Has Life Always Been This Bad?
Good question. I’ve been asking myself this question for some time. I mean it’s hard to feel hopeful when everything appears to be so grim. Right? And, for those who tell me to just not think about it, well, I can’t do that. That’s probably one reason I write.
C’mon! There’s a lot to not think about.
Struggling supply chains
Health care systems overloaded
Public schools under attack
AI on the threshold
Teen suicide on the rise
War on the horizon
Need I go on? If you weren’t already feeling stressed, my list probably managed to push you over the edge.
It’s grim. I’ll admit that. And, the bulk of it is caused by humans doing what humans do — shitting in their own back yards. We can’t seem to evolve beyond cavemen days. You know what I mean? Our basic instincts still rule. Tribalism, hoarding, violence, greed, and fear are products of our big faulty brains at work.
We’re wired to survive even as our emotions rule.
That in and of itself is a conflicting situation because survival is dependent upon looking at options and choosing the best course of action. Whereas emotions tend to be less about logic and more about immediate results. I may hate someone who threatens me but shooting them, although it may feel good in the moment, isn’t usually the best solution.
Emotional reactions, however, are generally our first course of action.
Strike first, think later. Even though Mother Nature also throws us a large number of curve balls with things like floods, fires, pestilence, and drought, we don’t seem to be content with just cleaning up her messes. Oh, no, that would make life too simple. Instead we add our two cents worth of destruction and confusion on top of things.
When I consider our aptitude for creating problems for ourselves, I’m left to surmise that most likely life has always been this bad.
Of course, being a lover of history also gives me some perspective. A few years ago, I visited the summer palace of the Emperor Tiberius. It’s located on the isle of Capri. The stories of his debaucheries took on a kind of terrible reality as I stood on the premises of a place in human history where little boys were raped by the emperor and then thrown off the cliffs afterwards.
I visited the ruins of Pompeii and experienced the same, a physical reaction to the ghosts that haunted this once thriving city.
Whoa! Bodies of ancient roman citizens frozen in lava from Mt. Vesuvius is a particularly grotesque reminder that being alive, trauma, and terror are synonymous.
I don’t have to go all the way back to the Roman Empire or cavemen days to find heaping evidence that life by its very nature has always been grim.
As a young girl, I lived through the assassination of President Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King. As divided as our country is right now, so far, we haven’t resorted to killing our leaders. Not yet anyway. I also have to remember the pandemics of yore. That was before humans had vaccines or any hope whatsoever that modern science could find promising treatments.
Talk about grim times.
And even though I can get very discouraged with human behavior, always trying to figure out what the hell makes us do what we do, I know that my grandmother lived in a one room house with a dirt floor and a oil lamp while my grandfather worked in a coal mine piecing together a living. He was diagnosed later in life with black lung.
I can look at photos of children under the age of twelve who worked long hours in textile mills.
I know for a fact that my earning potential is amazing compared to my great grandmother’s payment for services rendered. She became a caregiver to sick and ailing people which was one of the few jobs available to women in her day.
So, eventually, even on my worst days, when I’m feeling deeply disturbed by the world around me and our lack of problem solving skills as a species, I realize that things have always been this bad.
That realization isn’t particularly uplifting, but at least I can look back through all the dead bodies and see proof that no matter how grim things became, many were still able to survive. That’s a kind of hope, I reckon. Wouldn’t you say? So if they could, maybe we will, too. Right?
I know. I know. We have climate change looming and probably little hope of coming up with a plan to curtail it.
That might put us in a unique situation, but then again, I’m not so sure. Procrastination, wishful thinking, denial, and ignorance have always stood in the way of assessing a threat and making good plans. Maybe what’s coming down the road for us is a bit like when Vesuvius blew its top, burying an entire town in ash and lava. That’s a pretty dramatic event.
Or maybe, because we do have a bigger knowledge base to draw from we’ll get our act together and unite to make the world a better place.
Maybe we’ll take our huge technological advances and use them to end world hunger and war. Maybe we’ll begin to understand sustainability and the concept of sharing resources. Maybe! Right?
I mean — wasn’t that the reason we invented religion?
As a means to encourage human beings to find ways to live together in peace and harmony? I’m a humanist, not a religious person, but the belief that humans owe their offspring a better world is the basis of humanism as well.
How do we finally practice what we preach?
By now, we should know what it’ll take to make a better world. We have history, technology, sociology, religion, humanism, and science to point us in the right direction.
If not now, then when?
I have a grim feeling that it’s always been that simple and that hard to be a decent human being.
Teresa Roberts is a retired educator, author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.