No need to prepare for the end of the world, middle ages were worse

How many times in these past few months have you heard someone say, “America is doomed,” “the world is ending,” “the human race is hopeless” or some other generally disparaging remark about humanity in response to the violent events around the world? 

It seems our faith in humanity, on a national and global scale, is at its lowest point, and for good reason.  These last couple weeks have only reinforced that negative line of thinking. And thanks to the modern omnipresence of the media, we are constantly bombarded with news of humankind’s worst doings.

 What if I told you that compared to the last 2,000 years we are actually living in a more peaceful world than ever before? You probably wouldn’t believe me.  After all, there were no guns, tanks or nuclear bombs for the better part of the last two millennia.  There were no drug wars, terror threat levels or IEDs either. Surely our society has only become more violent.

Steven Pinker, author of the 2011 book “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” proves the popular notion to be wrong.  Using medieval European court records and war casualty numbers throughout history, he argues that violence on a global scale has been decreasing as civilization continues to develop. 

In 14th century Oxford, for example, the murder rate was as high as 110 homicides per 100,000 people each year.  Compare that to modern London, where less than one person per 100,000 people each year is murdered. 

Even in the United States, where gun laws are much more lax, the homicide rate doesn’t even compare to medieval times.  Combining domestic homicide statistics as well as casualty reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, Pinker found only eight-tenths of 1 percent of all Americans died violently in 2005.  Certainly that rate couldn’t be much higher today.

Why, then, are we so convinced that we are living in the end times?  The media’s unending coverage of mass casualty events and bizarre acts of violence seems to be the primary culprit.  Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, we are constantly barraged with news about every instance of death and destruction happening around the world, as long as we choose to tune in.  The commercialization of journalism has made us paranoid. 

With the rising popularity of news commentary shows and pundits like Bill O’Reilly, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann and others, politics are now more personal than ever. As a result, America seems even more divided. Even our elected government officials, cannot set aside ideologies and compromise on important issues. Meanwhile, cities like Chicago continue to rack up homicides, economic growth is sluggish at best and now we can’t even go out in public without second guessing everyone, constantly looking over our shoulder for the next Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the next Adam Lanza, the next breaking news story. 

We have to accept that events like the Boston bombings or the Newtown and Aurora shootings will likely continue. We should mourn for the victims and their families, but also keep in mind that these events are anomalies, not the norm. Even in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, hundreds ran into the scene of disaster to help their neighbor.

Elsewhere in the world, people are living longer and the global population is skyrocketing.

But neither should we lose sight of what is still to be done about the violence we witness constantly, whether vicariously or in reality.

 Historically, we are a nation of outlaws, a country born of much violence and bloodshed.  Surely there was plenty of disagreement amongst our forebearers about how to liberate themselves, but obviously they set aside their differences and accomplished a feat that was considered impossible. 

The optimist in me wants to believe that this selfless sense of duty is possible in our modern society and that it can be used not to come together and wage war, but to foster peace and understanding.  We have to consciously and unanimously decide that we will do this, not just spout empty rhetoric against these mass casualty events.

As a whole, the human race has been getting better at this, slowly but surely. 

So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  The world is not going to end unless we allow it to end.