You will not soon die in an awesome global apocalypse. Sorry.

January 21, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

Did you miss it? The big, year-end slap upside the head to your jaded ego? The giant pinch to the ass of our beloved, all-American fatalism?

Here it is again, just in case: A number of reports, data sets and heretical prognostications swung around the news wires at the end of 2014 and the beginning of this fine year of our Obama, most notably (and lengthily) from Harvard prof Steven Pinker and researcher Andrew Mack, all pointing to one shocking, destabilizing, overarching fact, thusly:

Not yet, kiddo. Sorry.

Not yet, kiddo. Sorry.

We, as a haphazard species, as a primitive and perplexed organism not long for this galaxy, one with precious little to show for ourselves lo these scant two million bipedal years except maybe kissing on the mouth, $6 coffee and endlessly new ways to kill each other, we’ve have never had it better than right. Damn. Now.

Can you believe it? It’s the astonishing factoid to make you snicker and sigh: Humanity, all things considered, has never been better off. The world has never been more peaceful. We have never lived longer, died less violently, enjoyed better social interaction, technological advantages or medical care. We have never suffered less oppression, had cleaner teeth or feared brutal defenestration at the hands of a furious king/dictator/pope less than any time in recorded history, so far as you know and more or less.

Violence against women is way down. Same for violence again children. Cancer rates are down, too. There’s more democracy, less war and far fewer reasons to start any major ones ever again. In sum: We’ve got it very good indeed. You know, comparatively.

Pinker’s much-shared essay spins all over the geological and socioeconomic timescale, but focuses primarily on the sporadic causes for and surges of global violence and death over the centuries. And all trend lines point toward, you know, hey, not so bad.

Don’t misunderstand. Humanity’s mega-arc of war, pestilence and death is far from a stable, shimmering rainbow of love; it’s not like a perky state of idyllic peace and harmony is just a few less wars and a few more hits of legal MDMA away. America is no angel. History in more a lurching, spiraling trickster, mocking your every attempt to make sense of it all. But all told? You should be every flavor of grateful that you’re alive now, and not, you know, back then.

What do you think? Does that help at all? Does all the “good” news resonate anywhere, inspire you toward hope for the species? Or do you do the normal thing, and just scan the dour headlines, note the beheadings and the rapes, the global warming, mass killings and the cruel Republicans and come to the overarcing conclusion that, well, who cares if the overall trend is positive. Right now is all that matters, and this sure ain’t exactly awesome.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. After all, we love our pessimism. We’re thoroughly addicted to bitterness, complaining and cynicism; nasty trolls saturate the Internet and popular culture seems drunk on the narcotics of anger and violence. While it’s nice to hear that you’re far less likely to get cancer, shot, robbed, raped, hacked to bits, beheaded or sold into slavery than any time in history, well, so what? Have you seen my mortgage payment? Mitch McConnell? This weird rash on my neck?

When did it become cooler to believe this stupidity might actually happen than to understand that we're actually evolving toward peace?

When did it become cooler to believe this stupidity might actually happen than to understand that we’re actually evolving toward peace?

Maybe it’s all the media’s fault, what with its endless spew of bleakitude, a 24-hour news cycle of nothing but the worst humanity has to offer. As the saying goes: Bad news, heresy and savagery rocket around the world a dozen times before good news even finishes its morning meditation. Out of balance? You might say.

Ah, but there’s hypocrisy afoot, no? The media merely goes where drama flows. Few people want to read good news, much less pay for it; no one wants to know that there’s no war happening in most of the world right now, or that nothing bad happened in your city overnight, or that all planes ran on time and the weather’s fine and no one died, so quit whining and go get yourself a nice salad. We want macho cops shows, zombie mutilations, revenge fantasias, gun fetishism, epic battles, blood in the streets. Happiness is suspicious; it’s more hip to believe that humanity is a doomed, chaotic mess, and we’re merely enduring it.

Or are we? Maybe the question isn’t one of cultivating a better appreciation of humanity’s overall trend toward peace – which nearly all our data handily supports – but one of mindfully, yet ruthlessly rejecting the grand lie that it hasn’t been that way all along? Isn’t that worth trying?

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Mark Morford

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