I wrote a couple days ago about how really not great 2014 has been for me. I’m sure some of you were probably nodding along and thinking, “Yeah, it was a pretty shitty year for everyone.” But was it?
When people are looking back at 2014, they’re focusing on things like ISIS, Ferguson, Ebola, the missing Malaysian Airlines jet, the other MA jet that crashed, the recent airplane crash, the torture report, the 2014 mid-terms, the invasion of Ukraine, the constantly crappy economy, etc, etc.
But in fact, that those are the things we have to focus on is kind of a good thing. Take ISIS and Ukraine, for example. In both cases, we have terribly nasty, bloody wars happening (though rather less so in Ukraine than in ISIS-controlled territory). Now these are both bad things, but they’re also, at this point in world history, fairly rare.
Let’s look at Ukraine first. Europe’s normal state for the last couple of thousand years has been wars, wars, wars. There were the wars of Roman conquest, Charlemagne’s campaigns, the Hundred Years War, the Thirty Years War, the Napoleonic Wars, various revolutions, World War I, World War II and the Balkan conflicts.
But since World War II ended, the normal state of Europe has been one of peace. The peace was a bit tenuous at times, but it was there for the most part. Then after fifty years of peace we had the Balkan conflicts. Bad, but isolated. Now we have Ukraine. Again, bad, but isolated, and very much of an outlier. Thus we pay a great deal of attention to that when we don’t pay attention to, say, wars in Africa.
It’s similar with ISIS. In that case you have a really terrible group doing really terrible things, and that’s bad, but…again, they’re kind of an outlier, even in the region. Yes, there are extremists in that region, but ISIS is bad even by their standards. This is, after all, the group that was kicked out of al-Qaeda. It’s also worth noting that their existence is our fault.
Frankly, the missing airline, and the recent jet crashes are also examples of this sort of “taking notice of things because they’re so damn rare” attitude. An actual missing airplane is extremely rare. And the story was tailor-made for television, so we got it crammed down our throats. The most likely explanation (sudden de-pressurization, causing everyone to lose consciousness while the plane flew on auto pilot until it ran out of gas and crashed in the ocean), is boring. So therefore it became a big thing and people paid close attention. They also paid attention because of the rarity. The only reason the other two major airline disaster got play was because one also featured a Malaysian Airlines jet, and the other featured a briefly disappeared plane in the same part of the world.
Then we have things like the Ebola outbreak. Did you know it’s really just not that big of an event? You couldn’t even fill an entire MLB ballpark with the people who have gotten Ebola in the last year, much less the number who have died from it. It’s bad, sure, especially if you’re one of the people who has it, or connected with someone who does. But…we’re still talking about only 21,000 or so people catching the disease and 8,000 or so dying from it. That’s just not that big of a deal on a global scale.
As for American politics, the unrest caused by the shooting in Ferguson, as well as other recent killings of unarmed black men by white police officers, is a good thing. It’s good that as a people we’re facing up to this and finally trying to deal with it. We won’t do a good job, of course. We’ll half-ass it for the next twenty years or so, but we’ll eventually get it right.
And the torture report’s release is also a good thing. We need to understand what was done in our name, and we need to bring to justice those responsible for doing so. While the second part of that statement is unlikely, it is made more likely by the release of the report.
I can’t really put a good spin on the mid-terms, though it’s worth noting that since they happened, Obama has opened up relations with Cuba after over 50 years of nonsense, and has made some progress on immigration reform, so…yeah.
Lastly, the economy. Unemployment is way down, the GDP is up, and oil is extremely cheap. When was the last time you saw gas for only $1.99 or less per gallon? The economy is, in fact, in better shape than it has been in a long time.
None of this stuff is to say that there isn’t room for improvement. The Ebola outbreak should never have happened, nor should the invasion of Ukraine (though there was nothing the US could have done to prevent it, just like there was nothing we could have done to prevent Russia from invading Georgia), nor should many of the other things on this list.
But even though they happened, most of them are outliers or not that bad. 2014 remains a year where more people than at any other point in world history have access to education and healthcare, have at least some improvement in their lifestyle, and live in a world that’s generally at peace. That’s something to celebrate. We can only hope that 2015 builds on, and improves upon, what’s gone before.