First, let’s dismiss one parochial notion — that the terrorist attacks of September 2001 were the major break point between centuries. Nonsense. We were engaged in the same struggle before and after. The U.S. shrugged off more damage during any month of World War II. Indeed, nothing could be more “twen-cen” or 20th century than the overwrought focus that some (not all) Americans apply to Sept. 11. Much of the world assigns no particular relevance to that date.
Oh, we are still in the 20th. Consider the pervading doom and gloom we see around us, right now. Post-apocalyptic tales and dystopias fill our fiction, films and politics, especially the Young Adult genre where today’s teens seem terminally allergic to stories containing hope. How very ’60s. And ’70s. And so on.
There was a similar sense of apocalypse in 1813 Europe, but at least there were good reasons, after decades of ferocious struggle that seemed poised to last forever. What excuse do we have, in a time when per capita violence has been plummeting for decades? When the fraction of kids — worldwide — who are well-fed and in school is higher than ever? Sure, the planet faces dire problems. But the things keeping us from addressing pollution, oppression, climate change and all of that are political inanities. The War on Science that has hobbled innovation, for example, can be won if we do one thing — tell the gloomcasters of both left and right to get out of our way and let us get back to problem-solving.