A still better world?

When our children were little they learned at Sunday school that, "Mr. Noah built an ark. The people thought it such a lark ..." They sang with gusto and glee as "down came the rain in torrents" and "only eight were saved." Splish! Splash! Great fun was had by all, as they rehearsed the destruction of the world.
The myth of the ark contains two persisting themes. First, the world is very bad—so bad that God has no choice but to destroy it. Second, the good are so few—a small minority who must take refuge in the ark, and batten down the hatches against the wickedness all around!
In today's culture wars, the warring sides find little agreement. Perhaps ironically, the only points of agreement are that the world is a terrible place, getting worse each day, and "we few are the only righteous ones left." Both right and left replay the gloomy themes in the ever present, super-invasive media. Good news doesn't sell newspapers, and pundits to the right and left remind us constantly of the coming apocalypse.
When tragedies happen, it reinforces the apocalyptic predictions. The terrible Florida school shooting this week reinforced the doomsayers. The horror of calculated, systematic, and random killing in a school is our worst nightmare. Though it ought to be unthinkable, our imagination takes us to the possibility that it might be our children, our friends, ourselves caught in the horror. We want to respond, need to respond, but don't know how to respond. Hearts ache for those who are caught up in it. To the left this new mass murder is a sure sign the world is slipping rapidly into violent chaos. To the right, mass murder is a sign to reach for more personal weapons to ward off the bad guys. Both responses were predictable. I share neither perspective.
This week, I received Steven Pinker's new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. The book is the much-awaited follow on from his 2012, The Better Angel of Our Nature. Like his earlier book, Pinker here offers a perspective on the state of the world at odds with the media doom peddling. Taken long term, on just about any measurement, the world is better now than it was. It is a counterintuitive thesis. We are attuned to the idea that things are always getting worse. Events like the Florida shooting prove it. Yet, terrible though this was—and I do not want to minimize the grief of those who are suffering—taken long term we are safer now than we have ever been. Mass killings are terrible events. Yet, the homicide rate in the United States—number of homicides per 100,000 of the population—is drastically down from over 90 in the seventeenth century, to 5 in 2015. Even the recent peak of around 10 in 1980 has been halved in the last 30 years. (Enlightenment Now, 170-171). In New England the rate hovers around 1 homicide per 100,000 of the population, in line with much of Western Europe. In another comparison, in the USA in 2015, 15,696 people were murdered (still far too high a number), but 35,398 died in motor vehicle accidents, and 136,053 died in accidents of other sorts, out of a total of 2,626,418 deaths (192). This, of course, does not diminish the suffering of those who lose loved ones to brutality. But, it is a different and needed perspective. Though we grieve with those who grieve, in the long term that we are making progress is a necessary perspective for our mental health.
Nor does this perceptive mean we stop working toward a better society.  One mass shooting is one too many. Much remains to be done, and we set ourselves to the task through education, care, political work, and action.
The myth of Noah's ark ends with hope. In the story, God is sorry that the world was destroyed and God promises never to do it again. Rainbows remind us of God's promise. The point of the story is not the terribleness of the world, but that whatever the state of the world there is hope.
Even so, the bow in the sky is often forgotten. We seem more comfortable with the doom and gloom of the  impending flood.
Against the trend, I shall fix my eyes on the bow in the sky, take solace in the long term signs of progress, and work for a still better world.
Be kind to each other today,
+Ab. Andy