When Charles Dickens described his 18th C times this way in A TALE OF TWO CITIES he could have been describing our 21st C times as well. But you see, there’s this current notion that our times really are the worst, because of the staggering number of negatives out there.
There’s no denying the negatives, but in the strict terms of numbers we are actually living in the very best of times. That won’t go down well with the fire-breathing televangelists or my 92-year-old Aunt Rosa. Still, the stats are actually not on their side.
It’s true the times are bad, bawdy and brutal. It’s also true that wars in the last century have ravaged hundreds of millions of lives, laid waste to entire nations, slaughtered whole races, rained death from the skies without limit. Just like it’s true our city streets are infested with drug-manic gangs, crimes of senseless violence, teen pregnancies, uneducated dropouts, and graft & corruption that would have stunned even Machiavelli. And yet none of these tragedies and travesties can surpass the heartless hardness of life before our times.
To keep things into perspective, and to keep ourselves from losing all shred of hope, we have to see the world as it was before our times.
It was a short, brutish existence for 95% of the people who tried to scratch out a living past age 35 or 40. Disease was rampant…vaccinations and medical care rare…air and water polluted without regulation …city and forest fires by the thousands every untamed year…wars in which virtually everyone either died or was enslaved…even a walk to a neighbor along the unlit streets and highways was a constant threat to you and endless boon to the thieves and killers.
I hate to report [and to admit] that Currie & Ives, Norman Rockwell and Thomas Kincaid got it all wrong. Life in America — in every region of the planet — was a daily struggle in the “good old day.” This may not make tonight’s trip into the city any safer, but it may remind you your odds are still better than anyone in your ancestry ever had.
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