No surprise: 2020 was definitely a rollercoaster year, mostly with lows and highs that made your stomach squeal.
And, let’s be honest, 2021 has so-far provided plenty of rocky moments — whether it’s a violent insurrection and claims of election fraud that persisted nearly to the day of President Biden’s inauguration, numerous deaths of beloved celebrities, including Larry King and Hank Aaron, the additional 80,000 deaths and counting from the coronavirus; and the brutal reminder on the night of January 24th that you’re still enrolled at Zoom University and you haven’t read a single syllabus.
Nothing can change the pain that comes from any of these events. However, we are living in the best of times to tackle these challenges.
Swedish author and historian Jonah Norberg penned a masterfully written book in 2016 titled Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. You’re probably thinking, “That’s the most 2016 take,” but use this as my humble recommendation if you’re looking to adopt a more optimistic outlook for the year ahead. It will give you one
Ronald Bailey, in his review at Reason (where I spent summer 2018), explains that Norberg wrote his book for three reasons. “First, because something important happened,” writes Bailey. “Second, because no one believes it. And third, because it’s dangerous that they don’t believe it.”
What’s the big thing that happened? Humanity got better at simply… being alive.
Some examples, from Norberg’s book, are the drastic improvements in life expectancy from a mere 31 years in 1900 to roughly over 70 years, as recent as 2019. Or that having a disability is no longer an early death sentence. Not to mention, more than 37% of the world’s population in 1990 lived in abject poverty, or the equivalent of $2 per day, whereas today’s measures show that figure at less than 10% percent.
If you’re skeptical of violence and war (myself included) there’s some good news: our world is not only less violent, but battle deaths per year have been in a long term decline since 1946.
If you’re saying, “Yes, Leonard, my classes are online, we’re in an ongoing pandemic, and this all seems to have no end. What are you talking about?”
As much as we all might abhor online classes, imagine this pandemic had happened in 2005, when neither the technology nor the widespread technical ability to adapt existed and educational futures could have quite possibly been stalled. Even worse, there would have been a significant educational gap between the wealthy and well-connected and everyone else.
Despite spending a year locked indoors, missing concerts and outings, skipping Thanksgiving, and missing much more, two vaccines have been developed in less than a year that remain 90% effective. These vaccines soon enough will be readily available at little to no cost.
If that’s not enough to at least make you feel like we’re not totally lost, getting a new outlook should probably be atop your New Year’s resolutions.
That is: unless you’ve stopped them already.
Leonard A. Robinson is editor-at-large of The Sting.