Reflections on the Twentieth Century
By David Bardallis
Much is being written about the "new millennium" these days, everything from "Y2K" horror stories to the usual starry-eyed predictions and cynical doomsaying about what life will be like for humanity in the year 2000 and beyond. I remember hearing in my youth that all sorts of wonderful things were going to happen by 2000. Now, sitting here days from that mystical date, I am inclined to say that all that talk was just, well, talk.
After all, the twentieth century has been the bloodiest century in all of history, with an estimated 170 million human beings sent to their deaths in the name of communism, socialism, fascism, Nazism, democracy, and even "freedom." And this figure excludes those killed in actual wars. Has any good at all come out of this murderous age?
Well, yes. Quite a lot of good, really, when you compare the state of mankind at the beginning of the century with the many blessings we enjoy on the eve of the year 2000.
Some examples: In 1900, the average American male could expect to live 46.3 years; his wife, 48.3 years. Today, men can look forward to their 73rd birthdays, and women can expect to blow out 79.7 candles on their cakes. In 1900, 797 Americans per 100,000 died of infectious diseases; today, only 59 do. At the turn of the century, the average American earned an annual $4,748 in 1998 dollars; today, he rakes in $32,444. And purchasing power has increased: One hundred years ago, the average American worked 56 minutes to afford a half-gallon of milk, 16 minutes for a loaf of bread, and 2 hours 40 minutes for a three-pound chicken. Today, it's 7 minutes, 3.5 minutes, and 14 minutes, respectively.
Science and technology have brought about an immense improvement in mankind's earthly lot, but certainly everything is not rosey and gay. In order to support the U.S. leviathan responsible for some of those 170 million deaths, Americans have to fork over more of their productive lives than ever. In 1900, federal, state, and local governments combined spent 7.6 percent of GDP. On the eve of the twenty-first century, the federal government alone wolfs down 18.7 percent of GDP. State and local governments consume another 9.4 percent. "Tax Freedom Day," the day each American is finally done working to fund government at all levels, was January 31 in 1902. In 1999, it was May 11.
It's also hard to argue that humanity is better off from a spiritual and cultural standpoint. It's not as though humans were ever any less prone to immoral conduct than they are today, but the idea of public standards used to be more or less universally subscribed to rather than condemned. Characters in movies, regardless of the time or place the story is set in, always speak and act like twentieth-century American liberals. "Art" focuses almost exclusively on the disgusting, the bizarre, and the vulgar. Moral skepticism and relativism reign to such an extent that I regularly find myself arguing over the (I thought) non-controversial proposition that reality is real.
So will I miss the twentieth century? Yes, in the sense that I originated here twenty-eight years ago and, for good or ill, I am a product of my age. I acknowledge there is both good and evil to bid farewell to in this century of wars, progress, death, advancement, tax slavery, and wealth. But I look forward to the future with optimism for a rebirth of freedom, decency, and the understanding that, yes, Virginia, reality really is real.
Goodbye to the 1900s. Bring on "the aughts"!
David Bardallis lives and works in Michigan as a writer/editor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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