Perhaps a few of you have noticed a constant trend among some people. It appears often in comments in Sunday School or other lessons. It’s the idea that not only is the world not getting better, it is actually getting worse and worse. Am I the only one this bothers?
It’s not that I’m a pollyanna with rose colored glasses. I think it is more that I’ve read enough history to realize that through most of it life was short, brutal and nasty. Violence was rampant and morality often a distant dream. That’s not to say that there aren’t things to worry about. I had a much rosier view of life prior to 9/11 and the greater fear of terrorism. The danger of avian flu breaking out from Viet Nam, Cambodia or Thailand worries me to no end as well. Having said that though, I think predictions of the immanent collapse of civilization are a tad unlikely.
Here’s my reasoning.
First, are things really getting worse? Well there has been a huge drop in the crime rate the last 10 years. Homicide, burglary and robbery rates have fallen more than 40% to rates not seen since the 1960’s. Admittedly the past two years they have creeped up slightly, but are still amazingly low. Compare it to life from a few hundred years ago and the safety we live under is astounding. Yes, crime is something that could change. But there is wide consensus that fear of crime is dramatically out of sync with actual crime statistics. Many blame the media and the way they report stories.
Consider sexual immorality. Yes internet porn is new problem. But look at the other statistics. Teen sex and teen pregnancy have been steadily declining from their peak 12 years ago. They are now at their lowest levels since the government began collecting statistics. More that half of all high school students say they are virgins, up from 39 percent in 1990. (Ref: New York Times, Mar 7, 2004)
Drug use is declining, especially hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. Tobacco use is down. Admittedly alcohol abuse has seen some rise. (From 7.41% to 8.46% according to one recent study. However compared to previous decades we do remarkably well. The actual percentage of teenagers using alcohol dropped from 50% in 1979 to 20% in 2001. Among 18 – 25 year olds the rate has fallen from 75% to 60% (Time, June 18, 2001) So overall substance abuse is far less of a problem than the epidemics from the 70’s through the 90’s.
(Note: thanks to David Bailey for the statistics)
So why do we still cry out about how bad the world is getting? There is less war, less hunger, better standard of living, more morality. We don’t have the threat of a nuclear apocalypse that we had in the 1980’s. That’s not to say things could fall apart quick. Further there are big challenges, such as Islamic terrorism, AIDS, not to mention other diseases. We have social problems such as class disparity, pornography, and a few other things. There are problems such as resource depletion, pollution and climate change. But overall civilization is spreading and improving people.
It’s not that I’m denying hell might be around the corner. Just that by most measures, we’re living in the closest the earth has been to heaven rather than hell in a long, long time. I’ve long noted Bruce R. McConkie’s interpretation of the half hour of silence in Revelation. It was, as with many of his comments, highly speculative. But he thought it would be a few decades of extreme peace before things would start to fall apart. Perhaps we’re in that?