An ancient Greek poet named Hesiod listed the five ages of the world: Golden, Silver, Bronze, Heroic, and Iron.

The Golden Age was under the rule of a Titan named Cronus. He created humans, who had a very good life. They lived among the gods and didn’t have to work. There was food in abundance and peace abounded.

The Silver Age occurred when Cronus’s son, Zeus, defeated him and ruled the world. Human life was shorter and full of strife. Zeus could be short-tempered, and humans who didn’t worship the gods were destroyed for their lack of respect.

During the Bronze Age, Zeus created humans out of an ash tree. These people were tough and violent. Their armor, homes, and tools were made of bronze.

The Heroic Age was, well, heroic. According to Hesiod, it lasted about six generations, from the time Greeks came to Thessaly to when Greek warriors returned from Troy.

The Iron Age was the time in which Hesiod, himself, lived. Human life was one of toil and misery. The gods had totally forsaken humanity, and men no longer felt shame for doing wrong. Wikipedia describes it this way: “Children dishonor their parents, brother fights with brother, and the social contract between guest and host is forgotten. During this age, might makes right, and bad men use lies to be thought good.”


There was a discussion online based on a question: Which age do we live in, according to Hesiod? As you can imagine, there were lots of anti-golden-age comments. Among the harshest was this: “Channeling Hesiodic curmudgeonly pessimism, I would suggest that the metal for our age must be either arsenic or plutonium. Highly toxic either way.”

If you have read this column for any time at all, you know I disagree with such pessimism.

In 2016, Johan Norberg wrote a piece for the British magazine, The Spectator. His essay is entitled, “Why Can’t We See That We’re Living in a Golden Age?” In it, he says what I believe better than I, myself, can say it. Here is a short taste of his article.

“If you think that there has never been a better time to be alive—that humanity has never been safer, healthier, more prosperous, or less unequal—then you’re in the minority. But that is what the evidence incontrovertibly shows. Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labor, and infant mortality are falling faster than at any other time in human history.”

So why can’t we see we are living in a golden age? Because of something called “availability heuristic”. The more memorable an incident is, the more likely we are to think of it and accept it as the norm. Bad news travels at a rate that is nearly instantaneous, and disturbing incidents are presented in an attention-grabbing, memorable fashion. (Why? To garner more views and thus more money from advertisers.) And so, thanks to the availability heuristic, we tend to see this as an arsenic or plutonium age, rather than the golden one that it is.

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