Many, if not most, of us fear the future. And rightly so. When we peer into the future, there are seemingly endless uncertainties of grave consequence. Regardless of your beliefs or political persuasion, you can easily find some trend or future possibility to keep you up at night.
But our outrage, despair, and hatred are not simply about our fear of the future. Many of us believe that loss is well underway, that human society is already in decline.
In a 2015 YouGov poll of over 18,000 people across 17 countries, 58% of respondents reported that they believe the world is getting worse, while only 11% said it was getting better. In a 2017 US News and World Report survey of over 21,000 people across 36 countries, 60% of respondents reported they believe the world is worse off now than a year ago. In a 2017 Ipsos survey of over 26,000 people across 38 countries, only 35% said they believe conditions for people around the world will get better in the next 15 years.
Around the world, likely billions of humans believe that they and their societies are worse off today than in years past. Many believe this trend will only continue over the course of the next decade or two and even for entire future generations. Some even believe this is a permanent feature, that our best days as a species are behind us.
Some go so far as to say that humanity will soon face an apocalyptic disaster ending society as we know it. According to a 2020 YouGovAmerica poll, 29% of American respondees believe such an apocalyptic event (whether a pandemic, nuclear winter, climate collapse, or the rapture) will happen in their own lifetimes. They believe our demise is not only certain but imminent.
As the narrator says in Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, “We are definitely living in a way that is going to put an end to creation. If we go on, there will be no successors to man, no successor to chimpanzees, no successor to gorillas, no successor to anything alive now. The whole thing is going to come to an end with us.”
Likely more than any other time in our history, humans believe our species is in decline, perhaps even careening swiftly, hopelessly toward our very demise.