I admire Andy Yale’s compassion [“Global Depression,” May 1995], and there is much in what he writes that is true. But it’s a conceit among smart, sensitive, romantic, left-leaning, self-aware people — and I count myself as one — to picture our present era as a unique descent into hell.
Life for the vast majority of human beings in past centuries was utter misery. There was no hot-and-cold indoor plumbing, no nice, clean, sanitary toilets. Half of all children died before they were twenty. Women regularly died in childbirth. Before the Victorian cleanliness movement, people were covered with lice and filled with parasites. In the average Colonial home, people were too busy surviving to worry about such trivialities as sanitation.
Suburban malls filled with junk are inextricably linked to the surplus that allowed the computer I am writing this on to be invented, produced, and sold to me. I must recognize that I have not built bridges, or invented trains, or put in sewage lines or electric wires — I wouldn’t know how. I can’t even build a chair to sit on. I don’t deny the miseries of our time, but it’s important to keep things in perspective.