Life Wasn’t Meant to Get Worse
When I was young I thought I would grow up in an ever improving world. Now, I fear for my son.
When I grew up, things generally got better. I was born in the 1970s. Think black-and-white TV, analog telephones, smoking around children, and rubbish food. What’s more, as a Londoner, I lived through the IRA bombings, social unrest like the miners’ strike and poll tax riots, and of course the constant and very real fear of the “three-minute warning” — the siren that would tell us a nuclear war had started and Russian missiles would arrive within three minutes. People born after the end of the Cold War can’t imagine that so recently we all thought we were going to die in a nuclear war. The three-minute warning meant we should hide under tables, but we all knew that we would just say our goodbyes and wait. As a child I had nightmares about this. People talked about it all the time. It was very real.
But by the 1990s, I was living in a post-Cold War world, one where we no longer feared a nuclear apocalypse. We had the internet, mobile phones, reassuringly boring centrist politics, economic growth, and considerably better food. We came to our senses and let science guide us. We removed all the weird additives from the food I grew up on, we had healthier lifestyles, and we stopped smoking around children. Life expectancies grew — that is the surest sign that society is doing things right. This was truly the culmination of the Enlightenment — rational politics based on facts, science, and sense.
Also unlike younger people now, I grew up alongside a generation who had lived through one or even two wars. And that didn’t just mean living with people who had fought and killed in battle. The parents and grandparents of my youth had been refugees, survived concentration camps, lost brothers, sisters, and parents in bombing raids and death camps. They grew up with food rationing and in neighborhoods surrounded by bombed buildings. If the 1990s were better than the 1970s, it was a different world altogether compared to the 1930s and 1940s, when my parents were born.