August 31, 2005 10:28 PM   Subscribe

Not really knowing where else it would be appropriate to ask this, but does anyone else think that the years and events since the turn of the century (2000) have been particularly trying, difficult, and full of tragedy? Especially in light of this weeks most recent disasters.
posted by Jon-o to Grab Bag (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
not having lived at the turn of any other century I have nothing personally to go on, but yes it seems to be that way so far to me.
posted by Dean Keaton at 10:33 PM on August 31, 2005

I mean, excluding the entire previous century, but including your lifetime, compared to the past 5 years or so.
posted by Jon-o at 10:36 PM on August 31, 2005

Just in my lifetime--since '84? Well, for me personally, I didn't become all that aware of the larger, outside world until around 2000. But yes, since then it's seemed to have been rather dark. I think I've sort of idealized the Clinton years.

It's nothing compared to the first half of the 20th century, though. I think it's more like extended periods of catastrophe followed by shorts periods of good times. It's the general feeling among some of my friends and I that we've hit another period of catastrophe.
posted by strikhedonia at 10:49 PM on August 31, 2005

If you ignore the rest of the world, your answer is yes. And please stop ignoring the rest of the world.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:52 PM on August 31, 2005

fight the good fight, stupid sexyflanders, right.
posted by Dean Keaton at 11:02 PM on August 31, 2005

The world's been going downhill fast ever since I can remember, and I'm pretty old for a Mefite too. But my Dad told me things were bad enough in his day, and when my Grandpa was young they didn't have electricity or flush toilets, and....But anyway.

Hey stupidsexyFlanders,there is no "rest of the world": you're all just figments of my imagination. The problem is that, like the noises in my ears, I can't defigmentize you or make you more useful. It's hard to be a solipsist deity with a broken brain!
posted by davy at 11:06 PM on August 31, 2005

They've been tough, but I look at my parents, who survived the Depression and World War II (Dad turned 21 in December of 1941...pure cannon fodder), and I'm thinking they thought nothing could top those war and poverty times for a bad stretch. From 1929 to 1945, America was not a fun place to be. (Nor was Okinawa, where my dad served as a Marine.)

In my own lifetime, it's easy to date things from 9-11 as awful since that event itself was so horrific, but what about the OKC bombing? Vietnam? There's been a lot of bloodshed and horror even in my lifetime.
posted by GaelFC at 11:07 PM on August 31, 2005

Assuming, as stupidsexyFlanders suggests, that you're considering the situation from an American perspective, there are some who say that what you suggest is not only true, it is entirely consistent with history.

You might want to check out Strauss and Howe's Fourth Turning theory. I'm not sure if I buy all of what they suggest, but their model is an intriguing framework for evaluating history and current events.
posted by Fourmyle at 11:07 PM on August 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's been more tragedy so much as more heartwrenching newscasts. There's always been crap going on, there hasn't always been 24 hour news around to cover it.

I also think that the Powers That Be like to keep us all good and fat and scared because it keeps them, well, in power.

As for overall hardship... my lifetime saw the breakout of AIDS, the fall of the Soviet Union, the Challenger disaster, genocide in Rwanda... etc. The past five years just seems to have had more writers.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:15 PM on August 31, 2005

I'm going to opt for succinct instead of verbose:

I do not think that the years and events since turn of the century have been particularly trying, difficult, and full of tragedy. I think that even a cursory glance at history — both world history and the history of the United States — will reveal that recent events, while terrible, are perhaps not on the same order as, say, six million dead Jews. Or the systematic enslavement (and subsequent persecution) of the Negro race. Or 20,000,000 Russians dead in revolution. Or 40,000,000 Chinese dead in revolution. (source) Or a decade-long global economic depression curtailed only by a global war. Or, or, or any number of things. I don't even think the past five years have been as dark as, say, the period from 1980-1985, even if you restrict your viewpoint to the United States alone. But that's just my opinion.

I'm heading toward verbose. I'll stop now.
posted by jdroth at 11:16 PM on August 31, 2005

As grapefruitmoon suggested, this seems to be as much about the changes that are happening in American media as it is an actual increase in tragic events. We have such instant access to information, thanks to new technologies, and such dramatization of that information, thanks to sensationalized media, that it is difficult to make a comparison of the present and the past.

We are so bombarded with information from crises around the world that it is a challenge not to be constantly overwhelmed.
posted by intoxicate at 12:33 AM on September 1, 2005

I think this post is proof that most people have an extraordinarily poor grasp of history.

Very few people have had the luxury of leaving in calm, prosperous and peaceful times. And those that did probably died young and didn't travel.
posted by mosch at 12:33 AM on September 1, 2005

take a history course. human suffering is neverending
posted by Satapher at 12:52 AM on September 1, 2005

May you live in interesting times, Jon-o.
posted by quadog at 1:24 AM on September 1, 2005

I used to live in Saudi Arabia when Sadate was assassinated; I was indeed in the middle of the storm and everybody was anxious about what's next. I was very busy and not interested in watching censored news in local TV or reading nespapers. So I knew nothing about the event, except wondering why there were so many armed soldiers on streets.

I was finally posted by my manager who was surprised to see me drive and work normally contrary to the expat community who was hiding or fleeing. In other words, if you don't know, you don't care....

My point is that the situation is not worse (or better) but the over-informed society creates a permanent feeling of catastrophe.
posted by vieuxmaitres at 1:52 AM on September 1, 2005

One way to look at 9/11 is to think about how you'd feel if the World Trade Center had caught fire accidentally and killed the same number of people. It's one way to figure out how much of the trauma was just hype about it being "terrorists".

I'm pretty young, but I don't remember the 90s being wall-to-wall fun (wars in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, etc; Oklahoma City bombing; World Trade Center bombing; Waco; Kobe + Turkey earthquakes; ...)
posted by cillit bang at 2:45 AM on September 1, 2005

Try a trip back in time 30 years to 1975.

Among other things you'd have war in Angola, Mozambique, East Timor and Vietnam, genocide in Cambodia, assasination of Saudi King and an attempt on the US president, economic crisis in the West, civil war in the Lebanon ... lots to worry about.

However I'd argue that the world is a much better place than it was thirty years ago for two reasons. One that the fear of Nuclear War is pretty much forgotten - we really were scared, take my word for it. The second is that (I obviously don't speak from experience) for the greater part of mankind, those living in China, India, Indonesia (that's almost half the world right there) the last 30 years have seen substantial improvements in nutrition, health, education and opportunity. In 1974 famine was still a major killer in Asia - in Bangladesh at least 26,000 people died and this was considered a small number.

So, overall, things are good and getting better.
posted by grahamwell at 3:54 AM on September 1, 2005

Good answers to this question.

I remember that in the thread discussing the terrible Tsunami disaster, someone was going on about how it was the worst natural disaster of all time and another poster, it may have been Ethereal Bligh, pulled out a disquieting list of like 10 other natural disasters that had happened in the second half of the 20th Century that had claimed even more lives... But those disasters were not covered by the global news networks.

It's important to be aware of the suffering around you, but it's also important to have historical perspective. A society that does not know the past is condemned to relive it (as they say).
posted by sic at 4:06 AM on September 1, 2005

It's all relative. The same could be said if you were living in London being bombed by the germans, or living in Dresden being bombed by the allies, or living in Rawanda during the genocide. All things considered 99% of the people who visit this site are pretty well off.
posted by furtive at 4:35 AM on September 1, 2005

To answer your question, just make a list of things you think mark these times as "particularly trying, difficult, and full of tragedy." Earthquakes? Tsunamis? Wars? Diseases? Air crashes? Then list a chronology of similar events (big earthquakes or whatever). Usually you can google up an answer, because people love to make lists of superlatives.

You will see that there is no reason to believe we live in particularly bad times. That you do believe this to be the case is not unusual. People always remember the bad events, fail to notice the nonevents (the non-earthquakes every day), and draw false conclusions. Constant staring at "the news" (mainly a reality show, with all of the actual "reality" and engineered entertainment that that implies) further distorts your perception of the world.

As an example of media distortion, look at one comment above: "As for overall hardship... my lifetime saw the breakout of AIDS, the fall of the Soviet Union, the Challenger disaster, genocide in Rwanda... etc." The Challenger "disaster" was just seven people dying in a crash. Stuff like that happens all the time - buses go off cliffs in India, ferries capsize on African lakes, hundreds and hundreds die at a go, but their stories don't dominate "the news" for days and weeks and months.
posted by pracowity at 4:39 AM on September 1, 2005

(For entertainment purposes only)

Fourmyle - your fourth wave guys at a glance seem almost suspiciously similar to Kondratieff.

At a glance....
posted by IndigoJones at 5:12 AM on September 1, 2005

What grahamwell said.
posted by JanetLand at 5:22 AM on September 1, 2005

What JanetLand said.

And, to add a little bit to what some of the other posters have said, one of my favorite cheap'n'easy op-ed openers is the one that starts with a quotation about how things are going downhill, the kids are going wild, the culture's going down the tubes and humanity is doomed. The gag, though, is that the source of said quotation has always been dead for a thousand years. There is a long and honorable tradition of people saying that the present is the worst time ever.

It's my personal opinion, though, that, on the whole, things have been getting steadily better for most of human history. This opinion helps me sleep at night. YMMV.
posted by box at 6:24 AM on September 1, 2005

You will see that there is no reason to believe we live in particularly bad times.

I tend to agree, but I woke up this morning thinking similar thoughts to Jon-o's. For me "the times" seem worse lately because bad things are actually affecting me and people I know. I saw the WTC fall and I know people in New Orleans who have lost everything. I didn't know anyone affected directly by the tsunami, the first Gulf War, AIDS, IRA bombs, etc. Just lucky, I guess.
posted by scratch at 6:27 AM on September 1, 2005

My grandfather likes to tell a simple story about the time he asked his very old father, "Dad, you've lived a long time. What has changed about the world?"

"Absolutely nothing."
posted by odinsdream at 6:31 AM on September 1, 2005

I think our memory for bad events is better than our memory for good ones. That's probably wired into us as a protection mechanism. But even with that, I've been feeling the same way lately.
posted by tommasz at 6:36 AM on September 1, 2005

You remember the recent past much more clearly than you remember the distant past. That, combined with the fact that the Clinton years were pretty peaceful and prosperous for us Americans, gives us the nostolgia effect: Weren't things better back then? (You know, during the '60s, when peace and love and Watts riots and Vietnam... Or later, with Iranian revolution, Chernobyl, the threat of nuclear war, gas crisis...)
There were no "Good ol' days." They're a lie foisted by conservatives who would like you to forget that the past sucked.
posted by klangklangston at 6:41 AM on September 1, 2005

Compared to what? The great depression? The dust bowl? The black plague? Vietnam? Slavery? The Armenian genocide? The Holocaust? The Soviet gulags? The Rwandan genocide? Small pox? Mount St. Helens? Mount Vesuvius?

I agree with box, though, that things are generally getting better. We progress, we regress, we progress, we regress, but overall the forces of progress are stronger than those of regression.

Look at the US, for example. When my great-grandparents were born, many people in this country were enslaved. When my grandparents were born, women did not have the right to vote. When my parents were born, people of color were systematically excluded from white civic life. When I was born, gay relationships were illegal.

On a more global scale, there's still such a long way for humanity to go. The world is a wild and roiling place. But I believe disease and extreme poverty are hurting an ever-smaller share of the world's population.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:51 AM on September 1, 2005

There is a long and honorable tradition of people saying that the present is the worst time ever.

Very bad times are generally also very important times when seen through the lens of history. People want to be part of something important.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:19 AM on September 1, 2005

I offer spock's post about the 1927 Great Mississippi Flood and the Wikipedia article about the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 to reinforce the consensus here that things aren't any worse now than they've ever been -- and those are just the Killer Storms.

As someone said earlier in the thread, we are guilty of having very poor knowledge of our own history.
posted by briank at 7:33 AM on September 1, 2005

I think an argument could be made that the increasing disparity in the world, coupled with the initial effects of climate change, are indeed resulting in more suffering for more people.

In other words, it's not just that we don't know history, or that our exposure to events is greater now.
posted by Elpoca at 7:41 AM on September 1, 2005

Well, I think about some of the last century's spots of bother. World War I, World War II, the Holocaust, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake , the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, the Tri-State Tornado of 1925, the millions killed by the 1931 Huang He flood, the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone, etcetera etcetera.
It's frightful really. History is rife with disaster and wonder in any period of time.
posted by dabradfo at 8:24 AM on September 1, 2005

Slightly related, a rather ancient friend pointed out that the reason why crime figures rise each year is that 'ordinary' people now have stuff worth stealing. In a similar vein, we have wonderful machines that go higher, faster and further (and thus crash more dramatically). We're surrounded by miracle technologies (that make excellent weapons). Our houses are full of delicate and valuable things (so flooding is a catastrophe). We have so much (we have so much to lose).
posted by grahamwell at 8:46 AM on September 1, 2005

Found myself listening to Katrina reports this morning, feeling bad for those affected, worrying about the economy, etc., etc., and then cheered myself up thinking that hey, at least the bird flu hasn't hit yet. Once the 'worry fuse' gets overloaded like that I can spend the rest of the day comparatively serene and bemused.
posted by clever sheep at 8:53 AM on September 1, 2005

Let's not forget that up until fifteen or so years ago, we all lived with the knowledge that any day, any moment, the world as we knew it could quite simply...end.

Not that it's impossible now, but the fuse for that kind of destruction has gotten much longer.
posted by PlusDistance at 9:03 AM on September 1, 2005

What PlusDistance said.
posted by russilwvong at 10:23 AM on September 1, 2005

From the Fourth Turning website:
Winter Is Coming
America feels like it’s unraveling.

Merits of the Fourth Turning concept or lack thereof aside, that's one of the most-true things I've read recently.
posted by Jaie at 8:23 PM on September 1, 2005

Worst millenium ever!
posted by clicktosubmit at 2:24 PM on October 10, 2005

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