“For a while now, the media has been debating the cause of a wave of teenage unhappiness in the U.S. The other day, the Washington Post writer Taylor Lorenz posted a series of tweets in which she argued the main reason teens are unhappy is simply that they realize the world around them is a “hellscape”:
Now, as someone who has struggled with clinical depression for two decades, I’ll be the last person to tell the good people of the world to buck up, turn that frown around, and realize that everything is going to be OK. Because in a deep sense, it’s not going to be OK — we’re all going to die, and almost all of us will do so without accomplishing at least some of the things we wanted to. Many grievous injustices will go unpunished, many terrible things will happen to good people, and many empires will strike back without Jedi ever returning. You’re probably a worse driver than you think you are. The sun will grow and swallow the Earth, the stars will wink out, and the Universe will inexorably decay into meaningless noise.
Let’s forget about the heat death of the Universe for a moment (which in my experience is the only good way to deal with it), and talk about the specific stuff that the doomers are dooming about. Most of it is just not nearly as bad as they say. Many Twitter users rushed to point out all the flaws in Lorenz’ claims.
The default dooms aren’t so dire
First, let’s talk about “late capitalism”. This term is a holdover from the days when lots of people really believed in a Marxist version of historical destiny, in which capitalism would ultimately destroy itself from its own contradictions and socialism would inevitably succeed it. Yet somehow capitalism just keeps getting later and later, and the prophesied self-destruction keeps not happening. In fact, quite the opposite. Even as capitalism has conquered the world, humanity is richer now than it has ever been, and for the last three decades income growth has been concentrated in low-income countries. Poverty is down at every level, not just in rates but in absolute numbers. Wage inequality is down a bit as well, with wages rising strongly for low earners since the mid-2010s. This is at least partly a result of the fact that practically everyone who wants a job in the U.S. has a job.
Lorenz is extremely wrong when she claims that the U.S. has “0 social safety net”. As you can see from the chart, U.S. public social spending has risen steadily as a share of GDP. We have Social Security, SSDI, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, Section 8 housing vouchers, SNAP, the EITC, the child tax credit, and many other safety net programs. This safety net does leave much to be desired — I would much prefer that this thicket of targeted benefits be simplified by giving people cash, and that onerous and usually pointless work requirements be repealed. But to claim that the U.S. has no social safety net is to promulgate fantasy. And this safety net has real and amazingly positive effects:
Many forecasters now expect the peak of annual global emissions to occur in the next couple of years. And meanwhile, our institutions of science, industry, and government have now all been alerted to the danger, and are pouring increasing resources into the green energy transition.
In other words, climate change is definitely going to be a bumpy ride for the planet, and it’s not yet certain that we’ll defeat it in time to save ourselves from major harm. But recent progress is extremely encouraging…
Doomerism is a psychological tendency that must be constantly and actively resisted. And in the modern day, that’s no easy task. Plenty of research shows that negative news is more attention-grabbing than positive news. And with the advent of social media, it’s not just click-hungry media outlets bombarding you with negative news — it’s every clout-chasing 2000-follower account hoping for their big break. There’s always plenty of bad stuff going on in the world, but now there are literally millions of people with an incentive to find every bit of that bad stuff and shove it directly into your face, hoping you’ll reward them with a retweet or a follow…. Read more here