It’s what everyone has been thinking, this year is the worst: so many deaths, shocking elections, terrorism and war. These have been the headlines all year. But if you believe this, you are wrong. This has been, objectively, one of the best years of humanity.
We will start with the celebrity deaths: David Bowie, John Glenn, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Nancy Reagan, Alan Thicke, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Muhamad Ali, Harper Lee, Antonin Scalia, Arnold Palmer, and more. Here’s the thing: most of these people were very elderly, in their 80’s or older. Yes, some were still recently in the public light (Cohen) and some were gone before their time (Prince, and George Michael this week), but largely these were people who had lived good, long lives, and it really shouldn’t be a shock that they passed away. Furthermore, while many fans have an affinity or even deep affection for many of these people, their passing doesn’t make our life any worse. That might not be comforting, but it is true. Moreover, if your main case for 2016 being horrible is the death of several dozen people, but you are less concerned with thousands killed by war and murder, that makes you look pretty shallow.
OK, but war is definitively bad. The war in Syria has reached a new and awful crescendo with the fall of Aleppo, and the plight of civilians as they attempt to leave the city. Other conflicts that get far less media attention resulted in even more lives lost of average citizens. The war in South Sudan is at the top of this list, but also included is Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Central African Republic, and again, many more. In no way will war ever be good, but this year is amongst the safest in world history. Deaths from wars were higher in the 1950’s through 1990’s, and multiple times higher during WWII. Going further back in time only increases the rate of death from wars. Additionally, deaths from murders worldwide are also near an all-time low. It seems likely that in the US the murder rate is up again slightly this year, which still makes it lower than most any year between 1900 and 2010. So, if you think this year was awful because it was so violent, you are misguided.
Terrorism? Please. Again, no amount of terrorism is acceptable, but this year, like most of the past 15 years, has been some of the safest in the Western World regarding terrorism. The peak for terrorism was in the 1970’s and 80’s with the IRA, Basque separatists, and leftist groups at their height. Al Qaida, ISIS, and right wing militants have luckily not been as effective. The vast majority of terrorism happens in the developing world, and actually fatalities dropped 10% this year over last. In the US, being crushed by furniture causes more fatalities than terrorism. We should stop prioritizing this as an issue.
The results of Brexit and the US presidential election are perhaps the best argument that 2016 was not a good year. The full extent of their effects may not be felt for years, or even decades. Simultaneously, this ignores other positive election results that happened this year. Argentina elected a reformist president after years of an ineffective populist. Gambia had an autocrat of 25 years lose an election, and even more importantly, he vowed to step down peacefully. The majority of Venezuela’s congress now is from the opposition party, after a decade-plus of harsh rule from Hugo Chavez’s party. Also, opposition parties gained in local elections in South Africa, against the rival (and corrupt) African National Congress. Around the world there is electoral progress, even as there are some setbacks.
None of this means we can kick back and everything will be fine. The reason that humans have had consistently better lives is because of regular improvements from individuals in politics, science, business, art, and beyond. The more worrisome aspects of 2016 can be reduced or eliminated through your efforts. Keep check on Trump. Report racism in the UK. Advocate for Syrians and their plight. But please do not think that 2016 is the worst. Expressing as much makes you look out of touch with reality and ignorant of the progress of billions around the world.