Take a look at media you trust or at least you look through from time to time. What do you see in the feed? Have you spotted anything related to climate change? Rise of right-wing populism? Terrorist attacks? Accidents? I’m pretty sure you have spotted many. Taking a look at our media today, we often fall under a feeling that the world is rolling off to hell with a speed of a supersonic jet. Also, some of us tend to say that we live in such bad times with so many bad things going on - and those who tend to romanticise some other periods of time. But is our time really that bad?
Having all the things around us by default, we are forgetting that it could be very different in other time, and I’m not talking about Wi-Fi, but about some very basic things. Let’s don’t get too deep in history, and take a look at how people used to live at the beginning of the last century, shall we?
To start from something basic, let’s take a look at average life expectancy nowadays - it’s something around 72 years, with the lowest one in the world to be recorded in the Central African Republic at the age of 53. But what was it in 1900? How about 32 years. Yes, 119 years ago average human being won’t last on this planet longer than that. At our times, we consider people of this age as part of the youth.
Much of the deaths were caused by epidemics outbreaking all over the world, with those most famous being here in Europe. In 1348, the great plague started its march through the continent and in 4 years killed from 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia and wiped out from 30% to 60% of the population of Europe that time. That was quite a long time ago, one may say, but different diseases continued to kill millions of people in Europe for much longer. Only a hundred years ago, an epidemic of Spanish flu killed from 50 to 100 million people in only 2 years - that’s more than WWI and WWII combined. Nowadays, we have big problems with cancer, AIDS, and many other things, but it’s unbelievable to have a major epidemic outbreak killing millions of people in Europe in our times.
Last century was also a century of wars. First World War took around 16 million lives, the Second World War made it wars taking lives of more than 70 million people. Wars haven’t stopped after those - there were many in the last century. There are some going on now, as Ukrainian, I know it better than many that even in Europe people can be killed in a military conflict every day in the year 2019. However, the scale of wars has changed, and as cynics say, we suffer from wars much less than we did before. Even the war Russia wages on us is a so-called hybrid war, meaning military combat is not the only and not the most important part of it. It is highly unlikely (and I really hope to not be mistaken here) that big Ukrainian cities will be bombed from the air like it used to be in the times of WWII.
Another thing of the past we are happy not to witness here anymore is hunger. An average human being needs from 2000 to 2500 calories per day to maintain. In 1800, an average French person would get 1846 calories per day - and people at that time used to work physically much more than we do, so their needs in nutrition were even higher. Hunger was a fellow comrade for lower layers of European population even in the last centuries. Nowadays, person in France gets around 3500 calories per day. In fact, today you have a higher chance of dying from obesity, than from hunger. Not to mention the quality of food - go to the closest supermarket and take a look around. You can buy all the types of fruits from apples to avocados in the middle of winter, milk products and meat take half of the shop, and your menu can be whatever you want.
What about other social aspects? If you are here, you are probably able to read and write, right? That sounds funny in the 21st century’s Europe, but actually, in 1900 70% of the world’s population were illiterate. The main political figure in Germany is Angela Merkel, who was elected as chancellor 4 times and called “The most powerful woman of the world”. 120 years ago, only women of New Zealand, Isle of Man and Australia could actually vote, and some European countries like Switzerland refused them this right until 1971.
What about safety on the streets? Have you ever encountered a direct life danger from a stranger? It wasn’t always like that, but since the middle 20th century, statistics have countered what they call Great Crime Drop. The rate of dangerous crimes in the whole world just started to drop, and there is no even common agreement on why is that so. In Europe, 8.8 killings were made per 100 000 people in 1994. In 2017, the rate has dropped to less than 3.
Of course, our world still has a lot of problems. People are dying from hunger in Yemen, they’re dying from bombs in Syria and Ukraine, they’re dying from cancer and HIV all around the world. We have climate change which can cause billions of people to live without constant clean water supply and many other tragedies. We have uncertainty in politics and people are trying to separate us inside the EU. Facing all this, it’s very easy to get frustrated as a young person, but if we stop for a second and think, we might discover it’s not that bad.
We have major problems, but we are here - and we, youth, can, must and will solve them eventually. We need to appreciate what we have and try to share it with those who still can’t have it for many reasons. And when speaking of romantic middle-age with untouched nature and noble knights, we must not forget that if you make it to 30 at that time, you’d be considered quite aged. So let’s be happy from the fact we still can count as a youth!