Happy New Year from Tangents

I sometimes wonder if violence is the new normal.

2015 was an exceedingly difficult year on the world stage. ISIS continued its reign of terror. Vladimir Putin’s proxy war in the Ukraine lacked resolution. Citizens in the Western countries were increasingly fearful of terrorist cells in their territories. People realized that the Eastern conflicts seen on TV were no longer remote, if they ever were remote at all. The United States confronted unsettling racial truths that many white Americans had tried to ignore for the last 30 years. Our climate continues to change in disastrous ways. Meanwhile, amid all this uncertainty, we see demagogues and dictators grasping for power around the world — Putin, Xi, Kim, Le Pen, al-Assad, Trump, etc.

Am I concerned that the refugees pouring into Europe from the Middle East will not make it through the coming winter? Yes. Am I worried about the renewed Cold War between Russia, America, and China? Yes. Am I fearful that our planet will heat up, harbor extra CO2, desertify, and otherwise become unsafe for life? Yes. Am I deeply concerned about resurgent religious and ethnic animosity around the world, including in the United States? You bet. Even so, I do not feel the need to run around screaming. This is not a time to panic.

As a historian, I know that life was not easier in the past. There is no golden age without violence or conflict that we can cite for inspiration. If anything, the latest statistics show that violence is down internationally, even if the news media made 2015 seem worse than usual. On the issue of climate change, the recent Paris climate accords and the environmental pact between America and China provide genuine, if cautious, hope for sustainable progress. And for all the incidents of racial and religious prejudice, there are many people opposing them. Look at the Muslims in Kenya who shielded Christians from Al-Shabaab terrorists. Look at the Americans who disposed of the Confederate flag, or denounced Donald Trump’s inflammatory statements. Look at the Europeans who try to assist refugees, instead of attacking them.

Heading into 2016, I encourage you to take a collective deep breath. A state of panic will only bring out the worst in us. Tonight, instead of engaging in complete debauchery — or, perhaps, before you indulge in debauchery — hug your loved ones. Take a minute not to make frivolous resolutions, but to write down a few specific things you can do to make your corner of the world better in 2016.

— Dan Gorman,


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