Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Is the World Exceptionally Terrible Right Now?

I keep hearing that the state of the world is unusually terrible at the moment. But I wonder if that is really true.

It is almost certainly true in terms of climate change. That just gets worse and worse and we, meaning the U.S. but also most of humanity, is doing next to nothing to try to stop it.

But usually when I hear people talking about how terrible the world is right now they are talking about war. I don't think there has been a moment in my life when there wasn't a war somewhere. Right now there are two really high profile wars (Russia/Ukraine and Israel/Gaza). Does that mean the world is more war-worn than usual?

I really don't know. The problem is that there are places in the world people in the U.S. care about and places they don't. It's not a conscious decision. A lot of people have not heard of certain places, or if they have heard of the place, they have not heard there is a war. It's reinforced by the U.S. media, who barely pay attention to wars in Africa and Asia unless the U.S. is involved (and even when it is, those wars can fade into the background, like Afghanistan often did during the 20 year America war there). A civil war in Ethiopia broke out, raged for two years, and then ended less than a year ago, but I bet most Americans have no idea it ever happened. For nine years there has been a war in Yemen that a lot of Americans are also unaware of, even though the U.S. has played an active role supporting and arming one side of the conflict. For over a decade, there has been an ongoing insurgency across the Sahel which has also involved the U.S. and has had major implications for France, Russia, and a bunch of African governments (several of which have been overthrown in coups related to the involvement of France and Russia in the region). But again, most Americans seem completely unaware any of that is going on, even people who are fairly tuned in to the news. Sudan has been in a civil war for the past six months but it only seemed to get any attention in American media when it first broke out and Westerners were trying to get out. The ongoing civil war in Myanmar is getting even less attention even though it seems pretty terrible with a lot of ethnic cleansing and massacres. Haiti has been in complete chaos after its president was assassinated two years ago and seems to be stuck in the grey zone between a civil war and gang violence ever since. Despite Haiti's proximity to the U.S., the situation there is largely ignored. And of course Syria and Afghanistan, wars that were covered in the past, have not really calmed down. While the Syrian government effectively recaptured a lot of its territory, it still hasn't regained control of everywhere. And while Afghanistan was conquered by the Taliban as the U.S. withdrew, almost immediately the Taliban was fighting the Islamic State's Central Asian chapter (IS-Khorasan).

When people talk about how horrible things are citing wars, they don't mention any of those conflicts even though they are collectively killing a lot of people. Americans care about themselves, and then Europe and Israel, and maybe a handful of other places that seem relatable because they have a lot of white people and are viewed as "like us" (e.g. Australia).

I guess my point is the world is always pretty terrible. I really have no idea if it is worse now than it usually is in terms of war and death. It might just be that the war and death are hitting more places we pay attention to and care about.