(Not) The End of the World: Finding the fantastic

January 2018 Posted in Columnists & Opinion

carl-sampsonI know it’s popular to fret about stuff. Politics especially seem to get folks excited and upset. You’d think it was the end of the world. Again.

I’ve been running loose on the planet now for more than six decades, and the end of the world has been a popular theme. Some examples: the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, Watergate and the resignation of President Nixon, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. the 444-day Iranian hostage crisis, the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the attempted assassinations of Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the 1987 stock market crash, the President Clinton scandal, the 9/11 attacks, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the 2008 economic meltdown and the recession that followed and various tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters that have killed thousands of people.

Yes, every few years the end of the world takes place – at least if you listen to the news on radio or television. It’s as though they are imitating that cartoon character that walks around with the sign that says, “The end is near.” Well, it’s not.

It’s just that when you have seven billion people sharing a planet, some really amazing things, good and bad, will happen. Fanatics of all stripes have been a constant feature all through history. Pick an era and there has been one type of fanaticism or other, from the Vikings to the Romans to Genghis Khan and Hitler.

Wars have been a particularly devastating feature. The Civil War with 620,000 deaths – 2 percent of all Americans – was bad enough. Add the world wars, with 522,000 U.S. casualties and millions of others lost in battle, death camps, mass starvation, political and religious genocide, and you really do have an approximation of the end of the world.

But the world, led by the U.S., pulled itself out of that tailspin.

The one thing I notice about most of those reporters and commentators pontificating about the end of the world is their age. Being a 30- or 40-something and generally ignorant about history has poorly equipped them for helping the public understand what’s going on, and why. No matter what happens, it is the first time they’ve seen it, and they assume it’s the first time it’s happened. They don’t do their homework.

I don’t want to sound like everything is sunshine and butterflies. But we’re way better off than the commentators – most of whom seem to have slept through history class – would indicate.

They also seem to have missed out on the many great things Americans – and others – have accomplished over the past six decades.

When I was kid commercial jetliners were just beginning to enter service. Now I can go to an airport and board a flight that will get me anywhere on the planet in a matter of hours. Men have walked on the moon, and robots have explored Mars. Cancer and Aids, once thought to be nearly always fatal, are often survivable. Fantastic!

We stand at the precipice of a new year, and I am hopeful and optimistic – more than ever. Politicians come and go, and society occasionally manages to trip itself up, but the future is as bright as it’s ever been. 2018 is going to be a great year – maybe the best ever. I can’t wait!

Carl Sampson is a writer, editor and eternal optimist. He lives in Stayton, Ore.

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