There is a persistent belief (from which even Literary Review does not seem immune) that we live in particularly troubled times. A modest overview of history, however, indicates that most times have been turbulent and that every era has been awful for some people and often for many: it is just that today we have the world’s press (and the Internet) to tell us what is going on elsewhere. This sheer availability of information obscures as well as clarifies our view of things. It ought to mean that, reading of Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Tunisia or wherever is the hellhole of the week, we should realise our good fortune and thank fate for our peace and prosperity. But in practice we are so deluged with complaints, warnings and calls to indignation about our own society (which is what the press is there for, to provide drama and keep everyone on their toes) that we ignore these realities.
It may well be that our future is much less easy than the present. We shall see. But our anxieties about global warming, over-population, oil running out, and so on, however justifiable, are no different in essence from our forebears’ fears of the Day of Judgement, Norse raiders,