Are Things Really Getting Worse?

There is a natural pattern of older people thinking the current culture and trends are inferior to those of their youth.

I am not exempt from this, but I try to remain aware of my bias as much as possible. To this end, I check myself and flip perspective frequently to try to at least understand the point of view of those who think current culture and trends are an improvement over the past.

Every generation thinks theirs were “the good old days” and things are in decay. Each new generation laughs at this and is convinced these “good old days” are a bunch of sentimentalism and the present beats the past.

At least that’s what I’d observed and experienced my entire life until about five years ago.

Something changed, and now I’m wondering if it really is different this time.

Everyone – even young people – now seem to believe the past was superior to the present and even future, or at least near future. The disagreements are only over when things ‘peaked’. Some long for the very distant agrarian past. Some long for the optimistic 50s, the revolutionary 60s, the psychedelic 70s, or the glossy 80s. But the larger number seems to feel culture and “good times” peaked sometime in the 90s or early 2000s.

They debate the specific year, but this general idea is darn-near consensus. My teenage kids think this. Millennials think this. Gen Xers think this. (Boomers might think this too, though it’s hard to tell as they are largely too busy being grumpy and clinging onto their opinions and possessions as they squeeze out their remaining years. They don’t seem to worry much about the next generations.)

This is a very strange turn.

It breaks the typical pattern. It seems to signify that we are, in fact, in a decline. Materially, you can debate about whether it’s an improvement to have iPhones and WiFi while airplanes and customer service are worse, but culturally, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and perhaps cognitively and in physical health, most are fully convinced we have gone backwards. It’s hard to disagree.

It’s tough to determine the level of economic advancement, because it’s harder than ever for a young person to purchase a home in most places, yet they can connect with friends globally, create podcasts, work from anywhere, and many other things not previously possible.

The point is not to determine whether or not things are objectively better or worse. The interesting point is that everyone seems to subjectively experience things as worse and getting worse.

We seem to be sliding down the backside of a waning empire. There is a sadness, a frustration, but mostly an ironic resignation that everything is getting worse and no one knows how to stop it.

Everything breaks. Customer service is abysmal. No one seems to want to work. Pride of ownership is rare. Manners are all but nonexistent. Prices are high, debt is high, and optimism is in the trough.

The wonderful thing about this is it shatters all illusions of political or material salvation. Humans are in a vulnerable spot. We always are, but we can forget it when times are good. Realizing you are forces you to take stock, focus on what’s important, turn to God, and mind your own well-being instead of being a bored busybody for the world.

We were not made for this fallen world anyway. We are incompatible with it. We were made to take part in the process of redeeming it, and restoring it to its former glory as part of the Kingdom of God.

Best to stop feeling sad and get to work. Starting with our own hearts.