in the French countryside along
the Western front, 1918.
Turmoil in the Middle East pales in comparison to World War One. Or as they called it then, the Great War. Communities in the previous generation had learned how to mass manufacture goods. In the Great War, they turned their new insights into mass manufacturing death. In the Ottoman Empire alone (a swath of peoples that overlaps with the Middle East), 2.5 million civilians were killed in addition to roughly half a million soldiers. What happened to people living in the Ottoman Empire was worse than what is now happening in the Middle East but of course there is no comparison today to what was happening in Europe then. WW1 left 17 million dead and 20 million wounded.
When the Great War ended in 1918, one of the deadliest pandemics of recent history swept across the globe. Between 1918 and 1920, a flu pandemic killed roughly 4% of the world's population, or 75 million people. (The same percentage of the world's population today would be nearly 300 million, a number equal to the entire population of the US.)
At some point in history, the number of pundits and analysts began to outnumber the number of reporters. At that point, reporting seemingly tipped from reporting on what had actually happened to what might happen. At that point, alarm about the future became more newsworthy than a reasoned look at what actually happened.
If you only listen to pundits and and politicians but not reporters and ignore almost all of history, you might just believe that things have never been worse. It's hard to imagine how else one could arrive at such a conclusion.