Thursday, December 29, 2016

The "Worst" Year Ever

I find myself shuffling through the slushiness of poor perspectives.

The death of Carrie Fisher seems to be the proverbial straw breaking the back of the camel.  The cry "2016 is the worst year ever" and "How could you 2016?" are now replete upon the Interweb.  To judge by the outpouring of angst, this seems to be labeled as "the worst year ever".

What it really seems to reveal is more about our own myopia.

One hardly thinks that this year could be labeled as worse than the years 1346-1352, the years of the Black Plague.  That was pretty bad.  The years 1939-1945 come to mind as well if you were almost anywhere living in the world.  For that matter, the years just prior to that - 1929-1933 - were no walk in the park either.

For more fun, here by the numbers are the 10 deadliest natural disasters of all time (courtesy of Wikipedia)

RankDeath toll (estimate)EventLocationDate
11,000,000–4,000,000*[1]1931 China floodsChinaJuly 1931
2900,000–2,000,000[2]1887 Yellow River floodChinaSeptember 1887
3830,000[3]1556 Shaanxi earthquakeChinaJanuary 23, 1556
4450,000 (242,000–655,000)1976 Tangshan earthquakeChinaJuly 28, 1976
5375,000 (250,000–500,000)[1]1970 Bhola cycloneEast Pakistan (now Bangladesh)November 13, 1970
6300,000[4]1839 India cycloneIndiaNovember 26, 1839
7300,000[5]1737 Calcutta cycloneIndiaOctober 7, 1737
8280,0002004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamiIndian OceanDecember 26, 2004
9273,400[6]1920 Haiyuan earthquakeChinaDecember 16, 1920
10250,000–300,000[7]526 Antioch earthquakeByzantine Empire (now Turkey)May 526

I am pretty sure any one of these years would also qualify as the worst year ever for anyone involved.

Sadly, we have come to colloquially define catastrophic events not in terms of their actual outcome and impact but the perceived impact to our personal world view.  Our "heroes" (I use the term loosely) die and so the year is awful: our memories are assaulted, our nostalgia is ruined, and so we use words which really should be reserved for the significant things to define those that are not significant.  We care not for the past and so ignore it; we care not for the world around us and so we forget it.

The sad reality, of course, is that by wasting such definitions on things that while individually tragic do not rise to the level of true tragedy, we discredit the use of the words themselves and, if we are not careful, we lose the ability to differentiate the truly awful from the temporally sad.  


Rev. Paul said...

Excellent point, sir. Thank you.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Thanks Reverend. I am just rather shocked by the whole ordeal.