Are things really so bad? The Existential Expert is asked if we’re moaning too much about the state of the world

The Existential Expert responds to your questions. Photo: Pixabay/LEEROY Agency.

We have it better now than at pretty much any point in history.” Our resident expert responds to a reader who writes in to tell everyone who is concerned about current events to “STFU”.

Dear EE,

This might be hypocritical considering it’s a complaint – but I’m sick of all the negativity in the world. Family, friends, acquaintances, strangers – all seem hell-bent on bemoaning the state of the world and I’ve had enough.

Everyone is endlessly fretting about Ukraine, Covid-19, climate change, the economy, etc. etc. and acting as though we’re living in End Times.

Yeah, what’s happening in Ukraine is terrible and yeah, things could be much better. But is the state of the world really more dire than ever before?

Were things really better in the ‘good old days’ when millions were killed across the globe in WWII and dozens of cities in Asia and Europe were laid to waste?

Were they better when we had pandemics like smallpox and polio and Spanish flu sweeping the globe, all of which were deadlier than Covid?

What about when, just decades ago, you could be excluded from employment or schools or businesses or even from voting because of the colour of your skin?

You think the economy and the cost of living is a worry? Tell that to someone who lived through the Great Depression. Or even the ‘recession we had to have’ in Australia in the early 1990s.

Were things really better when gay people could be thrown into jail and have their lives destroyed just for being themselves?

What about when women weren’t allowed to vote?

No. We have it better now than at pretty much any point in history. Our lives are generally easier, safer, longer and we have far more rights than ever before.

We’re better fed, better travelled, better educated and have access to a world of information, previously unimaginable just decades ago, in the form of the internet.

We have always had wars, diseases and hunger, generally to a degree unfathomably worse than today.

The only thing uniquely concerning or ‘worse’ these days is climate change. But it stands to reason that if we have the power to change the climate for the worse, we should be able to make it better too. I believe this is what will happen in time, although things will get worse before they get better.

In summary, can everyone please just STFU, take a deep breath, stop catastrophising and start appreciating what we have and how good we have it?!

Pollyanna,
Marrickville

The world has never had it so good, writes Pollyanna. This resident of Kyiv might disagree. File photo.

The Existential Expert:

Hey Pollyanna,

Thanks for your question – or rant, perhaps more accurately.

Congratulations, you’re correct in one respect.

There is a definite and palpable sense of doom lurking about – haunting, implacable and generating a sense of existential dread, much like Michaelia Cash’s hair.

There’s also a lot to be grateful for. Yes, we live in an age of unprecedented standards of living. Yes, we can acknowledge the progress made in terms of human rights. Yes, we also have instant coffee and the HoMedics Hand Held Massager.

We appreciate you want to look at the bright side of life. In this context, we also commend you for the name you either chose (or someone chose for you).

For the uninitiated, a Pollyanna is defined as a “excessively cheerful or optimistic person”.

So, in popular culture, they’re terribly annoying people who refuse to look basic facts in the face and say “she’ll be right” a lot.

This might seem totally apt – but, as you admit, a degree of negativity is evident in your complaint about complaining.

Still, there are definite Pollyanna qualities in your line: “It stands to reason, that if we have the power to change the climate for the worse, we should be able to make it better too.”

However, funnily enough, the original Pollyanna (and the basis of the term), an orphan from the book of the same name by Eleanor H. Porter (1913), never used to say “STFU”.

This plucky girl used to play “the glad game”. It didn’t mean that she was a psychopath who carved smiles into people’s faces with rusty fishhooks. It meant she coped with shitty events by deliberately looking on the bright side.

We suggest you do similarly. That is, see the positive – ironically – in others’ negativity.

The most obvious way to do this is by looking at this “fretting” is that it negates complacency.

This is the kind of complacency that got us into the mess of climate change, for example, in the first place. After all, we’ve known that fossil fuels are damaging to the environment for decades but have done bugger all about it.

With that in mind, it seems a bit of a reach to suggest that if we’ve got ourselves into this mess then “we should be able to make [climate change] better too”.

And to the issues of equality for women, people of colour and the LGBTQI+ community, yes, we’ve made progressive strides. But there are evolutionary throwbacks, particularly in the US, currently trying to undo those advances. How wonderfully advanced is a civilisation where, for example, something like this is happening?

Perhaps people’s negativity is the price of awareness – and vigilance.

Sincerely,
The EE

A panacea for uncertain times, The Existential Expert is a forum where the Sentinel will address the essential questions, you – our readers – have posed. If you have a conundrum, whether it’s spiritual, philosophical or just something that makes you break out in a rash, email us at: existentialexpert@gmail.com – or tweet or DM us @sydney_sentinel. New columns are published at the beginning of each month. You can check out previous ones here!

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