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Opening Arguments

The worst ever!

I confess to sometimes getting caught up in the just-short-of-hysterical reporting and commentating that seem to be the common practice these days:

We have the worst president ever. The worst congress ever. The worst Supreme Court ever. Every event is the most crucial thing to ever happen. Nothing will ever be the same. Government has never been more corrupt. Americans have never been more divided. Women have never been treated worse. The poor have never struggled more. America has, almost certainly, never been in more peril than it is this very second.

“We’re in the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in as a nation,” claimed Senator Inhofe, the top ranking Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee not long ago. John McCain warns that the “Islamic State is the “biggest threat we’ve ever faced.” More dangerous than the strife experienced during the Civil War. More serious than facing fascism. Scarier than the atomic age. A greater existential threat than communism during the Cold War. That’s chilling, for sure.

[. . .]

Well, most of us, I’m sure, will concede that a terrorist army running a modern-day Caliphate is problematic. But if a citizen really wants to save Duluth from annihilation, we would start by not voting for Republicans. “It would be very important for the Democrats to retain control of the Senate,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi explained to comedian Bill Maher recently. “Civilization as we know it today would be in jeopardy if the Republicans win the Senate.”

Well, Madam Speaker, what’s so great about civilization as we know it? One Daily Beast writer argues that the “Summer 2014 Was the Worst Ever.” Ever. Worse than the summer of 1967, when major American cities burned. Worse than the summers Americans fought World War Two or lived through the Depression. Worse, even, than the summer of 2013, when we were arguing about the same exact things that we argued about last summer.

Not that we’re going to able to do anything during the summers for much longer. Climate change will lead to more rapesprostitutionwar, and poverty. It will induce more normally rational people to adopt childish exaggerations for their agenda than ever before. The UN World Meteorological Organization has produced “imagined weather forecasts” to help. Our own Science Czar has predicted far worse, though. “If we don’t act now,” climate change will bring cataclysmic weather, underwater cities and it’ll be so hot you’ll be praying for sweet death.

This is as bad as it gets, in fact it's the worst thing ever, and it's going to deteriorate even further, and we're all going to die a horrible death!

I think this probably started even before television, when radio provided the first really effective mass medium, when bad news could go out almost immediately before people had time to reflect on it and put it some perspective. Remember reading about the mass hysteria Orson Wells stirred up with his "War of the Worlds" invaders from Mars broadcast? The reaction to that broadcast has been greatly exaggerated, but just the fact that we want to believe in the panic says something about our predispositions. We actually like to be scared to death sometimes.

Two things have happened to strengthen our doomsday sense of gloom. One is the way social media are pushing everything out into the public square with such blazing speed. Hell, we just thought we knew what instantaneous was; we really had no idea. The other is the increasing polarization that has pushed us into "us" and "them" camps. We can't have mere adversaries with bad ideas. They must be enemies with dangerous ideas.

Once in a while, we need to just stop, take a breath and . . . chill. Consider these "17 reasons it's a great time to be alive."

“The world has never been a better place to live in,”says science writer Matt Ridley, “and it will keep on getting better.” Today, in a world gripped by global economic crisis and afflicted with poverty, disease, and war, them’s fightin’ words in some quarters. Ridley’s critics have called him a “denialist” and “shameful” and have accused him of “playing fast and loose with the truth” for his views on climate change and the free market.

Yet Ridley, 54, author most recently of The Rational Optimist, sticks to his guns. “It is not insane to believe in a happy future for people and the planet,” he says. Ridley, who’s been a foreign correspondent, a zoologist, an economist, and a financier, brings a broad perspective to his sunny outlook. “People say I’m bonkers to claim the world will go on getting better, yet I can’t stop myself,” he says.