Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bad Summers

Rebecca Traister thinks it's funny to say that the summer of 2010 was
. . . one of the most cheerless on record.

Now, I don’t want to get into any kind of bad-summer pissing match here. I give you 1968, and I’ve gathered that 1977 wasn’t much fun for New Yorkers. But I don’t need to prove unequivocally that 2010 has been the worst of the worst to know that it has been pretty damn bad.

1968? How quickly they forget, say, 1861, when the country was falling apart. Or 1939, as the Germans swallowed Czechoslovakia and escalated their threats against Poland, the Japanese swept across south China, and the looming world war had as yet done nothing to alleviate the ongoing depression in those places that weren't yet fighting. Or 1916, when half a million men died in the Battles of Verdun and the Somme. Or how about 1348, when about a quarter of the people in Europe died of the plague?

I don't just point these things out to be pedantic. I am a firm believer in the "count your blessings" school of happiness and contentment. I think it is a bad mistake for people to imagine that they live in uniquely bad times, or even in particularly bad times. It leads to a sense of powerlessness in the face of overwhelming misery, and it also leads to bad politics -- I mean the sort that leads people to vote for the Sharon Angles of the world as the only ones sufficiently determined to stand up to the uniquely awful current crop of leaders and fight their uniquely awful policies.

The reality is that even in the midst of recession this is the richest society in history, we are safer from violence than almost anyone in history, our politics are unremarkable, and we are in general extraordinarily privileged. I find that reflecting on this makes me feel much better about the outrages of our time, from rap to Sarah Palin. But if it really makes you feel better to imagine this as the worst of times, by all means, go ahead. You're wrong, but, hey, it's a free country.

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