So, our time on the road is coming to an end. As we make our way back to the Big Apple we find ourselves reflecting on our weeks of traveling across America. Sure, we could dwell on all the fun we had, all the interesting sights we have seen, or on all the things that went wrong. Yet, that has not been our real takeaway from this experience. Ultimately, our journey has always been about the people. We have met people from New York to New Orleans, from Chicago, IL to Fayetteville, NC, and for the most part everyone has been kind, caring, and amazing. It has not mattered whether we were in a blue state or a red state, Americans have proven to be truly special people, and that is something worth remembering in today’s climate.
Gateway to Understanding
The news media has this tendency to cast everything in a bad light. We get it, good news doesn’t sell. However, sometimes this leads to a skewed perspective on the world. Talk to anyone who does nothing but stare at their Facebook feeds all day long. “The world is coming to an end.” To look at all the bad news and to watch what is going on out there you might think these are the end times. After all, violence is up, the economy is out of control, Donald Trump is being elected President. Surely the four horsemen are not far behind. Yet, that’s not the America we found out there, and its also not the first time we have thought like this either.
Traveling across the nation is also about traveling through our history. We spent some of our days visiting Native American sites, Civil War battlefields, and even Dollywood. When walking through such historic places it is almost impossible not to find yourself reflecting on the good the and bad of our collective history. That was especially apparent in St. Louis, where the Dredd Scott case took place. For anyone not familiar, Dredd Scott and his wife, Harriet were slaves who sued for their freedom. The case was lost, but the Scotts were eventually granted their freedom by their masters. The Supreme Court case made national headlines at the time, and proved to be a polarizing issue in the lead up to the Civil War. The court ruled that the Scotts were property and had no right to sue under the US legal system, but the legal battles raised awareness of the issues surrounding slavery and the decision helped galvanize support for the Emancipation Proclamation.
Similarly, while we were touring the famous St. Louis courthouse and learning about the case, one of our team picked up a newspaper. It was a souvenir reprint of the original newspaper that was published on the day the St. Louis Arch was completed. The main story was -of course- the towering new monument, completed in 1965. Yet, once you got pass that fluffy and inspiring article a further examination of the paper showed nothing but stories of political scandals and news of Vietnam. After all, 1965 was not exactly a calm year for the United States. So, picture holding that newspaper in your hand on the day it was printed. Despite the main story, it would not have been hard to look at all the scandal, war, conflict, and violence and believe that, “The world was coming to an end.”
Road Tripping Across History
That is kind of our point. Maybe we always think the world is coming to an end? Maybe that’s how it always goes.
In hindsight, we know that the world didn’t fall apart in 1965, and that slavery eventually did end, as did the Civil War, World War I, and the Cold War. It may seem that we live in a crazy world of turmoil, politics, terrorism, Pokémon, and heaven knows what else. It may seem that this is the worst time the world has ever faced. There are school shootings, and the government is coming for your guns, and taxes are out of control, and liberals are running the White House, and conservatives are running the Congress… But when you really look at history you begin to realize, that may just be the human condition. After all, wouldn’t you have felt the same if you lived through the Civil War? Didn’t they feel the same when Pearl Harbor was bombed? Didn’t people feel like the world could end any moment if the Russians ever dropped that bomb? And don’t even get us started on the 80’s -that was just one agonizing fear sandwich of a decade.
Our point is that during the Dredd Scott case all the slave owning white people probably thought the world was turning itself on its head, in the same way many evangelical Christians probably feel about Marriage Equality. When it was finally decided all the abolitionists probably screamed about the “backwardness of the country.” During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln had people who hated and blamed him as much as he had people who loved him, much like our current President. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the War in Afghanistan, the Iraq War… and maybe, we are a country doomed to repeat our own history. Maybe we are a people doomed to repeat our own panic attacks, because we always think our time was worse than anything before. Maybe it is time we all took a step back and looked at the world in comparison to our ancestors.
Two Steps Back, One Look Forward
The truth is that the world and America are going pretty well. According to ForeignPolicy.com, “combat deaths are the lowest they have been in 100 years.” We’re smarter than ever before. We’re living longer than ever before. Violent crime is way down. The number of people living in poverty has been cut in half in the past two decades. 22% of the world is getting energy from renewable resources, The US deficit has been cut by nearly 50% since 2009, and our taxes are among the lowest in the developed world. We have smart phones, and the Internet, and Netflix, and the ability to travel to anywhere on the globe in hours. We have rockets and robots on Mars, and even robots that have left our solar system. Our medical care is better than any time period before, and childhood death is so low that any incident has become unthinkable, which is something that was not true even 100 years ago.
Objectively, any person from any other time period would look at our world and claim that we lived in paradise, and yet all we see is the darkness. We tend to focus on the bad because of our perspective bias. We don’t know any other time or any other place, so we have no way to compare our personal experiences to that of someone else from another era. Couple that with the fact that we tend to look at the past with nostalgia. We see our childhood through rosy-colored glasses. We like to think it was amazing, and the world was better back then. Yet, while we were happy and content playing stickball -or whatever- there was racism, and war, and sexism, and poverty. We look at the past as better, but it really wasn’t. So we believe the cable news networks, or the nostalgic listicles, or the orange polticial candidates that tell us the world has “gone to hell,” and that “America was better in the old days,” because we feel as if it is true. It’s not.
Listen, we are not saying that is still not problems that are in dire need of fixing, because there are. Climate change is real, systemic racism still runs rampant, and terrorism is one of the defining problems of our times. All we are saying is that maybe we can try and dwell on the good sometimes too. On our trip, we met a lot of Americans of all religions, races, and political persuasions. We learned that they are all good and decent people, reasonable in their beliefs and their respect for life. We sometimes tend to construct these bloated ideas about other places or we demonize other people, and we never bother to verify those assumptions with our own experiences. Well, we here at The NYRD have done just that, and we can reassure you, life is pretty sweet, but there is no place like home.
New York, here we come.