It sounds like a joke, but that’s the thesis of the lead article in The Spectator’s 2012 Christmas issue:
Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. The West remains in the economic doldrums, but most developing countries are charging ahead, and people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. The death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also mercifully low. We are living in a golden age.
Thinking about it, the emphasis seems right to me. Here’s some more good news highlighted in the article:
[E]ngineers in America have found new ways of mining fossil fuel. The amazing breakthroughs in ‘fracking’ technology mean that, in spite of the world’s escalating population — from one billion to seven billion over the last two centuries — we live in an age of energy abundance.
Advances in medicine and technology mean that people across the world are living longer. The average life expectancy in Africa reached 55 this year. Ten years ago, it was 50. […]
War has historically been humanity’s biggest killer. But in most of the world today, a generation is growing up that knows little of it. The Peace Research Institute in Oslo says there have been fewer war deaths in the last decade than any time in the last century. […]
I’m with the Spectator’s editors on all of these, but I’m less happy about this paragraph:
Fifty years ago, the world was breathing a sigh of relief after the Cuban missile crisis. Young couples would discuss whether it was responsible to have children when the future seemed so dark. But now, as we celebrate the arrival of Light into the world, it’s worth remembering that, in spite of all our problems, the forces of peace, progress and prosperity are prevailing.
I see two problems here:
- The premise that religion is a bright light and not a blight on the world. Contra the Spectator editors, I’m not sure the birth of Jesus and Christianity represent “the arrival of Light into the world.” I would locate the brightest light of the ancient world at Alexandria, in the reading rooms of its famous library, which Christian mobs, urged on by religious fanatics, destroyed. That’s not light advancing in the world. And the millennium after the destruction of the library at Alexandria is still sometimes called (rightly, in my view) the Dark Ages. Religion is weaker than in ages past, but it’s not yet a marginal cultural force. The light will be brighter when it is.
- The notion we’re past Cuban missile crises. We’ve been on a slow-burn Cuban missile crisis all year with Iran. And neither North Korea nor Pakistan, both nuclear powers, seem at all stable in 2012. This year could prove prelude to an exchange of nuclear weapons in 2013 (hence tarnishing 2012 golden age hype).
Still, on balance, the article is right: compared to humanity’s grotesque past, we live in a golden age (or, at least, a golden lull in the storm). We’re lucky to be alive now and not in some past time. And 2013 will probably be better than 2012. So why not at least try to be a bit happy in the last month of the best year ever? What the hell?