Looking Ahead, Warily, At 2014

On January 1, it’s always tempting to review the old year and look ahead to the new.

So, what about 2013? Most people seem to think it was a pretty mediocre year in the world — not terrible, certainly, but nothing to do handsprings about. Bill Moyers argues, however, that 2013 was the best year in human history. Moyers contends that the arc of history is moving in a favorable direction and that big picture, long-term factors, such as people living longer, less extreme poverty, less frequent and less deadly wars, less violent crime, and less discrimination, made 2013 a year to celebrate.

072Those of us who experienced it, of course, don’t typically compare our lives to those of serfs in the Middle Ages, so we tend not to take the long view — but perhaps we should. I think that any year that ends with family and friends experiencing health and happiness should be chalked up as a pretty good year. Why shouldn’t the world as a whole look at years the same way?

What should we expect in 2014? Will it be an ill-omened year? After all, in the last century the year ending in ’14 was an unfettered disaster that saw the start of a senseless war that killed millions of people for no apparent reason and ultimately contributed to the rise of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Let’s hope we’re not on a 100-year cycle here, because 1914 clearly was one of the worst years in history.

Speaking of which, The Atlantic recently published an article in which experts identified the worst years in history. One picked 1914, but more picked 1918, when the First World War ended in massive bloodshed and then an influenza outbreak began that killed additional millions. Others picked 1942 and 1943, when World War II raged and the Holocaust was at its height; still another selected the year more than 65 million years ago when a huge asteroid struck the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, wiping out all life for hundreds of miles and causing a mile-high tsunami that wiped clean the east coast of America.

So, let’s have a little perspective here as we head into another new year. I’m not insisting that 2014 be one of the best years in human history, I’m just hoping it’s not one of the worst.