I'm conscious that many of my posts are concerned with how much better things were back in the day, the era when giants stalked the earth - we shan't see the like of Auberon Waugh, Richard Widmark, The Specials, Kingsley Amis and Marty Feldman again (well, not until the next Specials reunion tour) - back in a time when small children were resourceful enough to make guys and go-carts, when girls addressed me as 'moi dorrl'in', and real men wore cravats. Manifestly superior in many ways, I think you'll agree.
But having intensively studied the subject I can reveal that an old-ish git's nostalgia is not a sensible way in to assessing, objectively and with balance, the merits of our past in relation to our present. And when I'm not feeling intimations of mortality and a hankering for youthful pleasures, I can readily see that we're living in something of a golden age (or perhaps a silver age? Anyway precious metals figure somehow).
I adverted to this in a previous post. And it's one of the reasons I instinctively react against all those miserable doomsters, predicting the world's going to end because present-day man is fallen; malign when not being useless. So it was heartening to come across a well-founded and convincing argument that we live in an age of peace and harmony, at least relative to all the other ages that have gone before.
Below is a lecture by Stephen Pinker (right), introduced to me by Mark, a commenter on Bryan Appleyard's recently returned blog. It's just under twenty minutes long and is a sharpish trot through a lot of excellently summarised research. Worth watching but here's the argument's headline: in the present day, versus each of the prehistoric, medieval, early modern, and the pre-1945 modern eras, proportionately fewer people are being killed by other people. In comparison to the earlier eras vastly fewer.
I would have thought we could all agree that 'the relative number of people being killed by other people' is not a bad metric by which to measure some form of moral progress. Unless, I suppose, you believe that as a consequence fewer people are getting their just deserts and discipline has gone to the dogs. As I overheard on a train journey a few years ago: "capital punishment never did me no harm when I was at school"...o tempora, o mores!