It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….
If he were alive today, Charles Dickens would have plenty of things to write about.
Dickens’ most acclaimed novel, A Tale of Two Cities, depicted common life in London and Paris during the late 18th century. As troublesome as his stark portrayal was to readers during his day, the desperate plight of those earlier times now seems downright gentile compared to the lurking dangers and anxieties of living in a seemingly dystopian modern world now filled with nuclear weapons, global terrorism, and the outbreak of killer epidemics.
In so many ways, it seems we are living in the worst of times. If there’s any doubt, take a look around. Generations before never had to worry about crazed fanatics crashing airplanes into skyscrapers, or releasing biological or chemical weapons into our major cities. Our ancestors lived mostly quiet lives on farms or in urban centers and kept to themselves. They had much simpler lives. Sundays were for church. No one needed a Xanax. Sure, daily life wasn’t always a picnic for ordinary people. Life could certainly be hard. Then again, the average medieval villager never had to endure a TSA search or suffer an IRS audit.
So then, it would seem these are — the worst of times.
But are they really? Let’s think about that for a moment.
Actually, the answer is — no.
In fact, these are the best of times — and by a very wide margin. Living conditions are constantly improving by leaps and bounds each and every year. People are much healthier and safer now than in yesteryear. As hard as this might be to fathom given all we read and hear about all the horrible things going on in the world, compare the status of people living today with any other time in history.
In today’s essay, I shall do precisely that: