Are We Set to Emerge from a Dark Age in 2022?

Moonlight and LightPerhaps this is a familiar pattern – a mixture of good news and bad news. The bad news is likely not really news. Many people are comparing our difficult circumstances of this past year to the so-called dark ages. But the good news is that it isn’t hard to see signs we are set to emerge from that dark age in 2022.

The problems that have plagued us are familiar enough. At the top of our list is an approach to obesity for which the only adequate description is primitive. Something akin to hanging a scarlet “F” on the people who are living with it.

But, of course, it’s much more than that. Petula Dvorak makes a compelling case that many aspects of this past year seem positively medieval:

“Isn’t that what our nation has been stewing in these past few years — a medieval pottage of religious extremism, anti-science sneering, conspiracy theories, and ill-conceived, ragtag, spear-and-pole crusades? Heck, we even have a plague.”

Medieval Social Systems

Describing his recent book on neo-feudalism, Joel Kotkin writes:

“Following a remarkable epoch of greater dispersion of wealth and opportunity, we are inexorably returning towards a more feudal era marked by greater concentration of wealth and property, reduced upward mobility, demographic stagnation, and increased dogmatism. If the last seventy years saw a massive expansion of the middle class, not only in America but in much of the developed world, today that class is declining and a new, more hierarchical society is emerging.

“The new class structure resembles that of Medieval times.”

This depressing view is certainly consistent with the widening disparities we witnessed in the pandemic. It lines up with health systems that serve the wealthy well in America and left minorities and working class people to suffer much harsher outcomes.

Attention to Disparities

And yet, when it came to vaccination, many communities that are used to getting short shrift in medical care got special attention. Vaccines were absolutely free. People living with obesity got priority for receiving the vaccine. Outreach to communities of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color was a priority.

It doesn’t reverse centuries of disparities, but it’s a breadcrumb on the trail out from a forest of extreme disparities. The trail is long and tortuous because it follows that long arc toward justice we’ve been talking about since the middle of the 19th century. No matter that it’s long, we still believe in it.

A Global Embrace of Science

Another reason for optimism is the suggestion that we are seeing a global embrace of science. We’ve seen many false prophets in this pandemic. But the science that produced vaccines in record time with remarkable effectiveness has been a stunning hero. Even in the face of the omicron variant, it is performing well. Because of that science, we are headed toward a future where this pandemic will evolve into an endemic nuisance. But not a dire threat that dictates our every move.

Science is also slowly but inexorably pushing our culture away from the shame and blame game attached to obesity. We are making our way toward a future where people broadly understand that obesity is a problem of biology, not choice. Partly this is happening because science is pointing the way to effective and ethical care for obesity. Anti-science diet culture and obesity denialism are living on borrowed time.

Humans can indeed be superstitious and suspicious of science. Healthy skepticism should never be dismissed. But our hope remains stubborn. We will not be swayed from believing that goodwill is stronger than bad faith. This new year can indeed be a time when we emerge from a difficult time with the help of science, reason, and human compassion.

Moonlight and Light, painting by Leon Spilliaert / WikiArt

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January 2, 2022

2 Responses to “Are We Set to Emerge from a Dark Age in 2022?”

  1. January 02, 2022 at 2:02 pm, Chester Draws said:

    It’s all hysteria anyway. Our current economic system doesn’t resemble medieval disparity in any way.

    Back then you were born poor and stayed poor, or born rich and stayed rich.

    Now most people start out with very little ( negative often after university) and many of us end up well off. Our disparity is not class based, it’s age based.

    Yes, some people don’t end up better off as they age. In the Middle Ages those people literally starved, not worried about obesity.

    We have some billionaires. They were not born that wealthy. In three generations their descendents will almost all not be billionaires.

    It’s not similar in any way.

    • January 03, 2022 at 9:45 am, Ted said:

      I’m not surprised to learn that you see no problem with well-documented economic disparities, Chester. No doubt there are others who feel the same way that you do about this.