I know a man who can’t stop focusing on the bad things that are happening in the world. Maybe it’s because he watches so much network news, or maybe because he’s a high school counselor who has the outlook of any older man who perceives the youth of the day when they are at their worst, “kids these days,” he says. “They’re getting worse.” Which is probably the one thing every old man has said and then–the world keeps turning, spinning.
I told him about a village my dad taught school at back in the 1970s in Nepal. Back then there was no electricity. Everyone stayed in the village. If your father was a farmer, you’d be a farmer. The cast system was very strict then. Girls were made to marry at 11 or 12 years old. There was only one girl in the whole school. 40 years later my dad returned to the village. They had gotten power. The school was larger. half of the students were young girls. Couples were no longer wed without consent, and not before they were in their early 20s. When asked how many children they would have nearly all of them said one, maybe two. Every little boy, and every little girl wanted to leave the village, go to college in the UK or United States. The quality of life, the education, everything has improved. My dad helped bring them internet, and suddenly all the knowledge in the world was available to them.
This is a small example of a small town, but the fact is, this is a true example that is happening all over the world. That’s how I see the world moving forward.
Some weeks ago I had a conversation with some friends about the nature of people. The sad long history of war and famine and poverty throughout our civilizations that constantly look for other civilizations to war with or slowly consume themselves.
There’s a school of thought in popular culture, propagated by the media in all its many forms, as well as many politicians on both sides of the spectrum. This school of thought say things are worse now than ever before. It’s easy to point to drone strikes, it’s easy to point to the complete neglect of African Nations and the Middle East–it’s easy to look at the ISIS crisis and feel as though more things are going wrong now than ever before. In the United States the mass shooting epidemic has reached historic levels with the Orlando incident.
But the problem with this belief that things are worse now than ever before is that’t not true. Do bad things still happen? Yes. Of course. And they will likely continue to happen. But these bad things are much less bad than past happenings.
Nobody is a fan of drones these days, yet drones have played a significant role in the halting the advance of ISIS. Are drones used in dubious ways and are innocent people killed? Certainly. But the carpet bombings of Hanover and fire bombings of Tokyo would be considered war crimes now. Those attacks were deliberately carried out to kill large civilian populations, as much as manufacturing plants. Now, at least we have an educated guess and try to discriminate where bombs land. It hasn’t always been this way. Nor did we care.
This is not an advocate for more drone use. It’s an example that drones are better than carpet bombings.
Steven Pinker, a linguist, has written a book that addresses the fact that things are not worse now than ever before. He argues that things are getting better, and he lays out his case with specifics through human history. This book is called The Better Angels of Our Nature. While this topic seems depressing, it doesn’t have to be. This book certainly isn’t and will have you looking at the world in more uplifting terms.
I’ve been reading this book by Chris Abani. Abani is a Nigerian-American writer. His mother was very English. But His father, Nigerian, so where is the American in him? Well–he lives in the United States. And he has done for years. He is American now.
The book I’m reading is called The Secret History of Las Vegas. It’s brilliantly written, though one of the creepier books I’ve ever picked up. It’s a novel about a man who does studies on psychopathy. A scary topic, to say the least.
Chris Abani has a TED Talk he did some years ago. 2008, actually. It is about humanity. But it’s also about how Africa is constantly in a state of rebuilding itself and it’s identity. in this TED Talk for instance, he explained that, until the genocide in Rwanda, the word for rape and marriage were actually the same. There may have been a difference in the context the word was used that changed it’s meaning, but this reflects a culture that accepted rape on a scale not seen for many hundred years in the western world. However, after the genocide, a word was created for this act in Rwanda. And this thing was rebuilt not as marriage, but as a crime and atrocity, and it was done so by women.
Abani speaks of apartheid a lot. And to think partied only ended in 1991, and even then, all the laws were only abolished in 1994. And it hasn’t been so long. What identity does South Africa have? What must it rebuild for it’s citizens and those who call it home. Apartheid was an era that rivals the monstrosities of the Third Reich, yet most people ignore it, or do not know about it. It feels like ancient history for many.
But in South Africa, in Africa at large, the repercussions of apartheid are still being felt. It is still a dangerous country, a dangerous continent, rife with civil unrest.
Abani brings these issues to his novels. He reminds readers that the struggles of Africa are the same struggles of the western and eastern worlds. They are human rights. They are constantly being rebuilt.