“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” Tale of Two Cities p. 1
Is today the best of times or the worst of times? Are we progressing to a brighter future or are we going directly the “other way”? Often I hear laments of the social and moral decay of the modern world in the recent decades so I wanted to celebrate the good things.
I think most of us can appreciate the technical and medical advancements, improvements, and inventions over the last century. Life expectancy has doubled, many horrible diseases have been eradicated from developed countries, inventions like washing machines, cars, ac, etc make life MUCH more comfortable, we can video chat with family & friends across the world, and with a cell phone we can research and learn pretty much anything from anywhere. Comfort and health has vastly increased and the world is at our fingertips.
And I feel the we have also made many advances socially and morally, but I’ve often heard, particularly at church, how things are getting worse and worse (morally & culturally) over the last 50-100 years – immorality, violence, drugs, porn, etc are increasing and the “last days” are nearing (particularly with the developed world in mind). So I wanted to share why I think “the world” is an amazing place and is getting better and better:
- Women can now vote, have access to contraception (did you know The Pill was not legal in all of the US until 1972!?!), go to college, and hold practically any job they want. Huge pros! Maybe we have a few slightly neglected children because women choose to not be stay-at-home moms, but women now have career options besides prostitution and low-paying jobs that can’t provide for a family. (And I know many wonderful moms who work.) I’m not saying women should not be stay-at-home moms (that is still an option), but women now have more choices. Women can choose when and how many children they want. If women want to go to medical school, law school, or work in a variety of places, they can. If a woman is a single parent and needs to provide for her family it is possible.
- Civil rights movement. Big pro! It is no longer acceptable to be racist. We even have an African-American president! You may not like his politics but for America that is amazing considering the prevailing attitudes and policies just a few decades ago. I’m not saying the issue is completely solved, but we have made big improvements over the last 100 years.
- Acceptance of various lifestyles. Non-married/teen moms are no longer completely shunned by society (think Les Mis) and can live a respectable life. Gays and lesbians can (hopefully) live without fear of being fired or mistreated because of their sexual orientation. Woman do not stay in abusive marriages as much because the social stigma of divorce is not nearly as strong. People shouldn’t have to hide who they are to be accepted by society. And I’m sure hiding who you are is not healthy for anyone (it didn’t really work out well for Fantine in Les Mis). Of course there are, what some consider, costs to being more accepting and giving people more agency – we have more children born out of wedlock, higher divorce rates, and variations of families that some do not approve of, but I think the pros outweigh the cons. People need agency and I think people are happier and better off. It is okay if we have a higher divorce rate if it means people aren’t stuck in bad marriages. It is better to love and accept everyone and make them feel like they can be a part of society without hiding who they are, even if there are more variations in the traditional family unit (single parents, stay-at-home dads, non-married couples, gays, & lesbians, etc.).
- Violence. I’m not an expert on the trend in violent crimes over the last hundred years and I’m not a fan of violent video games. However, I googled murder rates in the US and it looks like they were pretty low in the 1960s (= 4.6 per 100,000 in 1963), increased through the 80s (equaled 10.2 in 1980), and then came back down. In 2011, the murder rate was 4.8 per 100,000 people, which is fairly low considering the low since 1900 was 4 per 100,000 in 1957. So from looking at US murder rates, it seems violence is on a downward trend over the last 30 years. However they are still a bit high compared to some other developed countries.
We live in an awesome world! There are so many opportunities especially if you live somewhere like America. And overall it seems to me that America is a better place than 100 years ago. Besides the higher standards of living and comforts of washers/dryers/cars/etc and improved medical treatments, I feel the morality of society have improved as well.
I feel that over the past century equality has improved immensely — and by equality I mean equal rights and opportunity. Women know have many opportunities that were previously denied — voting, going to college, contraception, and job opportunities. Civil rights demands that no one should be denied opportunity due to race, color of skin, or country of your ancestors origin. Being accepting of various lifestyles (single moms, working moms, stay-at-home dads, gays & lesbians, non-married couples, etc) allows everyone the pursuit of happiness. America was founded to protect “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and the only reason someone’s rights should be taken from them is if they are infringing on the rights of someone else (ie a murderer). A lot has been done in the last century to further establish a land of freedom and equal opportunity. Now this may mean that some people make choices that you disagree with but I think it’s worth it.
What do you think?