Anyone who has been kicking around the Internet lately has come across discussions of whether 2016 was the worst year ever.
After all, lots of celebrities died, Britain voted to leave the European Union, Zika-carrying mosquitoes went on the attack, America elected an orange reality TV star as president, mass shootings were in the news seemingly daily and, to add insult to injury, a gorilla was killed just for acting like a gorilla.
But, if we are perfectly honest, these types of things happen all the time. Allow me to offer a few illustrations courtesy of slate.com of far worse years.
72,000 BC: A volcanic super-eruption on the island of Sumatra exploded with the force of 1.5 million Hiroshima-size bombs. The skies darkened and global temperatures fell. The human population was reduced to between 3,000 and 10,000 people. By comparison, our numbers now exceed 7 billion.
1348: The Black Death was on the march. In the space of 18 months, the disease killed at least a third of the population of Europe. Dogs tore at the bodies of the dead that lay unburied in the streets.
1492: I suppose it was a good year for Christopher Columbus, but his bosses, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, completed their conquest of Moorish Granada, and the roughly half-million Muslim inhabitants of the territory would be killed, converted, enslaved or expelled. The Jewish population was expelled.
And then there was Columbus, the discoverer of America. Within a few years, Old World diseases made their way to the Americas, beginning a series of plagues that ultimately caused the demographic collapse of 90 percent of the indigenous population by the 1850s. This loss of the indigenous labor force is also blamed in part for the arrival of slavery.
1837: It was a dreadful year for everyone in the United States. Within a few months of Andrew Jackson’s leaving office, the nation was plunged into the worst economic depression it had ever seen. The impact of the Panic of 1837 was devastating. The war against Native Americans was beginning to escalate, and anti-slavery activists were not only harassed, many were murdered.
1919: World War I was over, but President Wilson suffered a stroke, inflation skyrocketed and unemployment shot up to 20 percent. An influenza epidemic killed 500,000 Americans. The 18th Amendment introduced Prohibition and a decade of lawlessness. Race riots broke out across the country. Lynchings continued to rise, claiming 76 Americans, including 10 veterans. There were massive labor strikes, bomb threats against prominent leaders and the first Red Scare.
1968: Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and Richard Nixon was elected president. This was set against the background of daily reports about the horrors of Vietnam, including the My Lai Massacre. With only three channels, the network news had everyone watching the death and destruction with their dinners.
Even with all the evidence just presented and more, those participating in a poll at the end of the article still chose 2016 as the worst year ever, outscoring 72,000 B.C. by 31 percent to 21 percent.
So, obviously, a significant number of people gave the most recent annum a low rating. They look forward to 2017. But, is there any reason for optimism? Consider the following random list of positive indicators.
Despite what we are hearing on the news and reading on social media, crime is actually falling. It has been decreasing for decades.
World poverty is also in decline, as only 10 percent of the earth’s population is technically living below the official extreme poverty income line of $1.90 per day.
Televisions are bigger, have a higher resolution and cost less per diagonal inch than ever before. They are also much lighter and thinner. Can anyone imagine mounting even a 19-inch model on the wall 20 years ago?
A new Ebola vaccine is about to be deployed against the disease that devastated Africa only a few years ago.
Zoos are keeping many species, including gorillas, from going extinct.
And, finally, the pant-wearing public everywhere is rejoicing at the advent of stretchy materials being added to jeans and khakis. Why did this take so long?
With all this going for us, how can we not be optimistic?
Bob Woelk teaches English and journalism at Hillsboro Middle/High School. He can be reached at woelk@embarqmail.