According to a TIME Magazine survey, many Americans now think that the world is declining. Compare this to the views of Americans in the 1950s, who were generally “optimistic about progression” and believed that the world “would become a better place to live in the future.” Then there’s the often cited statistic that the current generation of children is the first generation to have shorter life expectancies their parents. Oh, and also the world is supposed to end in 2012.
When I Was Your Age…
From a personal standpoint, the world does seem a lot worse than it was when I was younger. I may sound like a grumpy old person, but somehow there weren’t as many problems in the world when I was say, five years old.
So what is causing people to fear for the decline of civilization? Simply put, the economy is bad, people are expressing their dissatisfaction with the status quo in new ways, and governments are having a hard time dealing with these problems.
The economy is bad—even hermits who live under rocks have realized this by now. How bad? Well, Greece, as of 2012, has a debt to GDP ratio of 172%, meaning the amount it owes is almost double its income for a whole year. This is bad news for the Eurozone; if Greece refuses to pay back its debts, investors will lose confidence in the rest of the Eurozone as well. A lack of investments will hinder economic growth, creating even more unemployment. By continuing to insist on austerity measures, Europe has not solved the debt problem, and is not likely to fix it anytime soon. The Eurozone crisis can be considered a sign that the world is becoming worse; Europe, one of the largest, wealthiest entities in the world is close to collapsing.
The concept of “the economy is really bad and no one is fixing it” also extends to the U.S. The Super Committee, a group within Congress, reached its deadline on November 23 to make $1.2 trillion in budget reductions without coming to an agreement. As of November 28, the national debt has reached $15 trillion.
Protests all Over the World
The poor economic conditions across the globe have spurred public protest, which is evidenced by the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring. Moreover, countries such as Greece have experienced protests as austerity measures have proven unpopular. Unfortunately, the leaders of these nations seem unable to solve these pressing issues. In the U.S, Republicans and Democrats have essentially refused to cooperate, thus hindering true progress on the problems our nation faces. Other ineffective governments include those of Italy and Greece, where the prime ministers have recently stepped down to allow new people to lead.
Yes, all of these recent events sound bad, but you may wonder how much worse these present conditions are when compared to those of the past.
Problems that Plagued the Past
Let’s use 1996 as an example: most of the sophomore class was born that year, and according to TIME, 70% of Americans think that the world was better then.
In 1996: France agreed to stop nuclear testing (sounds good so far…), there was a violent conflict in Russia with the Chechen people, the unabomber was active, there was an outbreak of mad cow disease, there was a U.S. budget crisis, a major airplane crash, and a civil war was being fought in Rwanda. As you can see, there was plenty of conflict in the world more than 10 years ago. Some of the same problems, and some unique ones.
So why is there the belief that the world gets worse as time goes on? One reason is that the news is fed to us day-by-day, staying fresh in our memories, while it is impossible to have a depth of knowledge of history without trying really, really hard. Nostalgia also plays a factor, the world seemed less problematic when you were five because you didn’t watch the news when you were five. Childhood is usually associated with happiness that, coupled with a relative ignorance of what the world was truly like, tints your view of the past.
In some ways, the world improves as time goes on. People are actually getting smarter as each decade passes; the average raw score for a group of children taking an IQ test increases by ten points every decade, meaning that if the average raw score in 2000 was 80 points, the new average raw score in 2010 would be 90 points.
In reality, the world is not getting any worse. It is just our perceptions.