Cabed Crusader column: We continue to overcome
Sometimes it’s hard to believe things are better than they’ve ever been for humanity.
When we look at life through an American lens, times seem pretty awful. Our next president is either going to be an ignorant sociopath with no concept of international relations or a war hawk whose lies have risked national security.
The relationship between police officers and people of color is strained, to say the least, and our country has the highest prison population in the world (and the second-highest per capita). Our nation’s health care is despicable compared with much of the First World, especially for those who are technically covered but whose coverage is so abysmal that a visit to the doctor is still a major budget decision. Public school funding relies heavily on local property taxes, straining the schools in the areas that most need them to be strong.
Student debt and the cost of higher education are crippling problems that nobody seems capable of tackling. Our embarrassingly outdated immigration policies don’t benefit anyone and hurt us all; in some cases, they upend lives and tear families apart. The coverage of the Olympics proved that everyday sexism is alive and well, and a recent sexual assault case in Boulder showed exactly why rapes are still so underreported when the convict’s sentence didn’t land him any prison time at all (not to mention our own Megan Henrie’s battle with the DA — because heaven forbid a man who sexually assaults a woman be labeled a sex offender).
Are you good and depressed now? I am. Sometimes the weight of all this and more feels crushing to an empath like myself.
So it came as a huge relief when I remembered, out of the blue, the commencement speech at my graduation from Syracuse University two years ago. Maybe it’s the back-to-school time of year that got me in that head space.
The speech was by David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, and its point was to encourage us all to become citizens of and participants in the world. We couldn’t just hold our master’s degrees in the air and pursue our personal dreams in peace, he said. Instead, we had to find ways to make the world a better place.
And then he went into my favorite part, the part that’s stuck out so clearly in my mind.
“It’s traditional on graduation day for your elders to admit, as if it were ever a secret to you, that we, the old and the soon-to-be-so have screwed up the world on a colossal scale,” he said. “We then go on to say we’re very sorry, but now we’re going fishing, and now we’re depending on you to fix everything. Have a ball!
“In fact, that’s a dodge, a dumbshow of civilizational false modesty,” he went on. “In so many ways, modern life is immensely better than ever before.”
He went on to give examples. In the past 50 years, the world poverty rate has dropped by half. More people are living in countries with representative government than ever. Although war and terrorism are at the forefront of our minds, it’s important to remember that the world is in less conflict (and less gruesome tactics are employed) now than ever in human history.
Although America and countless other nations have a long way to go before anyone can say health care is perfect, it’s a lot better worldwide than it ever has been. We have vaccines that prevent deadly diseases, we have surgeries that can save lives and probably won’t be anyone’s cause of death, and access to this care is expanding more than it’s shrinking.
Communication has never been more open. We’re able to connect with people all across the world using nothing but a smartphone and a WiFi signal. We’re hearing stories we never would have heard before. Citizen journalism, as controversial as it may be to us professionals, is bringing a wealth of information right to your pocket, just waiting to be consumed and digested.
In 50 years, we’ve gone from treating homosexuality with shock therapy to embracing gay marriage in all 50 states. We’re just beginning to learn about the experience of being transgender, and we’re catching on quickly, considering how hard it is to change people’s minds about social issues.
Those are just examples in Remnick’s speech, but researching any facet of life — poverty, violent crime, liberty, sexuality and gender, race — in world history will prove the point.
So, no, things are not perfect right now. We’re not off the hook in this life; we still need to be citizens of and participants in the world. There’s a lot of work to be done, and there always will be. Even if we woke up tomorrow and solved all the problems we were aware of, there would be new problems coming to the surface, begging for our human ingenuity to fix them.
But take our progress so far as encouragement. We’ve overcome so much as the human race, and we’ll continue to overcome.
Jessica Cabe is a former Post Independent arts and entertainment editor.