Is Life Today Better Than In The Past?

If you were able to accurately evaluate life today against life one hundred years ago, one thousand years ago, or even 10 thousand years ago, would we be able to determine which is better?

Humans have a tendency to overvalue what they know. We find it easy to believe that our country is the best. Or that our mother’s cooking can’t be beat. The neighborhood we grew up in was better than any other.

Similarly, we may believe that life today is better than the way people lived in centuries past. But is that actually true?

It is certainly true that our mastery of travel makes just about every corner of the globe is accessible. I can pack a bag, catch a flight, and be halfway around the world within 24 hours. (Assuming, of course, no travel restrictions.)

A trip to an average grocery store yields a remarkable variety of produce, and an almost dizzying array of processed food. The internet makes access to information nearly ubiquitous, and allows us to communicate with people without thought to geographical limitations. Lifespans are longer, literacy rates are higher, some previously deadly diseases have been all but eliminated.

However, each of these things have downsides. Easy travel is at the expense of burning fossil fuels, which is contributing to climate change. The same can be said about produce that travels thousands of miles to those well-stocked grocery stores. And all that processed food has brought about a crisis in obesity.

While communication is easier with the internet, social media apps are making us more polarized and as such we hear each other less. What good is a longer lifespan if we use those extra hours sitting in traffic jams and overall leading more stressed lifestyles?

Are the negatives worth the positives? Is life today better than in the past?

Related questions: How have we changed? Past, present, or future? Is it fair to judge the past with morals of today? Are we too busy?


4 thoughts on “Is Life Today Better Than In The Past?”

  1. In many aspects — technological gains, the slow progress of recognizing human rights, worldwide abject poverty steadily decreasing — things are getting better. I cannot dispute this, nor would I want to.

    But today, I’m deciding to focus on the moral life of America when asking, “Is life today better than in the past?”

    Our addiction to independence seems focused on rights without accepting responsibilities. And we dare not challenge this addiction without a gaggle of politicians and rabble-rousers derisively shouting, “Socialism!” to inflame their base.

    Let’s face it. America, when considering virtue, is sorely deficient. As a society, we don’t ask, “How much is enough?” We too often think of strangers as enemies, especially if they come from other countries. And, humility is not one of our strong suits.

    A few points to make this clearer:
    – While we are only 4.25% of the world’s population, we consume 24% of the energy.
    – We don’t change our consumptive behaviors, even though California is burning and hurricanes are hammering the Gulf Coast, saying nothing of the droughts we are forcing upon, say, South Africa or the island nations we are slowing making disappear.
    – A good portion of Americans can’t be bothered to wear a mask, even though it may mean we are saving a loved one’s life.

    Recall that once we joined the allies in WWII, households brought in their metal to be melted and repurposed for war efforts, many people grew a significant portion of their foods in “Victory Gardens” to assist in nationwide rationing, and our workforce was transformed as men went to war, women took to the factories.

    We remade society to address the crisis.

    Are we transforming America and coming together to deal with climate change or the pandemic? Far from it! Instead, we are experiencing a tremendous and dangerous divide.

    What will it take to make for an engaged and responsible citizenry? When will we accept that our actions impact those around us and those living in other countries?

    America, wake up!

    1. Well stated, Michael. I think it would be beneficial to discover why our sense of community responsibility has so declined. I know we don’t absolutely need to know the cause to ignite a solution, but I think that it helps.
      My parents and their friends did so much in the community I grew up in. Some of that involvement still exists, but it seems as if people are too busy these days, or they invest their time in frivolous activities that merely entertain or relax them. It’s time for some inspiration from local people as well as state and national people to chip in and make life better for communities and the nation as a whole.
      Had the national government been able to muster such inspiration, the Covid-19 crisis could have been such a time for Americans to come together. I don’t know that Biden/Harris and their teams are going to be able to change the nay-sayers attitudes and behaviors, but I am hopeful that they can achieve somethings in this area.

  2. I guess it all depends on what your definition of “better” happens to be.

    I think we know more, and knowing more is always better (even if we don’t always use that knowledge as we should).

    1. I believe that life is better for most of us in convenience and possibilities than ever before. As for becoming perfectly moral in our behaviors, I don’t think we ever will be because we are still animals and therefore will probably forever retain a bit of wildness. Otherwise we must become robots. We can continue to be kinder, but I think that must include understanding and forgiving ourselves and others for our bit of wildness.

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