2016? As the sign guy said, “Geez.”
Yes, there have been far worse years in history. Yes, it’s in our (and the media’s) nature to give too much weight to bad, short-term news. Sure, you can take solace in the vast longer-term strides humanity has made, or in devil-may-care existential nihilism, or in hopeful bromides—the arc of the moral universe, yadda yadda. Choose your flavor of forced optimism, and indulge in it all you want. By any objective measure, this has still been an awful year.
It’s not just because of Aleppo, Nice, Brussels, Orlando, and other milestones in carnage. Nor because of the rise of Trump, Farage, Le Pen, Fillon, Duterte, and other merchants of hatred. Nor because free trade and movement are on the retreat. Nor even because a newly isolationist US, resurgent Russia, and aggressive China are about to take the world’s geopolitical balance and shake it like a snow-globe.
No: It’s also because this has been the year of post-truth, when the combined effects of polarizing social media, weakening traditional media, shameless politicians, and economic and political tribalism reached their logical destination. In countries whose systems of governance were premised on at least a veneer of reasoned debate about mutually agreed-on facts, the scope for such debate is shrinking fast. This is fundamental. Don’t like the way the world is going? Want to change it? How do you convince people if they won’t even hear you?
So yes; things are bad, and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise. But it’s equally foolish to wallow in despair. Whether history records 2016 as the start of a new age of darkness, or just the darkness before a new dawn, is still up to us—each one of us. Don’t like the way the world is going? Want to change it? There’s no shortage of ideas.
This was published in the weekend edition of the Quartz Daily Brief, our roundup of the world’s most important news and ideas. Sign up here to get the brief in your inbox each morning, tailored to your time zone.