‘Even if we can beat nativism and the other virus, we’ll remain stuck with a worse problem: climate change’
The highlight of the week was probably watching Fox News last Saturday. It felt like East German state TV days after the Berlin Wall fell. Suddenly, the anchors were even-handed and fact-driven, gently correcting any to-the-bitter-end propagandists who still insisted that the Great Leader had won a glorious victory. (Declaration of interest: I am biased against Donald Trump. That may be because of my prejudice against lies, abuse, racist dog-whistling, environmental destruction, plutocracy and baseless anti-democratic conspiracy theories.) Then on Monday came news that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against coronavirus may be more than 90 per cent effective.
It was the best 48 hours of news in years. But there’s a human tendency to overvalue short-term events versus long-term trends. Even if we can beat nativism and the other virus, we’ll remain stuck with a worse problem: climate change. That’s why I suspect that my generation — Gen X, born between 1965 and about 1979 — will prove to have been the luckiest in history.
I used to be a Pinkerian. Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist, argues that whereas daily TV news is generally bad, the world’s long-term trends are good. Life expectancy and literacy rise over time, poverty and violence decline. Societies gradually stop treating women, ethnic and sexual minorities as second-class humans: see Kamala Harris’s election as vice-president.
Generation X, especially in the west, has ridden the Pinkerian train. Admittedly, we have a sulky inferiority complex because baby boomers have hogged the top jobs. In the US, for instance, more presidents were born in summer 1946 (three) than in all of Gen X (zero); even Barack Obama is a late boomer. The average chief executive of a large US company is 59 years old, according to headhunters Korn Ferry. But most Xers have lived better than boomers, many of whom grew up in cramped postwar apartments without hot water and lost parents or siblings young. Gen X’s one collective existential childhood fear, nuclear destruction, was fixed by Reagan and Gorbachev.