Saturday 25 January 2020

Radio review: Why so glum? We've never had it so good

Ryan Tubridy
Ryan Tubridy

Eilis O'Hanlon

It's fair to say that Ryan Tubridy prefers to accentuate the positive, but he lives in an age increasingly characterised by cynicism, negativity and complaint.

So it was surely a relief to talk to Swedish economist Johan Norberg, who dares to say the unsayable to the doom-mongers - that we're living in "a golden age", and should start to appreciate it.

We survive longer and are healthier. We're better educated. We have more money and comfort than any of our ancestors ever did. There are fewer wars and dictatorships. Progress is ongoing, dramatic and worldwide. At every point in the past "life was awful compared to today", so why all the pessimism?

Speaking on Wednesday's Ryan Tubridy Show, Norberg suggested the problem might be that the media concentrates on bad news, because it's more interesting; and without a "longer-term perspective" to interpret what we read and hear, it can easily seem as if the world is going to hell in a handcart. There's certainly something in that, though psychologically it's probably also true that every rise in living standards leads to greater expectations.

The controversy over whether it was safe to travel to Rio for the Olympics fitted Norberg's thesis to a T, though. On Tuesday's Right Hook, Tara Duggan asked: "The Zika virus - what was the big fuss?"

In June, she reminded listeners, a group of doctors and "bio-ethicists" wrote to the World Health Organization calling for the Olympics to be cancelled because of the threat posed to the planet by the virus.

In fact, only an estimated 50 of the 500,000 foreign visitors will have contracted it, and virologist Professor John Oxford reassuringly pointed out that it couldn't survive in our northerly climate anyway, as it's mosquito-borne.

Sometimes bad news is unavoidable. RTE's Documentary On One slot featured a terrifying piece about young drivers in Donegal, entitled We Decide Who Lives Or Dies. The programme didn't really get to the bottom of why young people take these risks - there was some talk of them being the "brats of the Celtic Tiger era… their car use is just part of that excess"; but that felt too easy.

What did come across powerfully was an overwhelming nihilism. Is being young in 2016 really that awful?

Some of the people in Henry McKean's report for Newstalk's Moncrieff on Wednesday surely need to develop a sense of perspective too. Sean Mooney of the Finglas Village Renewal Partnership wants to twin the area with a town in North Korea. He could be on a massive wind-up, it was hard to tell, but he insisted it could inspire the citizens of the brutal communist dictatorship to a better life. Fair enough, every man needs a dream - but others saw it differently. One told McKean: "I'd say the people in Pyongyang probably have functioning public transport... and healthcare system and schools. I'm not really sure the people of Finglas would agree that they have all of that." Such glib ignorance defies belief.

Sunday Independent

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