The Importance of Perspective

Without historical perspective it is far too easy to become discouraged or depressed by the world around us. Lighten up! It’s not as bad as it seems.

What a difference a little distance makes!

But time can also be a measure of distance, and “point-of-view” can distort over time.  When “Occupy Wall Street” and its cousin movements (“Occupy __________”) emerged it was interesting to watch the reaction within the online law enforcement community.  Stories about OWS and their shenanigans, especially as they related to how they and the police interacted with each other, created quite a racket on the comment blogs of this and other police sites.  Overwhelmingly condemned, the OWS activists were castigated for their crimes - real and imagined - and for many of the things they said all in pursuit of some rather ambiguous, unlikely, and poorly articulated goals.  Fair enough, but what became unfair was how many commenters were quick to jump in with sweeping generalizations - “The OWS protesters are all (Liberals!  Communists!  Criminals!  Anarchists!  Dopers!  Lazy!  Unemployable!  Etc, etc, etc!!)” - was just one set of epithets.  To some, they represented the whole of a generation, uniformly spoiled and unfit to be heard or trusted. 

Worse, many of the LEO and LEO supporters who commented seemingly embraced a fatalistic view of the future, taking as evidence the OWS movement.  Surely, with attitudes and young people such as these, society is on the verge of irreparably crumbling into anarchy and despair!   

Since then (and before, truth be told) ever more harbingers of doom clearly show society teeters on the edge of chaos:  Mass murder in a Colorado theater; more campus shootings; flash mobs (NOT the fun, come together to dance in the street then disappear kind) in Chicago robbing and beating people on the Miracle Mile; murder and infanticide.  Clearly, collapse of our way of life, and all we struggle to protect, is imminent!

Really?  Because I simply don’t think so.  History is on our side. 

History discredits the notion that ours is a time somehow worse than ever before, or that the trials we face differ greatly or pose greater threats than earlier generations somehow managed to overcome.  Violence and lawlessness within certain communities is nothing new, and from a historical perspective is not nearly as bad as through much of our past.  Violence against children is always especially vicious and disturbing, but I would wager that, while occurrences are more prominent today than ever – a function of greatly expanded media and growing awareness – crime rates against children are no greater than in decades past and their prominence may actually increase awareness and overall safety for the vast majority of kids.  And the criminality and impact of organized criminal enterprises shocks the senses, but they always have. 

Of course it seems things are so much worse now, and to a great extent I blame the very expansion of online media I also love and participate in as both a producer and consumer.  “If it bleeds, it leads” is an old axiom of media, and what would have once been horrible but strictly local or regional stories just a few years ago now go viral in minutes.  Is it any wonder we feel so inundated with tragedy?  Is it any wonder we so easily give in to fatalism?  Life has always been precarious for individuals, and more so for some than others.  We all face disease and physical threats, and someday some is going to get each and every one of us, but expected life spans are much longer than for our parents and grandparents and, even if we choose not to live a healthy lifestyle, the knowledge of how to is easily accessible.  The continued existence of humanity is far more certain.  Society, in some form, will survive.  We’ve not quite reached living in a  Mad Max world.

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