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We should be cheerful, not fearful

A scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian

“I must stop listening to the news when any of my children are in earshot,” says Jemima Lewis in The Daily Telegraph. Fist fights at petrol stations. Food shortages for Christmas. Climate change. “Well, this is cheerful,” sighed my 11-year-old after hearing the latest miserable statistic about extreme weather. “So much for us to look forward to!” I’m sure the world wasn’t always this alarming. When I was growing up, we had “raging inflation, IRA bombs, striking lorry drivers, rubbish rotting in the streets and proper power cuts” – but I never felt scared. Reading by candlelight felt “romantic”; bomb drills to prepare for nuclear armageddon were “exciting”.

The truth is, for all the doom and gloom, the modern world is “really rather wonderful”, said Justin Webb on Radio 4’s Today on Thursday. Just this week, for example, a malaria vaccine has been approved that should save tens of thousands of children’s lives a year. For most human beings the world is a better place – “richer and healthier” – than it has ever been before. “The catastrophising is relentless,” says Tim Black in Spiked. One Guardian columnist has gravely intoned that the current – and very temporary – workforce shortage marks the start of “a new era of uncertainty and unpredictability”; an LBC presenter described a few cars queuing for petrol as “dystopian”. Alas, since Brexit and Boris Johnson’s election victory, our political and media elite has been swamped by “cultural pessimism”. Anything that goes wrong has been hyped up as “proof that they were right all along”.

This doom-mongering isn’t limited to Britain, says David Von Drehle in The Washington Post. Here in the US it is “fashionable” to say the country is at its lowest ebb and “the rest of the world is going to blazes”. We’re constantly told that society is “more divided, more demoralised, more deceived than ever before”; that our leaders aren’t up to the task. Some of this diagnosis is accurate, but it ignores the “historical dimension”. Today’s climate crisis is no more menacing than the threat of nuclear catastrophe in the 1960s and 1970s; our “racial reckoning” is incomparable to the horrors of lynching and chattel slavery. The truth is, every era contains lightness and darkness – but the present feels worse than the past because we’re living through it. Really we should all heed the words of FDR: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”