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Show us some good news

Even amid bad news, we have plenty of reasons for gratitude

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DOES THE WORLD SEEM a darker place these days?

A political campaign is shaping up that may redefine political campaigns, and not in a good way. Israel is fighting for its life (again), Russia is flexing its territorial muscles (again), China is threatening worldwide commerce and East Asian stability. Fentanyl deaths are on the rise, as is depression among the young and suicide rates among the middle-aged. Our two major political parties look increasingly dysfunctional, and government agencies look increasingly incompetent.

And yet, in significant ways, the world has never had it better. Humans are living longer, eating better, and enjoying more leisure time and wider opportunities. Why then do we feel so bad?

In the online libertarian journal Quillette, philosopher Maarten Boudry describes “Seven Laws of Pessimism” that influence First World gloom. Boudry is a skeptic and evolutionist, but his laws are instructive of human nature. For example:

“The Law of the Invisibility of Good News.” Progress happens gradually while setbacks are often sudden and dramatic. The corollary is “The Law of the Velocity of Bad News,” aka bleeding and leading. Boudry cites Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Nothing travels faster than the speed of light except bad news, which obeys its own special laws.

“The Law of Rubbernecking” is a mystery. Why do drivers inevitably slow down to observe a wreck along the highway since few of us enjoy viewing real-life disaster? Boudry credits evolution for training us to pay attention to blood and gore as a means of self-preservation. But equally peculiar is “The Law of Conservation of Outrage.” This is the observation that the safer and more prosperous a society becomes, the higher its expectations rise. And the outrage quotient remains the same as the microaggressions of today replace the violent aggressions of the past.

“The Law of Awful Attraction” notes that people will find what they’re subconsciously looking for, especially in the age of algorithms that respond to clickbait by offering more clickbait. Deluged with true-crime and disaster stories, we fall prey to “The Law of Self-Effacing Solutions”—once a problem is solved, we forget it and focus on new problems created by the solution.

No. 7 is “The Law of Disinfecting Sunlight,” or, “The freer a society, the more ugly things will surface.” College campus protests are a stellar example: The whippersnappers of today don’t realize how far we’ve come on the freedom-and-opportunity front, just as the whippersnappers of my day didn’t appreciate the sacrifices our reactionary parents made during depression and war. Refugees from oppressive nations could teach us a thing or two about oppression.

Beset by pessimism, “There are many who say, ‘Who can show us some good?’” (Psalm 4:6). Allow me to offer some.

Late in January my husband developed an infection that quickly escalated to septic shock and kidney failure. By the time I recognized the danger and called an ambulance, his life was on the line, though I didn’t yet know it. When the ambulance arrived, med techs hooked up fluids while still in our driveway. The ER team diagnosed his condition and began administering antibiotics and blood-pressure medication. After three hours of tests, the doctor told me my husband needed constant monitoring, and no ICU beds were available locally. Someone kept calling until they found a place for him two hours away.

My husband is alive and medically stable, owing to the alacrity, skill, and compassion of people who knew what to do. For all the troubling news, hundreds of hospitals churn out similar stories every day. Thousands of churches counsel the desperate, shelter the refugee, and clothe the needy, while faithful pastors persevere through conflicts and splits, preaching the gospel.

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is largely small and hidden, like a seed (see Law of Pessimism No. 1). But the seed is guaranteed to grow, and the harvest will be massive. That’s good news.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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