If I had to pick any time in which to live, I’d choose right now. Although I want to live centuries into the future, I wouldn’t want to jump to some unknown future, only to find humanity eradicated or enslaved to some alien species. Mostly though, I wouldn’t wish to live in anytime in the past.
I’d not wish to live in the past because past societies have been rigidly stratified by family, sex, and race. People from poor families, women, and ethnic minorities were severely limited in their powers to make something of their lives. I could not tolerate living in a society where racism and sexism were the norm — let alone oppression of gays, slavery, and religious homogeneity.
I’d not wish to live in the past because the politics would not be nearly as free as most people suppose. In early American history, the federal government was much smaller, but severe violations of rights by state and local governments were commonplace. Individual rights were not even known in Greece and Rome.
I’d not wish to live in the past because life was far, far more brutal and rough. Abject misery and suffering, including at the hands of others, was accepted as perfectly ordinary. Little could be done to alleviate it, due to the lack of wealth and technology.
I would not wish to live in the past because access to art was severely limited. In centuries past, you were grateful if someone in your family or social circle could sing well. Today, we can watch fabulous movies on demand, instantly download masterpieces of chamber music, browse gorgeous painting and order prints, and read any novel ever written on a Kindle.
I’d not wish to live in the past because so much awesome technology has been developed in the past century, the past decade, and even the past year. Heck, I don’t want to go back to the days of dial-up — or the days before computers — or the days before ball point pens. The thought of going back to medical care of 10 or 20 or 100 or 1000 years ago should make anyone’s skin crawl.
The simple fact is that humanity has made so much fabulous progress in the last century. So if you ever feel depressed about America’s political decline, take a moment to contemplate how much better your life is now, thanks to an amazing slew of social and technological developments over the last century. In fact, I’m doubtful that the politics is much worse than ever before: it’s better in some ways, worse in others.
Oddly, I was inspired to write this post after watching this video of women’s uneven bars from the 1950s to 2010:
This video of gymnastics from 1928 to 1968 is also revealing:
I’ve seen some amazing and inspiring performances in women’s gymnastics in these Olympic Games. Just imagine if one of today’s top gymnasts travelled back in time to perform in a competition from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, or 1960s. Everyone would be utterly flabbergasted because she’d be performing at a level so beyond their capacity to even imagine. That marked increase in human athletic ability — also evident in this infographic on the men’s 100 meter sprint — is another form of fabulous human progress that makes me so happy to be alive today.
We live in amazing times. Savor all the goodness!