The rivers surrounding Manhattan were once disgusting. Millions of people live in my city, and just 25 years ago, pipes simply carried the waste from their bathrooms, untreated, right into the Hudson and East rivers. Now, treatment plants clean the sewage, and the rivers around Manhattan are so clean you can legally swim in the Hudson. I swim there -- within sight of the Empire State Building.
The media rant about new dangers such as West Nile virus, avian flu and SARS. You'd think life was more dangerous than ever. But how many Americans died during last year's SARS crisis? None. Worldwide, SARS killed fewer than 1,000 people. Yet for weeks, it was the terrifying headline du jour. By contrast, the health crisis of 1918 was the flu.
It killed 20 million.
Perspective, please. Americans are healthier than ever. I asked the elementary-school students about polio, diphtheria and rheumatic fever. They hadn't heard of them. "We have conquered the killer diseases that wiped out as many as a third to a quarter of population in previous times," said Moore. And we take that for granted.
In general, that's what people do: We conquer the challenges that face us. We make our world better. Innovations in nearly every field make us healthier and safer than we used to be, and let us do things that used to be impossible. Eventually, we take even the most brilliant inventions -- such as the light bulb -- for granted. The average American not only lives 30 years longer than his counterpart of a century ago, he lives much better.
We should complain less and celebrate the good.