In general, life is better than it ever has been, and if you think that, in the past, there was some golden age of pleasure and plenty to which you would, if you were able, transport yourself, let me say one single word: “dentistry” – PJ O’Rourke, All the Trouble in the World
This article is a sort of round-up of passages from various writers to the effect that things are better now – at least in some important ways – than they used to be.
Why do we romanticize the past? Steven Pinker puts forward a number of possibilities, including better record keeping in the modern era, and guilt over how we’ve treated colonized peoples. But I think a big part of it is a deep-seated fear of change. The up side of living in dynamic times is that it’s exciting to see the world transform in a short enough time span to be noticeable. The down side is that it’s scary. We don’t know where it’s going to end, and we’re worried we might fuck it all up. And we very well might. But the system is in motion, and we’re all a part of it, and it’s in a state of flux, regardless of our feelings on the matter. I think it’s a thrill to witness and participate in.