Are we happy in our time? Can we expect to be happy with the world in which we live in the 21st century? We’re so connected to stories from everyone, everywhere – often sans filter – that it’s possible to feel that the world is an ugly place. And that it’s getting a lot more ugly.
US President Barack Obama said as much, so well, recently, in Laos. Addressing a gathering of young people, he admitted the sort of daily wars – between optimism and pessimism – that each of us faces every day, when we scroll through our cellphones and cast an eye over our social media feeds. It’s easy, said Mr Obama, to feel that the world is worse off. That we’re more riven by hate. That bombs are going off everywhere. That everyone has it in for everyone else. That everything’s going to hell in a handbasket.
“I think we all have ti recognize these are turbulent times. A lot of countries are seeing volatile politics,” Mr Obama said. “But then when you look back over the course of eight years, actually you find out things have gotten better.”
This is, he added, the best time in the world to be born.
Is that the usual patter of the consummate politician? Or is the world really a better place today?
If it is, how to explain #Brexit and the rash of hate attacks in the UK after the result?
How to explain Donald Trump’s isolationist ‘America First’?
And Viktor Orban of Hungary?
The rise of the AfD in Germany?
Surely the deep and very real experience of terrorism within our borders – every country and thereby, all borders – is real. The fear is real and surely it militates against Mr Obama’s easy reckoning that “things have got better”?
How to explain the world’s paralysis over Syria, five years into its terrible war, five years of slaughtered children, fleeing families, bloodied cities?
But the world is a better place for a lot of people.
Funnily, even Americans, the largest bloc of voting world-citizens currently appearing to back isolationism, protectionism, exclusivism and hate, seem to agree with Mr Obama.
A new poll from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs seems to show that the American public believes the world is a better place, at least in the sense that it wants to stay in touch with the rest of the planet.
Despite the negative rhetoric from Donald Trump and his supporters, the poll found 65 per cent of Americans affirming that globalization is mostly good for the United States. Seventy per cent of Americans said globalization made things better for them as consumers (75 per cent for Democrats, 66 per cent for Republicans and 69 per cent for independents) and 64 per cent said their standard of living had improved as a result. Nearly 60 per cent of Americans said international trade was good for the US economy; 57 per cent said it was good for US companies.
That doesn’t sound like a country turning its back on the the happy interlinked pathways of the world.