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The Superficial Oddity of the Present

Sam Taylor

Posted on December 23, 2020 00:47

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There's no time like the present. The year 2020 has brought many, unprecedented challenges and societal ailments, requiring a unique set of social and political responses. But in a sense, the unprecedented nature of contemporary catastrophe is merely an illusion.

While reading some of this week's news, I came across a disheartening story. On Sunday, the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii erupted, prompting the NOAA to issue a series of warnings asking locals to stay indoors and avoid the ash fallout. Wonderful — I thought, — another terrible thing to add to the slew of terrible things in 2020. Now the perpetual encore of calamity this year has endured — filled with civil unrest, an extremely divisive election, a pandemic, and wildfires — has been augmented by the untimely eruption of a volcano ... simply wonderful. 

But after a little more research, I found that my initial reaction was premature. Though the eruption of a volcano likely isn't the best thing, the present eruption hasn't caused any great or irreparable damage, nor has it cost any lives. All things considered, the volcanic eruption hasn't been all that bad. 

This observation got me thinking: perhaps the cataclysm of 2020 has been unduly amplified — its unique challenges blown out of proportion. I don't mean to say this year hasn't been immensely difficult for many. It has been ridden with hardship, much of which will likely continue into the next. Between the economic difficulty produced by COVID-19 and the political moil germinated by vehement factionism, the start of the "roaring twenties" has taken on a new, unpleasant meaning for the 21st century — and that fact is, I wholly acknowledge, incontrovertible. 

Nonetheless, I think it remains equally incontrovertible that people attach a superficial oddity to the present. Persistently, we hear things like "folks, there has never been a time like this," or the recyclable preface that "these are unprecedented times in our society." To some extent, these utterances hold true: in the modern world, we haven't had an international pandemic like COVID-19, nor has recent memory seen a presidential election quite like the last. But to another extent, they are exaggerations, repeated incessantly to depict contemporary ailments as unparalleled in history — when, in fact, they're more repetitive than we'd commonly admit. 

Maybe it's the fact that we're living through current hardships that make them seem so unmatched, so uniquely appalling. After all, I'd imagine we felt much the same way during the political tumult of 2016, the Great Recession of 2008, the terrorist attacks of 2001, the riots and brutality of the 1960s, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the World Wars, the Great Depression, the Spanish Flu, and so on. 

The point here is this: though each period of affliction has brought unique challenges and required unique responses, none have been truly, utterly unprecedented. Despite the novel tribulation of COVID-19, and the other ordeals wrought by 2020, we can take comfort in the fact that we've endured adversity like this before — because, in a sense, the platitude that "there's no time like the present" only illustrates a delusion.

Sam Taylor

Posted on December 23, 2020 00:47

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Source: KRQE 13

HONOLULU, Hawaii (NEXSTAR) — The U.S. Geological Survey says the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has erupted . A...

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